COAHOMA — Coahoma has always been home for head coach Trey Gardner. When the alumnae was hired in June, he let it be known that much never changed.
“Somebody when they first hired me said, 'Welcome to being a Bulldog,'” he said. “I told them, 'I've been a Bulldog for a very, very long time.' I never quit being a Bulldog.”
With that proclamation in mind, it's only fitting Gardner is the coach to get the Bulldogs back in the playoffs after two consecutive 5-5 seasons.
Through Gardner and a handful of standout players, the Bulldogs have had somewhat of a storybook season. First-time head coach, brand new offense and district may not automatically add up to a playoff spot.
However, that's exactly what happened after a 41-7 win over Anson last week. The Bulldogs are back in the playoffs and have a shot at a share of the District 2-2A Division II title next week at home against Idalou.
Gardner has shied away from taking too much credit for what Coahoma has done this season. He said it's all about the players and their efforts, no matter who the coach is.
His approach to success is seen throughout the team. The Bulldogs haven't reveled in the moment this week, which is a bye. It's been all about what more they can accomplish.
“Wednesday was probably the last day we were going to talk about playoffs,” Gardner said. “From here on out, i has to be about Idalou.”
That may be the smart approach considering the final opponent of the regular season. Gardner said the Bulldogs have to almost play a flawless game to beat the Wildcats, who are undefeated in district play and the darlings in 2-2A DII according to most coaches.
But maybe Coahoma has the players to pull off the upset.
Tanner Ruiz has impressed at quarterback as a sophomore when the job was supposed to go to Pete Acosta. Ruiz has 67 carries for 518 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's 21-of-44 for 418 yards and five scores.
Acosta didn't gripe about the switch, either. He made plays wherever else he was put, grabbing eight picks on defense as a corner and still contributing on offense as a quarterback and receiver.
Then there's Skylar Coats, who was supposed to be at receiver, but ended up shoring the offensive line. Hunter Williams six' catches for 153 yards and four touchdowns has helped. Dakota Griffith being a receiving and running threat, Jason Martinez, Justin Coker, Sheigh Cravens, the list goes on. It's an offensive unit that has scored at least 33 in each of the Bulldogs' seven wins.
Gardner is not too surprised at his offensive production, though. He said he that much would happen with the talent level of the skill players he had.
Maybe the unsung hero has been the defense, which has allowed a combined 13 points in the last three games
Defensive coordinator Raul Sanchez credits that to the simplicity of the defense and the experience of players like Acosta, who he tabs as the leader of the unit.
“Pete's one of the guys that's been starting for three years on defense. He's always been good at corner. This is how smart I was, I actually moved him to safety the first couple of games and I don't know if he had an interception there,” he said laughing. “We moved him back to corner and I think he's got six or seven now.”
The difference in this team this season and past seasons is world's apart.
Along with the talent on both sides of the ball, Williams said Gardner brought something to this team that's difficult to measure through statistics: unity.
“I've played varsity all four years of high school and with coach Gardner, this is the most unified team I've ever been a part of as far as everyone being amped for the game. Just for the love of the game,” the senior said. “I feel the love of the game coming back.”