John Paul II Football

John Paul II’s Nate Stafford delivers a stiff arm during the team’s district finale against Prestonwood.

High school football teams around the state braced for a season like no other this year, and that has certainly been the case for numerous private school programs as the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools playoffs get underway later this week.

John Paul II battled myriad quarantines and cancellations, playing only five of its eight regular-season ballgames. Prestonwood Christian managed to get in seven games but was reshuffling the deck weekly — only four of their games were played on the originally scheduled date. Even the Lions’ first-round opponent, San Antonio Christian, opted to forfeit its playoff game.

Getting to mid-November required navigating circumstances with no precedent, but the Lions and Cardinals nevertheless have playoff football to prepare for.

“It’s definitely been a year of trials and tribulations, but I feel like our kids have done a great job handling the adjustments we’ve had to make from week to week,” said George Teague, John Paul head coach. “It has affected our preparation a little bit — we were all lined up to play All Saints and found out the day before the game that it wouldn’t happen, so you have to then try and get your mind right for the following week. But I’m proud of the guys for the way they’ve handled it all.”

After amassing a state runner-up campaign in 2019, far and away the program’s deepest playoff run ever, the Cardinals will try and conjure more playoff magic starting at 7 p.m. Friday when they host Tomball Concordia Lutheran.

“We’ve had a couple games we’d maybe like to have back, but the main thing now is postseason play,” Teague said. “Having Concordia Lutheran coming to our place Friday is another big step for us to continue to grind and make a state championship run.”

It was during the postseason when John Paul shifted gears and mounted its first-ever run to the state final — falling to Parish Episcopal, 42-14. Getting back to Waco will mean surviving another daunting playoff bracket, with a matchup looming against top-ranked Fort Worth Nolan should John Paul advance on Friday.

Although John Paul managed to split its four district ballgames, Teague has seen his team elevate its play against the state’s elite when called upon. The Cardinals showed as much in a 58-51 overtime loss to Parish on Oct. 30. John Paul’s effort was paced by a 252-yard performance on the ground by senior Grant Robinson, plus a pair of defensive touchdowns.

“I think that was probably our biggest mark to let us know where we were as a team,” Teague said. “Coming off a loss to them in the state championship game, we know that’s a team we compare ourselves to. Once we played them and went toe to toe with them in overtime, it gave us a confidence boost to know that we’re on track to continue our growth and compete in the playoffs.”

They fell short in an attempt to build off that near-win a couple weeks later, falling at Prestonwood, 31-21, as the Lions continue to have the Cardinals’ number on the football field. Prestonwood closed out its campaign at 4-3 overall and 3-2 in district play.

Already assured a trip to the regional round of the postseason, the Lions await the winner of Friday’s postseason clash between Parish and Bishop Lynch. Prestonwood shut out Lynch 45-0 but had a matchup with Parish get away early in a 55-14 setback.

Since then, the Lions have won three straight games — all by double digits — and continue to produce behind the efforts on a dynamic sophomore class on offense, as well as widespread contributions on defense.

Sophomore quarterback Maguire Martin doubles as the Lions’ leading passer (1,266 yards) and rusher (730), and his three most productive targets this season are all sophomores, led by Derek Eusebio’s 356 receiving yards.

Defensively, seniors AJ Spoonemore, Dylan Jackson and juniors John Franklin and Fadhili Gaciri are among a cast of standouts.

Although it technically comes by forfeit, this season extends a streak of 12 consecutive years where Prestonwood has advanced at least one round in the postseason.

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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