You can go home again: Allen to host Richardson in playoff opener
Starting the playoffs against an opponent that you have already handily defeated can be a tricky task.
Allen faces that quandary at 7:30 p.m. Friday when it hosts Richardson.
Luckily for Allen, this Richardson team features the same names on the front of the jerseys but little else in common with the team the Eagles dismantled, 52-17, on Sept. 14 for one of Allen's seven wins of 22 points or more.
"Yeah, this Richardson team is a whole lot different from the one we played last time," said Oliver Pierce, Allen senior wide receiver.
Senior running back Marcus Ward concurred.
"They aren't the same," he said, "so we are pretty much looking at it like this is a whole new team; one we haven't played before."
The changes can be seen on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, Richardson has moved from a 4-3 defense to a 3-3 stack with a largely altered defensive line. The changes continue on offense where Michael Curtis has stepped in at quarterback for Tristian Cockrell, who helmed the team during their last trip to Allen. When Curtis isn't throwing the ball, he will frequently hand off to Devante Branch and Cameron Booty, both of whom are averaging more than 5.6 yards per carry this season.
"It's the same team, but with some new schemes," Pierce said. "And I'm sure they are playing with plenty of confidence right now."
That would be reason enough to prepare plenty for Richardson, but history is another.
The last time Allen handily defeated a team in the third game of the season and rematched them in the playoff opener came in 2007 when Allen beat Rowlett, 45-26, only to see Rowlett win in the bi-district round. Like Richardson, Rowlett's mascot is the Eagles.
"The coaches definitely mention that Rowlett game whenever they think we need to be motivated," Pierce said.
Richardson isn't the only team that has changed since the first meeting.
Allen has made alterations as well since decimating Richardson for 370 yards rushing on 41 carries in the first game with Ward and Pierce at the center of the changes.
"I think the team feels pretty good right now," Ward said. "We had some injuries and had to adjust, but we figured it all out."
Ward had split time with senior Jeff Harris in the backfield, but injuries thrust Ward into the role of lead back. Ward has fared well, particularly over the past two weeks where he surpassed 100 yards and scored at least one touchdown in back-to-back games. Pierce has a different place in the offense as well, shifting to slot receiver with sophomore Kyler Murray taking over at quarterback.
But for as much as things have changed from the first Allen-Richardson meeting two months ago, some have stayed the same, specifically the venue.
The Eagles won a home-and-home flip and will host Friday's playoff game.
"I didn't even know that was a possibility before they told us," Ward said. "But it's a great opportunity, especially for us seniors who get to play another game at home when we thought we were done."
It's not just the team that is excited.
"It's a good opportunity for us and the city seems pretty fired up," Pierce said. "We have family coming in for the game and we had to try and get some extra tickets, which wasn't easy, so I'm hoping our stadium is jam-packed and I think the place should be pretty rocking."
"It should be crazy out there," Ward added.
While this is at their home stadium, the Eagles might look a little different than usual as they will be wearing white uniforms.
But it will be winning, not uniforms, that takes priority once the ball is kicked off Friday as Allen attempts to extend its season and get to at least 10 wins for a seventh straight year.
"Every game from now on is win or go home," Ward said, "and we aren't ready for the offseason."