Tough non-district schedule prepares Oilers for league action

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When Pearland head coach Tony Heath took over the Oilers' football fortunes in 1997, he inherited a team that had a 19-game losing streak, a team that had never had a winning record in any decade since the school began playing 11-man football in 1949, and a favorite homecoming opponent year-after-year.

As Heath begins his ninth year, it is no longer strange to see Pearland as a pre-season top 10 team in the Houston area. Heath is the winningest coach in Pearland football history with a 65-26 mark and is the longest tenured coach that the Oilers have ever had. The Oilers are 50-12 from 2000 to 2004.

Heath inherited the 1997 schedule that saw the Oilers snap their overall losing streak while winning their first league game in three years to make the playoffs in his first season with a 2-8 mark. The first-year coach made no secret that his goal for that initial season was to win at least one game. He didn't promise a district title or to even make the post-season. By his own admission, Heath has always characterized himself as a cautious optimist.
Pearland won the right number of league games that first season to make the playoffs before losing to Galveston Ball in the bi-district contest. While others scoffed at the 2-8 season record, Heath knew that it was a step in the right direction.

The Oilers missed the playoffs in 1998 (5-5) and 1999 even though Pearland finished 8-2 in '99. They tied with Clear Lake and Clear Brook for second-place in the District 24-5A standings, but lost the tie-breaker sending Lake and Brook to join Ball High to the post-season.

That would be the last time that a Heath-coached team would miss the playoffs as the Oilers have extended their season for the past five straight years, which is another school record. That includes winning the first playoff game in 50 years when the Oilers beat Deer Park 35-13 in the Astrodome in 2000. The 2001 squad set a new school winning mark at 13-1 while capturing the District 24-5A and Class 5A Division I Region championships sending them to the 5A state semifinals.

Pearland moved into their new stadium at The Rig in 2001 and have compiled a 19-2 home winning mark with their only losses coming against North Shore. The first loss was in 2002 during the regular season when Pearland was in the same district with the Mustangs and in 2004 when the Oilers hosted the 'Stangs in a bi-district playoff contest.

Another remarkable record posted by Heath and Co. is that the Oilers haven't lost a non-district game since the season opener against Angleton in 2000. Since that time, Pearland has reeled off 15 straight victories over non-district opponents as they enter the 2005 football campaign.

Pearland will face four tough non-district opponents and Heath is hoping that the 2004 District 24-5A co-champions can continue the winning streak while preparing to claim sole possession of the league crown this season.

Fort Bend Kempner - Friday, August 26 - Home
The FB Kempner and the Pearland Oilers met for the first time last year in the Dave Campbell Texas Football Classic in San Antonio at the Alamodome. The Oilers used a sensational record-breaking 99-yard opening kickoff by Quinton Moore for a touchdown to jump out to a quick 7-0 lead. Minutes later, Pearland scored on a long touchdown scoring pass from quarterback Brandon Buckner to wide receiver J.J. Jones to increase their lead to 14-0 and it looked like the rout was on for the Oilers.

But Kempner finally settled down and the rest of the three quarters turned into a defensive contest with the Oilers making two goal line stands including a blocked field goal by Moore to give Pearland the 14-0 season opening victory against a very good football team.

Kempner will invade The Rig on Friday, August 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the season opener for both teams.

The Cougars are a pre-season pick to finish second in the District 20-5A race as they have 32 returning lettermen with eight offensive and six defensive starters returning this year. Kempner was 5-7 last season and 4-4 in district taking third place to advance as a 5A Division I regional semifinalist.
While the number of returning starters sounds impressive, head coach Mike Ferrell has some big holes to fill as starting quarterback Austin Nwokobia (80-of-189 passing for 978 yards and eight TDs) and running back Kevin Ferguson (156 rushes for 668 yards and six TDs) were lost to graduation and Kempner doesn't have any proven players at those skill positions.

Despite that, Kempner will be a tough test for the Oilers in their season opener.

Players to watch: DL/TE George Randle (6-6, 175), WR/DB Vaness Emokpae (5-11, 175, 4.5), LB/TB Jerome Jenkins (5-11, 175, 4.5), TB Darius Wilson (5-7, 175, 4.5), DB/TB Jamar Rodriguez (5-7, 165, 4.5), and OL Bobby Lubojasky (6-2, 240).

Other prospects: WR Jake Caden, FB Aaron Miller, DB/WR Anthony Smith, DB Blake Dyer, OL Kendal Crouse, OL Nathan Dedeke, C B.J. Panalez, DL/FB Jeremy Uluocha, and LB John Baudry.

Coach Ferrell believes that he will see this team make the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

Coach Heath knows that Kempner has some great athletes and will have the Oilers primed and ready to take this team seriously in their quest to avenge their loss to Pearland last season.

Fort Bend Elkins - Saturday, September 3 - Away

Pearland has faced Elkins the past three seasons and have won each game. The Oilers beat the Knights in 2002 by the score of 20-7. Pearland won the 2003 contest 35-6 at Elkins and then blasted the Knights last season 42-0 at The Rig.

Elkins is picked to finish last this year in District 20-5A after going 3-7 overall and 3-5 in league action in 2004. But Heath never takes an opponent for granted and the Oilers will be on the road on Saturday, September 3 at 6:00 p.m.

The Knights have 26 lettermen with five offensive and five defensive starters returning for new coach Robert Crivellari.

Elkins averaged only 216 yards per game on offense while surrendering 301 yard per contest to the opposition. Pearland rolled up 24 first downs, 275 yards on the ground and 104 through the air for 379 total yards in the 42-0 shut out. The Oilers' defense limited the Knights to only seven first downs with 39 yards rushing and 95 yards passing for an anemic 134 total yards.
The Knights return starting quarterback Christian Sterling who was 98-of-203 passing for 1,274 yards and eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Michael Simpers was the leading ground gainer as sophomore with 100 carries for 486 yards and two TDs. But Sterling lost his entire receiving corps and will be looking for some new targets to throw the ball to on offense while Simpers (5-10, 170, 4.6) will get the bulk of the carries.

Players to watch: WR Bryant Abnif (6-1, 175, 4.7), DB Terrance Howard (6-1, 170, 4.7), and WR Taylor Ronconero (6-0, 175).

Other prospects: WR David Arriola, FS Duke Dykeman, SS Tyler Carpenter, LB Ian Madison, K/P Michael Barry, LB Kenny Anderson, NG Devon Handy, OT Tyler McCutcheon, OT Danny Baker, and LB Michael Platt.

Elkins has posted to straight 3-7 seasons and the Oilers should be favored to win this game.

Spring Branch Memorial - Friday, September 9 - Home
The Oilers were tested last year against an outstanding Memorial team, but Pearland pulled out the win with a 19-yard field goal by Jake Moylan with no time remaining in the game giving the Oilers a 27-24 victory. The Mustangs went on to finish 7-0 to win the District 18-5A crown and advanced to the Class 5A Region II semifinals.

Head coach Gary Koch welcomes back 25 lettermen with five offensive and four defensive starters that finished with a 9-4 overall mark in 2004.

Running back Hunter Clinch (5-10, 185, 4.6) returns after leading the Mustangs in rushing with 243 carries for 1,364 yards and 14 touchdowns as the workhorse of the offense. Quarterback Hunter Rome saw limited action in a backup role and will need to step up as a starter.

Players to watch: LB Lane Sinclair (91 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries). OL Nate Poe, OL Gabe Hiatt, DL Chris Collier, K/TE Sean Tatterree, DB Tyler Maddox, and DL Tyler Hoffman.

Pearland had 228 yards rushing and 116 yards passing for a total of 344 yards. The Oilers lost 2-of-3 fumbles and had one pass intercepted that helped Memorial rally from 24-14 deficit before pulling out the dramatic last second field goal.

Memorial had 229 yards on the ground and only 29 yards through the air against the Pearland defense.

Victoria Memorial - Friday, September 16 - Away
Pearland's game against Victoria Memorial marked the first time that the Oilers had to go to overtime since it was implemented by the University Interscholastic League as a way of deciding a winner.

Trailing 22-15 with less than three minutes remaining in the game, Memorial drove to the Pearland seven-yard line with only four seconds showing on the game clock. A pass from quarterback Caleb Urban to Xavier Arkadie was complete for the score as the buzzer sounded. The extra point was good to tie the game 22-22 sending the game into the extra period.

Pearland's defense held Memorial on their first possession including two quarterback sacks that left the Vipers out of field goal range on fourth down. After coming up short on their final down, Pearland's offense took over and jammed the ball to the end zone capped off by a two-yard run by Fozzy Whittaker for the winning score and a 28-22 victory.

Victoria was 4-7 overall last season and 3-2 in District 28-5A to advance to the Class 5A Division I bi-district. With 14 lettermen and 10 offensive and four defensive starters returning for the 2005 football campaign, head coach Jerry Campbell is optimistic that his team will be in the driver's seat for the league title. The Vipers are a pre-season favorite to win the crown over Corpus Christi Carroll, who is traditionally a yearly power, and Corpus Christi King to round off the top three teams for the post-season.

Urban (6-1, 175) will be returning for his senior year at the controls of the offense after totaling more than 2,100 yards last season. Center Chase Luhn (5-10, 240) will snap the ball again to Urban after being honored as the league's lineman of the year. Running back Travis Schulte (6-0, 185, 4.5) will be back after rushing for 565 yards.

Players to watch: K Seth Michaelis (5-10, 175), NG Eugene Johnson (6-2, 325), QB Michael Nuells (5-10, 175), and QB Demetric Loftin (6-3, 180).
Other prospects: OG Matt Short, FS Harlan Rhodes, OG Willie Garley, OT Jeff Moehrig, OT Tim Byerly, OG Austin Mueller, and TE Keir Nevarez.

The Oilers will make the journey to Victoria this year and the Vipers may be the toughest non-district opponent they face before District 24-5A competition begins.
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