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Thursday, November 16, 2000

Matadors hoping for easier time against Eagles

Staff Writer
The past two weeks have held all the fun of a Florida ballot recount for the El Paso Parkland Matadors and coach Jerry Walker, so it's not surprising the Mats are glad to be coming to Pecos for Friday's 7:30 p.m. playoff game against the Eagles.

Parkland, 7-3 and the District 1-4A runner up, and Pecos, the 2-4A runner-up with a 6-4 mark, will meet at Eagle Stadium in the bi-district round of the Class 4A playoffs. Pecos is the fifth district team Parkland will have played this season, having swept the previous four over Clint, San Elizario and the other two 2-4A playoff representatives, Fabens and El Paso Mountain View.

But until 10 a.m. on Saturday, Walker and his team weren't sure whether or not they would even be in the playoffs. Parkland and El Paso Ysleta won a three-way coin flip over El Paso High, a week after the Matadors were upset by the Tigers, 17-14. And that came two days after the mother of running back Artise Cheeks died of a heart attack.

"A lot of the kids on the team were close to Artise's mom," said Walker. Parkland bounced back from tragedy to beat El Paso Burges, 38-17, but then had to wait 12 hours to see if their season would continue.

"It's been a trying time through all the trials and tribulations, but everything worked out," said Walker, whose team was expected to defend its 1999 district title, but was beaten out by El Paso Riverside, losing to the Rangers by a basketball-like 53-47 final score.

"We lost three of our kids to grades before that game, and that didn't help any," said Walker, who did admit; "I expected a little bit more out of the kids than this."

Cheeks is one of the Matadors' "Big Three" on offense, along with Matt Austin and Michael Jefferson. Cheeks gained 915 yards and scored nine touchdowns this year, but that was over 500 yards less than Austin, who ran for 1,462 yards and scored 13 TDs.

"Both of them are top running backs, but we've given the ball to Matt more, and that's why he has more yards. He's a tougher runner," Walker said.

"They've got good speed with their two running backs and at receiver with Cheeks, Austin and Jefferson, but my opinion is they haven't played a defense as good as we are," said Eagles' coach Gary Grubbs. Pecos allowed just 347 yards rushing in their five district games this season, but have given up over 500 yards through the air the past two weeks, in their 27-21 overtime loss to Mountain View and last week's 48-12 win at San Elizario.

"I don't think they're going to throw the ball that much. Their game is running," Grubbs said. "They're an outside running team that likes to run the toss. They're a big-play team and that's what their offense is all about."

"Artise is the one that gets outside, and once he goes around the end nobody is going to catch him," said Walker.

Jefferson has been bothered by a deep thigh bruise the past couple of weeks, but still ended up with 607 yards receiving and scored eight touchdowns. "He's only a junior, but he's a division I-A prospect," Walker said. "We really didn't play him much against El Paso High. We were hoping they would double-cover him, but they found out he was not 100 percent pretty quickly."

Last week, Austin ran for four touchdowns and 182 yards, while Jefferson had two catches for 89 yards and a score in the Matadors' win over Burges. The TD pass came from quarterback Melvin Lucas, who had battled Mike Schure for the starting job this season.

"Offensively we've been not too bad, but not like last year. We were the highest-scoring team in the state of Texas last year at 39.5 points per game, but the biggest thing we lost from last year is our quarterback," Walker said.

Lucas played most of the game last week, and "did a pretty good job. We'll probably start with him on Friday," Walker said.

"To me, he looks like a pretty good athlete. He looks like he's got some speed and can get after it," Grubbs said.

On defense, Walker said linebacker Juan Macias has been Parkland's leading tackler, averaging about 10 per game, while the defense has improved with the return of those three missing starters. "We were just putting people in where we could find them. The whole left side of the defense was missing, but they were all back for the Burges game," he said.

Parkland played Mountain View and Fabens on back-to-back weeks in September, beating the Lobos at home, 35-13, and then winning at Fabens by a 25-19 score. Austin ran for 145 yards and the game's first and final TDs against Mountain View, and gained 163 against Fabens, while Jefferson caught a pair of touchdown passes against Fabens.

But the Wildcats ran for nearly 400 yards that night, 244 of that from District 2-4A leading rusher Vicente Macias, who was gained 109 yards fewer than that when Pecos went into Fabens and beat the Wildcats in October, 21-20.

On Friday, the Eagles will be hoping the district's No. 2 runner, Daniel Terrazas, has the same kind of success Macias had against Parkland. Terrazas became the first Pecos running back since Myron Jenkins in 1991 to gain 1,000 yards in a season last week, rushing for 185 against San Elizario to finish with 1,028 yards, with most of that coming during the district portion of the schedule.

"They've got a lot of speed on defense, but against us they're going to have to play assignment football because we run the option, and I don't know if they have that kind of discipline," said Grubbs.

Being able to run the ball is key to Pecos' hopes. Since 2-4A play began, the Eagles have averaged nearly 400 yards per game on offense, but have thrown for just 50 yards per game during that streak and have thrown for just over 400 yards for the entire year.

Last season, Parkland ripped the pass-oriented Clint Lions in the bi-district round of the Class 4A playoffs, 53-10, but the Mats were then wiped out by Canyon in the area round, 33-0. This time, Walker is hoping for better results, though he didn't fare as well with his second coin-flip of the week _ the Matadors have already lost a flip with Andrews to host their area round playoff game.

"Last year we went to Odessa and played on the Astroturf against Canyon and got big-eyed," he said. "This year, we're looking to get this monkey off our back of having never gotten past the first round."

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