TexasFootball.com Team to Watch: Plano West

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While the rest of the state saw Plano West’s 2019 season the same way it saw three seasons before –  another 1-9 campaign to bookend a pair of winless seasons – then-first year coach Tyler Soukup saw something different.

“We played in a lot of tight games a year ago and we lost them, but that turned out to be a tremendous lesson for us,” Soukup said. “We reflected a lot on that and learned that the difference in all of those games was us. It’s the mistakes that you make.”

Heading into a realigned 2020, Soukup felt that his Wolves could take what they learned, embrace the tough lessons, and come to believe they could change those results.

Friday night, following a come-from-behind 31-24 win over rival Plano, the Wolves did indeed change those results. The win clinched the team’s first playoff berth since 2014 and triggered the release of a lot of pent-up emotion.

“We had a chance a few weeks ago to clinch this spot, so it’s been close enough to touch for a while now,” Soukup said. “Once we did it, it was a lot of satisfaction. I’m really proud of our effort. The culture and attitude has really changed about how people in the community see Plano West football.”

When you’ve struggled as long as Plano West has – just five wins since 2015 heading into the season – nothing comes easily, and Friday proved no exception. The Wolves lost standout offensive lineman Carter Young on the game’s first series to his second broken leg of the season. They regrouped and overcame a 17-3 deficit. Tyler Harrell’s 57-yard reverse with 1:41 left proved to be the game-winner.

“Losing Carter…he’s a big deal for us,” Soukup said. “He’s our center and the centerpiece of the offensive line and a captain. He really holds us together. He broke his leg on the fourth day of practice and got himself back for our district opener. To see it happen again is hard for all of us.”

Soukup pointed to that district opener, Oct. 22 against Lewisville, as a turning point for the Wolves. They stood toe-to-toe with a very talented team and gutted out a 27-17 win.

“That was really big in terms of our emotional mindset,” he said. “Lewisville is ultra-talented with lots of division one talent on the offensive side. That was the first time we really saw our kids understand the complete significance of how a game plan fits together with the offense, defense and special teams. We believed in the plan and they learned that if they execute the plan with only a few mistakes, they’ve got a chance.”

Plano West made the most of its chances in a district where teams, other than Flower Mound Marcus (who finished 6-0) seemed evenly matched.

“We looked at the district in the spring and saw a lot of parity,” Soukup said. “That was good for us based on where we were coming from. We expected a lot of close games and thought that could play to our advantage.”

Soukup’s instincts proved correct. Six of Plano West’s district games were decided by 14 points or less. The Wolves went 4-2 in those games. The fourth win proved enough to punch their ticket back to the postseason, where former district rival Allen, unbeaten and ranked fourth in the state, awaits.

Soukup knows his team will take on the Eagles without its best player, but then again, playing without a starter on the offensive line is nothing new.

“Our depth is much improved over last year,” he said. “Especially on the offensive line. Lots of guys worked hard to make themselves good enough to be on the field. I don’t think we’ve had the same five guys in the same five positions start two games in a row.”

The depth is evident all over the field, Soukup said. Dermot White stepped in when leading rusher Tabren Yates was sidelined. Greg Draughn and Vance Feuerbacher have both made key plays at quarterback. Linebackers Jacob Stephens and Aaron Jones along with defensive lineman James Laprocido have anchored the defense. Seniors Tyler Harrell, Matthew Thompson and Jabrayden King-Woods have been consistent performers as well. All are playing their first playoff game.

“This will feel like a big-time game,” Soukup said of the atmosphere he expects when he takes his team into Eagle Stadium. “They are terrific on both sides of the ball. We will have our work cut out for us. We expect to give them a game.”

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