[dropcap]U[/dropcap]nder the bright lights of Rice Stadium, two storied programs will meet for the 66th time in their history. The Kinkaid Falcons and St. John’s Mavericks first faced off in 1951 and began one of the fiercest rivalries in Texas high school football. The Falcons lead the head-to-head series 40-25 and tonight’s game will have even more importance for some players in coaches. This year’s seniors are hoping to finish their careers with a 4-0 record against St. John’s and must win tonight to finish third in SPC.
“I’m excited and can’t wait for the game, but also a little sad knowing that it will be my last one,” captain Ben Padon (12) said.
Kinkaid will enter the game with a 6-3 record, coming off wins over Concordia Lutheran, Episcopal School of Dallas, and Houston Christian. This season has been a up and down for the Falcons, as they have won by over 20 points in three games but have also been blown out by over 20 in two games.
“I think any coach would look back and think their team could have done some things better. There were a couple of games where we beat ourselves. Not to say the other teams didn’t deserve the win, but we handed them a few gifts to make it easier,” said Kinkaid Head Coach Nathan Larned. Larned has coached the Falcons since 2013.
Meanwhile, St. John’s has also struggled with consistency this season. They are coming into tonight’s game off a 41-7 win over St. Mark’s that improved their record to 3-5. For the Mavericks to compete against the Falcons, they will need a strong performance from their defense that has given up almost 34 points per game. The Mavericks head coach, Steve Gleaves, spent 11 years coaching at Kinkaid before moving to St. John’s in 1991 and will certainly need an inspired performance from his team to come out with a victory tonight.
“We have a pretty young team that has improved each week and shown their dedication to work hard to do their best every day. I think that staying away from penalties and turnovers, controlling the ball on offense, and not allowing any big plays on defense will be the keys to winning the game,” Gleaves said.
Last year, Kinkaid defeated St. John’s 35-24 to win their third consecutive victory over the Mavericks. St. John’s last win came in 2012 when they stopped the then 7-1 Falcons 27-21. To emerge victorious again this year, the Falcons will need production from their high-powered offense.
Running back Josh Williams (10) will lead the potent rushing attack for the Falcons after Johnathon Thomas (11) broke his leg in last week’s game against Houston Christian. Williams has rushed for over 600 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground this season. The offensive line, led by Padon, has been crucial in freeing up the running lanes for these explosive backs. However, the Falcons must use the passing attack effectively to maintain balance while on offense.
With quarterback Matt Maggi (12) also out for the game after suffering a concussion, the Falcons will rely on Zach Daniel (10) to lead the offense. He will need to develop chemistry quickly with star receivers Kirby Cravens (12), Ford Young (12), and Malcolm Hedgepeth (11) to keep the Falcons’ passing attack effective. Cravens has been a big play threat for the Falcons all season and is averaging almost 25 yards per catch along with five touchdowns on the season.
“Our guys are really coming together. I know that sounds like generic coach talk, but you can truly see a difference in how they treat each other. It’s taken a while, but I believe we have them all heading in the same direction now as far as what we want as a team, and what we have to do to get there,” Coach Larned said.
The St. John’s offense is headed by dual-threat quarterback Wesley Gow (10), running back Malcolm Sturgis (10), and receiver Wheeler Gibson (12). Gow has racked up over 1,500 passing yards and over 500 rushing yards on the season. Gibson has also hauled in almost 50 passes for over 500 yards and six touchdowns. The Falcons’ secondary will need to neutralize Gibson if they hope to keep the St. John’s offense in check.
“St. John’s is always really well-coached. Every year, they improve significantly from their first game to when we play them. The biggest challenge is always to get our guys to ignore their record and focus on us being the best we can be just like every other week,” Coach Larned said.
The hard work for every player on the field began long before they will run out through the tunnel into Rice Stadium tonight. The Kinkaid players participated in 7 on 7 competitions throughout the summer while also working on strength and conditioning the entire offseason.
When playing in a rivalry game, emotions run high for players and can lead to careless penalties or miscues. Because of this, the Falcons’ coaches have stressed focusing on only one play at a time and keeping a cool head while on the field. They have summed this philosophy up with the motto “Do your job.”
For everyone involved in this rivalry, there have been many great memories from games that have gone down to the wire or dominated by one side.
“My favorite moment from a St. John’s game has to be shutting them out 45-0 two years ago. That was really a special game,” Padon said.
While the game tonight begins at 7:30 p.m., the pregame activities and tailgate will start around 6:00 p.m.