After a year hiatus one of the most unique rivalries in the Texas High School football playoffs going on a near decade picks back up when No. 4 Canadian battles No. 1 Gunter at 6 p.m., Friday on Anthony Field at Wildcats Stadium in Abilene.
This is an incredible sixth meeting in the past seven years for the two powerhouse programs to square off in a Class 3A Division II state semifinal.
The rosters may change from year-to-year, and the two blue bloods may be 338 miles apart, but the rivalry couldn’t be more intense.
The numbers are flat out astounding when it comes to Canadian and Gunter.
Head coach Jake Fieszel is 192-30 in 16 seasons at the helm of the Tigers. Canadian head coach Chris Koetting is 165-23 in 13 seasons and 49-9 in the playoffs.
Since the Wildcats (12-2) and the Tigers (13-0) have started playing this incredible semifinal seven years ago, the two are a combined 191-20. Gunter is 101-6 since 2016, while Canadian is 90-14.
One of these two powerhouses has also been in a UIL state championship game since 2014.
Canadian won back-to-back Class 2A Division I state titles in 2014-15, were the Class 3A Division II runner-up in 2018, and won the Class 3A Division II championship in 2020. Gunter on the other hand won the Class 3A Division II state titles in 2016 and 2019, with a runner-up finish in 2017 and 2021.
The only true advantage the Tigers have is a 3-2 series lead, however, the Wildcats do hold the upper hand getting the better of Gunter in a 33-6 beating in the 2020 clash.
Previous semifinal games
2016: Gunter 44, Canadian 34
2017: Gunter 56, Canadian 27
2018: Canadian 17, Gunter 7
2019: Gunter 27, Canadian 20
2020: Canadian 33, Gunter 6
“There’s nothing like playing December football,” Canadian Head Coach Chris Koetting said. “This is where we need to be. I’m proud of our players and coaches for what they’ve done to get us to this point and I’m excited about this game. We have so much respect for Gunter. They are one of the best coached teams we face. We’ll need a great effort.”
Fieszel agreed with Koetting.
“We have so much respect for coach (Chris) Koetting, his staff and his team,” Fieszel said. “I’ve always admired Canadian for nearly 20 years watching all they do, and the success they’ve had. For us to start winning our region in recent years has been a lot of fun. It’s an honor to get to play them again.”
Only a handful from each roster played in the 2020 contest, but that doesn’t stop the players from knowing this rivalry inside and out. Since these now seniors were in grade school like Canadian senior two-way lineman Corbin Throgmorton getting to face, Gunter has become a measuring stick and a game they know if they win then it’s a trip to Arlington.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” said Throgmorton, who will make his 43rd career start on Friday. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be. We’re focused and to the point of the season where everyone is turned up and ready to go. I’ve watched this game, played in this game and I do say we have respect for Gunter, but there’s nothing better than going out there and trying to beat them.”
Both teams come in with very skilled offenses and extremely talented defenses. Canadian is putting up 52 points a game and averaging 486 yards a contest, while only giving up 16 points and limiting opponents to 197 yards per game. Gunter is averaging 44.2 points and 356 total yards through 13 games. Defensively, the Tigers have held teams to just 9.8 points a meeting.
Regardless of the stats, both Koetting and Fieszel say there’s no secrets between these two teams after this many battles over the past seven years.
“We’re going to have a great week of practice,” Koetting said. “Gunter is so disciplined on defense, but we know exactly what they are going to do and they know what we’re going to do. What makes us both great is we’ve both been doing it for a longtime. We just have to go out and play our best. I don’t think we have to do anything special, we just have to be really good.”
Fieszel echoed Koetting’s comments.
“We know these guys well and they know us,” Fieszel said. “We know their quarterback Camren Cavalier really good. He’s been around the game as a coach’s kid and is great leader. Their line is a strong part of the team on both sides. They play well together, and they look like they love playing together. The line of scrimmage is where we’ll need to win this game. We’ll have to be ready to go and play our best football yet.”
Canadian players to watch
Camren Cavalier, QB, Jr.
Has started all 14 games this season completing 170-of-261 passes for 2,898 yards with 31 touchdowns to eight interceptions. Cavalier has also rushed for 1,402 yards with another 33 TDs.
Luke Flowers, RB, Jr.
Came back from an injury during district to carry the ball 62 times for 565 yards with nine touchdowns.
Preston Miller, WR, Jr.
Has snagged 62 catches for 1,248 yards with 15 touchdowns.
D’Wayne Moran, DL, Sr.
Has a team-best 179 tackles, 41 of those for a loss with 12 sacks.
Gunter players to watch
Walker Overman, QB, Jr.
Has thrown for 1,501 yards and 18 touchdowns without an interception.
Ethan Sloan, RB, Sr.
Has 96 carries on the year rushing for 807 yards tallying 15 touchdowns.
Ivy Hellman, RB, Sr.
Has ran for 684 yards on 81 carries with 11 touchdowns in 13 games.
Ashton Bennett, LB, Sr.
Has a team-high 64 tackles, 11 of those for a loss with four sacks.