From 1-9 last season to 8-2 and postseason qualifier this year, head coach Rodney Vincent and his Vista Ridge team have so much to be proud of.
But even after a historic turnaround, the team isn't satisfied. That is the message Vincent, in his 11th year as head coach of the Rangers, is instilling in the locker room this week.
The Rangers host Tomball Memorial in their Class 6A DII bi-district playoff matchup on Friday at Gupton Stadium. Kickoff for the first Vista Ridge playoff game since the 2015 state semifinals is slated for 7 p.m.
"After our game was over last week, we had a team meeting and I gave them some examples of some teams over the years that have had these opportunities," Vincent said, "And some of them were just happy to get in, and they were turning their shoulder pads in the next day. These kids know that can't be us.
"Since our first district ball game, we have kind of had to approach every game like a playoff game. Our preparation every week has been the same, to fight to get to this point. They have that postseason mentality even if they aren't used to the environment."
Vista Ridge completed an epic turnaround from 1-9 in 2018 to an 8-2 finish in 2019 play with a nail-biting 41-38 win over Round Rock that clinched its spot in the postseason. The Rangers placed second in District 13-6A competition, winning their last three district contests and registering a 6-2 record.
Senior defensive back Canon Kromis picked off Dragons quarterback Seth Ford with 41 seconds remaining in the game to seal the comeback win and a playoff position.
Tomball Memorial, co-champions of District 14-6A, enters the bi-district showdown with a 9-1, 7-1 regular-season record, their only loss coming to eventual fellow co-champion Cypress Woods, 31-28, in early September.
This is the first time the two schools will meet on the gridiron. Vista Ridge is 6-5 in playoff history and has not qualified for the postseason since 2015 when it fell to George Ranch in the state semifinal.
"One thing that is great for us is the chance to play at home. Our schedule is going to be the same, and everything will feel normal," Vincent said. "Another thing is that our district is so tough and you have to play a good team every week, we've been in playoff mode for a while, even if these players have never experienced it."
The Rangers will be led by junior quarterback Kyle Brown, who was one of the area's best players in the regular season. Brown completed 269 of 366 passes (73.5%) for 36 touchdowns and only four interceptions in 10 regular-season games, including a 28-for-38, five-touchdown performance in the season finale against Round Rock last week.
Sophomore running back Richard Rodriguez has been Tomball Memorial's biggest rushing threat this season, running for 1,078 yards on 159 carries. The Wildcats' passing game has been paced by junior Colton Marwill, whose 2,169 passing yards on 128 completions led the team.
"They do have playoff experience, they do have a lot of guys who were there last year," Vincent said. "The biggest thing is they have a dynamic offense that can run the ball at will, and they are very patient and explosive with their runs. Our guys worked hard on those challenges this week."
The winner will face off against either Spring Westfield (9-1) or Klein Cain (6-4) in the area round of the playoffs.
Vista Ridge is hoping to continue its surprising season with a first-round win, not only for the team but the Rangers faithful in the bleachers on Friday night.
"I would love for these kids to feel what it's like to win a postseason game. They deserve it," Vincent said. "To put in the work they put in, and to experience the feeling of winning a game of this magnitude, would be awesome for them and our community."
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