MULESHOE — Muleshoe’s offensive line has developed a real appetite for protecting senior quarterback Wes Wood.
Every time Wood goes through a game without being sacked, he rewards his line with doughnuts during the next day’s film study.
Wood has been keeping the doughnut makers busy. He’s been sacked only a handful of times this season on more than 300 pass attempts.
“He really counts on us to protect him,” Muleshoe senior guard Joe Vargas said. "If we do our job, he can do his.”
The fourth-ranked Mules (12-0) will try to keep their record-breaking quarterback upright in the pocket again today when they host No. 9 Clyde (11-1) in a Class 2A Division I state quarterfinal game in Wolfforth, Texas.
It won’t be easy.
The Bulldogs, who have shut out their first two playoff opponents, sport the best defense Muleshoe has faced this season, according to Mules coach David Wood.
Clyde is lead on defense by end Colby Smith (6-1, 210), inside linebackers Tanner Parker (5-11, 195) and Chris Anderson (6-0, 175) and a speedy secondary.
“They really swarm to the ball and try to cause you to get out of the pocket,” coach Wood said, “and they have enough athletes behind them they can make up for missteps.”
Wood, who has passed for more than 3,500 yards and a Panhandle record 56 touchdown passes this season, has been a target of defenses all season.
“We absolutely have got to find a way to get to that quarterback and get him on the ground,” Clyde coach Craig Slaughter told the Abilene (Texas) Reporter-News. “They’ve done a good job of protecting him and we’ve got to make sure they don’t do it again.”
The Mules run the same spread offense as Texas Tech, which features unusually large splits between their linemen designed to spread out the defense and create better blocking angles.
“We take a three-step drop, which allows us to see the stunts better and gives us time to adjust,” junior center Austin Bamert said.
Another factor in the Mules’ success up front is depth, according to coach Wood. He said the Mules rotate nine linemen, which keeps them fresh in their uptempo offense.
“The way we run the spread offense, there are only four of five blocking schemes, so it’s easier to learn and we can rotate players in and out and they know what they’re doing,” he said.
Another solid outing by the line will give the Mules a baker’s dozen in wins.
Muleshoe (12-0) vs. Clyde (11-1)
What: Class 2A Division I state quarterfinal
When: 7:30 p.m. (CST) today
Where: Tiger Stadium, Wolfforth, Texas
Impact: Muleshoe is seeking its school’s second state semifinal appearance. The other was in 2000 when the Mules were in Class 3A. Clyde has never been to a state semifinal.
Last week: Muleshoe beat Littlefield 28-10, Clyde beat Jim Ned 35-0.
Players to watch on offense: Muleshoe, Wes Wood, QB, 6-0, 140, Sr.; Lane Wood, RB-LB, 5-10, 170, Sr.; Victor Vasquez, WR-DB, 5-9, 165, Sr. Clyde, Colby Smith, RB-DE, 6-1, 210, Sr.; Landon Liles, SS-QB, 6-0, 170, So.; Tanner Parker, OT-LB, 5-11, 195, Sr.
What 2 watch 4: A prolific passing attack helped the Mules average 52 points a game during the regular season. However, in the playoffs the Mules have shown the ability to run the ball when needed — dictated some by design and some by the weather. Clyde relies on a power running game and a stingy defense.
Fair weather fans: Given his team’s reliance on the pass, Muleshoe coach David Wood admits the coaching staff might have focused a little too much on weather conditions in past seasons.
“I think it got into our heads,” he said. “This year we just look so we know how to dress and we’re not letting it become a distraction.”
Friday’s forecast is for mid-to-upper 40s with a chance of a shower.
Injury update: Clyde starting QB Jacob Gonzales — a three-year starter — sat out last week with a leg injury. Coach Wood expects him to play tonight.
Quotable: “We have to stop them from gaining the momentum. They’re like sharks, they smell blood.” — coach Wood, on the key to tonight’s game.
Up next: The winner faces the winner of tonight’s game between Winnsboro and Pilot Point.
— Compiled by Rick White