Amarillo High head coach Chad Dunnam paces the sideline during a game earlier this season. [Be Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]
On paper, the smart money doesn’t see Amarillo High having much of chance against crosstown rival Tascosa in Friday night’s clash at Dick Bivins Stadium to decide the outright leader of District 2-5A Division I.
According to the Harris Ratings, Tascosa is a 21-point favorite. But to anyone who’s spent any time following the rivalry since its inception in 1958, that means about as much as consulting the Magic-8 ball.
In fact, it seems the team who has the pronounced advantage going into this game over the last several years maybe needs to be the one to beware of the most pitfalls come kickoff. While Tascosa has been the most successful Amarillo ISD team on the field over the last three years, highlighted by a Class 6A state semifinal appearance in 2018 and a quarterfinal appearance in 2019, Amarillo High is close to being able to claim three straight wins in the series.
The Sandies beat the Rebels in each of head coach Chad Dunnam’s first two years at Amarillo High, and last year, Tascosa needed a miracle to overcome a 27-point deficit to pull out a victory.
Should we expect such dramatics Friday night? Don’t be surprised.
For one thing, the two teams really aren’t that different, at least not according to common numbers. They’re both 5-1 and 2-0 in district, and both lost at home to Midland Legacy for their only losses.
Where the game is generally decided, up front, Amarillo High matches up well against Tascosa. Amarillo High’s Erik Gray, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound Division I prospect at nose guard, is likely the best linemen the Rebels have faced this season.
While running the ball up the middle isn’t exclusively Tascosa’s plan of attack, the Rebels might have to go outside more often against the Sandies. Amarillo High has shown a flair for slowing down the run, as Carter Johnson and Cooper Ivey have been prominent playmakers at the second level.
OK, so Tascosa has scored at least 40 points in every game this season, so the Sandies are unlikely to completely stop the Rebels. But they might be able to score with them.
Tascosa’s ballcarrying by committee has become legendary under coach Ken Plunk, but the Sandies are no slouches on the ground either. Levi Slaydon, Ethan Cowan and Pius Vokes all have 100-yard rushing games this season.
While Tascosa is one-dimensional on offense (granted, the Rebels run that one dimension extremely well), Amarillo High is balanced. Quarterback Brock Wade has been efficient and Jameson Garcia is a dangerous deep receiving threat. One of the most intriguing matchups of the game will be Tascosa’s safety Major Everhart against Amarillo High’s strong receiving corps.
If the Rebels can stand toe-to-toe with Tascosa in displaying their strengths, they’ll have a chance. Dunnam believes that it will be as much about the mental aspect as the physical matchups.
“For the most part I think we’re smart kids,” Dunnam said. “We are a disciplined group of kids who live their lives the right way. In order to beat a team like (Tascosa) you need to be assignment oriented. Our kids do a really good job executing the things that we teach them and studying and doing our homework. The combination of those things really help our football team.”