Sports > Schools
Upset Ambition: McKinney set to threaten 10-5A hierarchy
Photo courtesy of Buzz Cory / buzzzphotos.com
McKinney enters district as a substantial but dangerous underdog.
The Lions sport a 4-1 record and one of the most prolific offenses in the area midway through the season. They're averaging 42 points and more then 500 yards per game and have a roster full of quality skill players.
If that level of production continues into even one district game, expect the opposition to have a difficult time keeping pace. Make no mistake, though, much of it could end up lost in translation, as McKinney's schedule is about to get exponentially more difficult.
“Going back and looking at our record and settling at 4-1, I think we're very pleased with our non-district schedule and what we were able to accomplish and how we grew as a football team,” said Jeff Smith, McKinney head football coach. “I think that we're ready for district play.”
The Lions district opponents carry a combined 17-7 record and the bulk of them – Allen, Plano, Plano East and Plano West – rank among the largest high schools in the state. McKinney started the season without enough students to fit within the range for a Class 5A team, but it was just over the line when the official tally was taken last year and districts were reassigned.
One positive of the new district is its small size. With just six teams fighting for four playoff spots – rather than the typical eight-team district sending half its teams to the playoffs – it may take only two wins to lock up a postseason berth.
“There's definitely some opportunities,” Smith said. “You go out there and win a couple of games and you're right there battling and in the mix with a chance to make the playoffs. That's a good thing, and we obviously want to win as many as we can, but it's a tough district.”
With the prospect of playing schools twice or even three times their size in the distance, and a winless 2011 season lagging behind, the Lions desperately needed a strong start to the season. They delivered with a four-game winning streak that included victories against Mansfield Legacy (55-46), Frisco Heritage (45-21), Irving Nimitz (42-7) and North Garland (41-18).
During that run, McKinney made a name for itself as one of the most exciting teams in the area courtesy of a powerful, well-rounded offense. In his third year under center, senior quarterback Robert Somborn has already thrown for 1,332 yards and 19 touchdowns to just six interceptions on 80-of-130 passing (62 percent).
“[The offense] has had a great year all around so far,” Smith said. “I'm really pleased with the whole unit. Every week at the skill positions, there's one or two guys who step up and get the job done, and our offensive line is really doing a good job learning and getting better.”
Somborn has a trio of productive receivers to target in seniors Connor Fuentes and Jonathan Shannon and junior TV Williams. Fuentes leads the team in receiving with 494 yards and five touchdowns, while Williams is just shy of 400 receiving yards and has seven touchdowns.
Shannon has been team's most productive offensive weapon overall. He's split time at receiver and running back this season and has been extremely effective at both positions, rushing for a team-high 554 yards and five touchdowns and compiling 376 yards and seven touchdowns through the air.
The Lions have also improved on defense since opening the season by allowing 46 points and more than 500 yards in their win against Legacy. Since then, they've allowed an average of 20 points and 307 yards per game.
“I think our defense has progressively gotten better each week,” Smith said, “and they're playing at a high level. They're going to continue to get better, so I'm very pleased with how they've played as a unit.”
McKinney enters district in the wake of its only loss. Last week's 35-28 setback against Denton Ryan – the most difficult opponent they've faced – was a proving ground of sorts, and McKinney came out with renewed respect, if not a win.
The most disappointing aspect of the loss for the Lions was its six turnovers, though they did force three of their own. A negative turnover margin was among the issues that plagued them last season, and it hadn't resurfaced until last week.
“Most definitely we had too many turnovers,” Smith said. “That was a big story of the game, but there was also a lot of good things and effort. I was really pleased with how we battled even though we had those turnovers and that adversity. Sometimes those can kill a game; if you have that many turnovers, then you're looking at a blowout. But our kids still believed they could win, and we were in it until the end.”
McKinney will need to get that problem fixed before opening district on the road against Plano on Friday. The Wildcats are probably their best chance at a district win, so the narrative the Lions carried into their game against Ryan – how they'll fare against better opponents – will carryover at least one more week.
“We have pressure to win, but the pressure we have is on ourselves to go out and play well,” Smith said. “Our kids should be loose and ready to play and excited about the chance to upset all these big schools. I think that's a pretty exciting thing. Most people will not pick us any week in district to win, but that's a challenge to our kids. They take that pretty seriously, and they want an opportunity each week for an upset.”