Celina senior LB Blake Bunnell

The Bobcats will need a big game defensively from players like senior linebacker Blake Bunnell to avoid an upset Thursday to Wilmer-Hutchins.

The Celina football team may not have ended the regular season the way it had hoped with a 63-21 beating at the hands of rival Argyle, but the focus now shifts entirely to the postseason.

The Bobcats are in the playoffs for the 25th straight season and in their way in the bi-district round stands a Dallas ISD program in Wilmer-Hutchins that is coming off of its best season on the gridiron in decades.

The Eagles are fresh off of a District 8-4A Division I title after finishing 6-0 and have lost just one game in 2018. That lone defeat came against a powerful South Oak Cliff ballclub in non-district play, while Wilmer-Hutchins has outscored its opponents in its nine victories by a lopsided margin of 385-102.

Needless to say, Celina will have its hands full in the bi-district round for the first time in a long time.

“This is one of the best teams we have seen in the first round in a while,” said Bill Elliott, Celina head coach. “This is really similar to when we played Gainesville in the first round in 2013, and this will be a different challenge for us.”

Ironically, that was the last time the Bobcats failed to advance beyond the first round when they lost to Gainesville, 55-49. Celina also entered that contest fresh off of a blowout loss against Argyle to conclude the regular season and there are various similarities to this year’s campaign to that of 2013.

However, that Gainesville program turned its shootout win over Celina into a three-round playoff trip following a 2012 season where the Leopards advanced to the state quarterfinals. Wilmer-Hutchins, on the other hand, has just one playoff win this decade – in 2013 – and hails from a district that has endured its struggles over the years on the playoff gridiron.

The Bobcats, meanwhile, have been matched up with top-notch competition weekly against district foes like Paris, Melissa and Argyle, which are three programs poised to make deep playoff runs in the coming weeks.

“That is definitely going to help us out, but we’re still playing a team that has won a lot of games,” Elliott said. “You have to be ready to play and show up in the first round ready to get after it.”

If the Bobcats want to avoid an upset to the Eagles this week, they’ll have to keep their paws on Wilmer-Hutchins junior quarterback Kyle Douglas, who has produced monster numbers in the stat sheet this season.The dual-threat passer has logged 2,553 yards through the air to go along with 30 touchdowns.

“Their quarterback can really sling it, and he can run,” Elliott said. “They don’t run him as far as designed run plays, but he’ll scramble when he needs to. He’s almost like the quarterback from Melissa (four-star recruit Brendon Lewis).”

Wilmer-Hutchins is led by fourth-year head coach Elzie Barnett, which makes the Eagles different from other Dallas ISD programs that carousel through coaches yearly.Barnett’s son, Elzie Barnett Jr., is also one of the team’s top defensive players at linebacker and must be accounted for at all times when Celina has the football.

The real battle in this matchup remains up front with the Bobcats’ stout defensive front against an offensive line that Elliott said is not the strength of the Eagles’ offense.

“Our defensive front is really going to have to do a good job of breaking down and getting to [Douglas],” Elliott said. “I don’t think their offensive line is as strong, and we have to attack that right there to make him flustered.”

Kickoff between Celina and Wilmer-Hutchins is set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Standridge Stadium in Carrollton.

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