High school football playoffs are officially here and it’s win or go home for Elysian Fields, but that’s a scenario that’s nothing new for the Yellow Jackets.
“I think the advantage that we have is this is our third playoff game this year basically,” Elysian Fields defensive coordinator Daniel Johnson said. “If we lost, we were out. It’s survive and advance. We’re 2-0 in the playoffs, really. Our playoffs started two weeks ago. We had to beat New Diana by 12 and we had to beat DeKalb or there was no playoffs. So I think we’ve been preparing for the playoffs for three weeks now.”
The Yellow Jackets finished the regular season with an overall record of 6-4 and a district record of 4-3. They’ll have the task of taking on the Hemphill Hornets who are 6-4 overall and 3-2 against district opponents.
“They’ve got two really good running backs and a really good wide receiver,” Elysian Fields athletic director and head football coach Scott Ford said of the Hornets. “They’re the bread and butter on offense. So for us, we can’t give up big plays. They have a lot of big-play-making capability. We’ve got to make them earn everything they get. We’ve got to play our best game on offense. I think the offense has to help take care of the defense and I think if we do that, we’ll have a tremendous chance to win the game.”
Johnson took over the defensive coordinator position during the season after making the switch from the offensive coordinator.
“It took a while to figure out who he was but once we figured out who he was and how much he loved the team, it was easy to play for him,” junior linebacker Kyle Storey said.
“We understand more. When he brought triggering in, it changed the whole game,” junior defensive end Ty Kirkland added.
“We had to figure out real fast what we wanted to do and where we wanted to put kids where we thought they would have the most success,” Johnson explained. “I think during the bye week we figured some things out and we got a lot of guys in the right spots to make us successful. They’re doing a great job. They have an unbelievable chase to the ball. As you watch film, as a guy gets tackled, there are seven, eight, nine, 10 guys around the ball. That’s what it takes to be successful on defense.”
Getting key defenders back and healthy helped make his job as defensive coordinator easier.
“Kyle was a linebacker last year and we moved him to defensive end,” Ford said. “Then he tore his ACL. He was having a great year before he tore his ACL so he missed his last six or seven games last year and came back this year and got chop blocked against White Oak and hurt the same knee. We were worried it was Deju Vu all over again.
“He missed four or five games this year but has come back and probably been the best defensive end in the district,” Ford added. “He’s takes people out. He plays physical. He plays fearless. He tried to come back early on that knee and he hurt it again. I texted Kyle because I felt horrible for him.
“We’ve known his family for a long time. Ryan, his older brother, was quarterback here in 2014-15, so I know the family pretty well.
“I texted Kyle and I’ll never forget it. I said, ‘Hang tough,’ and he immediately texted back, ‘Always have, always will.’ No self pity, no feeling sorry for himself. He’s followed his way back to being one heck of a defensive player for us. He’s been part of the turnaround.
“Kirkland caught a touchdown pass in the playoffs against Corrigan last year at wide receiver,” Ford continued. “We’ve known the Kirklands for probably seven years. I don’t even know how to describe the way Ty tackles people. He’s got hands like catchers mitts. I he gets his hands on them, they don’t get away and he ends up slinging them down. We call that a ‘Kirtackle.’ He’s got his own special deal. He’s also played through a lot of discomfort this year. He’s had some lower-body injuries and is still fighting it to this day. Ty has been player defensive play of the week two or three times.”
Kirkland and Storey say they’ve learned a lot from the game of football.
“If something hits you hard, don’t give up because you can rebuild from that and come back stronger than you were before,” Kirkland offered.
“When I tore my ACL, I looked at it as an opportunity,” Storey added. “Football is all about opportunities so I seized the opportunities.”
Today, the Yellow Jackets will have an opportunity to extend their season yet again with a win over the Hornets. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. at Roughrider Stadium in Center.