High School: Garland Owls

FRISCO, Texas -- Darnell Taylor could have left Mesquite High to play college football for Wisconsin.

Instead, he respectfully declined the FBS for the opportunity to continue his football career with his twin brother, Darius, at Sam Houston State.

Just a few short years later, the decision has been justified with a player of the year honor and the chance to play for the FCS national championship.

The Taylor brothers have used their natural connection on defense to help what was a struggling Sam Houston State team turn it around as the Bearkats try to complete a perfect 14-0 season.

“They made a decision -- they wanted to go to school together,” Mesquite coach Robbie Robinson said. “Not everyone was willing to offer both of them, but Sam Houston did. And I think Sam Houston has definitely reaped the benefits of doing so.”

Darnell, the starting weakside safety, was named Southland Conference defensive player of the year and was selected to the AP FCS All-American team. He led SHSU with 118 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and three sacks.

Darius, a linebacker, wasn’t far behind with 78 tackles, despite being second on the depth chart. Both have also played a huge role on special teams as well.

“Really physical-type guys,” Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said. “Darius is 255 pounds and runs a legit 4.6 40. .. He’s a physical specimen. Darnell is a very physical player and has a great nose for the ball.”

The twins united with another Dallas product, Keith Blanton, who shunned the FBS after transferring to Sam Houston State from Iowa State to become key contributors in the Bearkats' historical run.

On top of that, the trio shares a unique friendship.

Blanton played the majority of his high school career with Garland, which for 100 years has been the rival of the Mesquite Skeeters. Garland and Mesquite faced off for the first time ever in the playoffs this year, and Mesquite advanced with an area-round 24-21 overtime win.

Of course, the three Dallas natives spent a week talking smack with each other.

“[Blanton] was surprised actually,” Darius Taylor said. “I wasn’t. I felt comfortable about the team. I actually talked to our coach a few nights before the game and he said they were ready. He wished us good luck, and I wished him good luck, and we pulled it out.”

Blanton remains in denial to this day, no matter what was settled on the field.

“It ain’t nothing but a friendly rivalry, but we know that Garland got it,” Blanton said laughing. “Garland lost it, but we got it. They know overall Garland has the athletes.”

Blanton was a key weapon at Garland, with 402 receiving yards his senior year. But it was his blocking that left a lasting imprint on his high school coach.

In the area-round as a senior, Blanton threw a block downfield that released a fellow receiver to score a key touchdown in Garland’s 13-10 win over Tyler Lee.

Years later, it’s that secondary skill that is an emphasis amongst the Bearkats' receiving corps.

“Our receiving group takes blocking so serious,” Blanton said. “When one gets a killer block, we all just get hype. We actually have a competition on who can get the most knockdowns in each game.”

The Metroplex trio will have a large group of friends and family from Mesquite and Garland to cheer them in front of a capacity crowd Saturday at Pizza Hut Park. Blanton said nerves will settle once the ball is kicked off at 12:05 p.m.

“He’s the kind of guy that goes to a party and likes to dance up in front,” Darius said of Blanton. “That’s just Keith though.”

Davis, Skyline hold off Garland

February, 23, 2010
DALLAS – Senior Mike Davis and the Dallas Skyline Raiders breathed a sigh of relief as soon as the buzzer sounded Tuesday night.

Garland had cut a 15-point deficit to one with 4:10 remaining, but Skyline held on, 63-57, to win a brutally physical Class 5A Region II bi-district boys basketball playoff game at Dallas Conrad High School.

Skyline (25-8) advances to face the winner of Wednesday’s game between DeSoto (31-3) and A&M Consolidated (22-12).

“Whoo! That was close,” said Davis, who led the way with 26 points, five rebounds and seven steals. “I’m grabbing for air. They’re a good team, we’re a good team. The refs let us play, so we had to be physical and tough.”

Davis, who is better known as a top wide receiver recruit for the Texas Longhorns, reigned on the basketball court in a game that played out like a ping-pong match. With both teams pressing all game, Skyline committed 35 turnovers and Garland (22-9) coughed the ball up 32 times.

After seeing Garland Lakeview Centennial stymie Garland in the regular-season finale using its vaunted press, Skyline head coach Stanford Hill copied the tactic.

“I saw that Garland didn’t handle pressure well,” Hill said. “They only had two people that could really hurt you scoring wise -- 10 [senior point guard Marcus Thompson] and 23 [senior post Emmanuel Okoroba]. Ten is a real go-getter, and he can really hurt you. That was our whole plan, to take him out.”

Thompson could not find his game and only managed four points, four steals and five assists. Okoroba had 14 points and eight rebounds, but he struggled from the free throw line, hitting just 8-of-17. Skyline sophomore post Zach Leday kept Okoroba from establishing his inside presence, finishing with eight points, 10 rebounds and five blocks.

In the end, the Skyline press didn’t stop Garland, but the Owls' free throw shooting did. Garland managed to hit only 20-of-34 free throws in a game it lost by just six points.

Down 46-31 with 3:15 left in the third quarter, Garland took over with the defense of Thompson, speedy freshman guard TaTa Green and long-armed junior shooting guard Jonathan Walter leading the rally. Skyline had trouble getting the ball past midcourt, and the Owls closed the quarter on a 10-0 run. Walter finished with a team-high 16 points and six steals.

Garland kept pouring on the pressure in fourth, and Green had a chance to put the Owls on top with four minutes left, but his layup went in and out. Davis followed with a layup on the other end, and Garland never got as close again.

Hill used Davis’ prowess on the football field to help break the Garland press. Davis was sent deep as if on a fly pattern, and the Raiders hit him for bombs behind the Garland defenders like so many defensive backs on Davis’ highlight reel.

The tactic worked for a layup to close the first quarter and twice worked to get the ball up court in the fourth quarter.

“He showed that All-American wide receiver skill,” Hill said. “We try to take advantage of our athleticism.”

Playoff seeding set for 9-5A, 10-5A boys

February, 18, 2010
Both Districts 9-5A and 10-5A finished with ties for second place - Skyline (24-8, 10-4) and Carrollton Creekview (22-10, 10-4) in 9-5A and Garland Naaman Forest (24-7, 9-3) and Garland (22-8, 9-3) in 10-5A - and had to resolve the situation for playoff seeding.

However, the two districts chose to settle matters differently. In 10-5A, comprised entirely of Garland ISD schools, coin flips resolve ties unless they involve matters of making, or not making, the playoffs. Garland and Naaman Forest flipped at 9:30 a.m. Wendesday, with Garland winning the two seed.

In 9-5A, two different school districts were involved, and they settled the tie differently.

“We are the No. 2 seed, and Skyline is the three seed,” Creekview head coach Jonathan Ellis said. “We wanted to play them [for the seed], and they chose to give us the No. 2 seed.”

Ironically, no matter which team won the top seed in either district, they’d be playing a second-place team because 9-5A and 10-5A meet in the bi-district playoffs. Naaman Forest, the 24th-ranked team in Class 5A by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, and Creekview will meet Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Plano Sr. High School, while 23rd-ranked Garland and Skyline square off at Conrad High School also on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Rowlett squeaks into playoffs, faces Berkner

District 9-5A champion and 18th-ranked Berkner (28-5, 13-1) takes on 10-5A fourth-place team Rowlett (12-17, 5-7) at Sachse Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Rowlett got into the playoffs on the last night of the season, wresting a winner-take-all finale against fifth-place North Garland, 63-60. While Rowlett’s leading scorer Parker Lutz used his perimeter touch to nail his 19-point average, the Eagles used the size and strength advantage created by its football-playing frontcourt of 6-6 Tre Moore and 6-5 Greg Ardister to control the game. Ardister led the way with 22 points, and Moore chipped in 13.

“At North, we knew that our big guys were our strong point,” said Rowlett head coach Stanley Blackmon. “We did a pretty good job of getting he ball inside and executing ... Going down stretch, we had some turnovers, but we hit a few free throws and put the game away.”

District 10-5A champion and third-ranked Lakeview Centennial (27-3, 12-0) will battle Lake Highlands (17-14, 9-5) at a site and time to be determined.

Lakeview boys edge Garland in barn burner

January, 22, 2010
GARLAND -- Garland Lakeview Centennial's vaunted press flattened Garland in the second quarter of a boys basketball game Friday night, and the Owls could never fully recover.

The Patriots took over the game in the second period by forcing seven of their 23 turnovers, grabbing a 12-point halftime lead and then holding off Garland, 59-56.

The fourth-ranked team in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Class 5A poll took over sole possession of first-place in District 10-5A, avenging a nondistrict tournament loss to the unranked Owls (18-6, 5-1).

Despite temperatures in Garland's gym that rose into the 90s with wall-to-wall people cramming the stands, the Patriots (21-3, 6-0) hounded the Owls up and down the court.

The challenged every in-bounds pass, forced errant passes and got easy layups at the other end of the court.

"We press and run, that's what we do," said Patriots guard Chris Jones who led all scorers with 16 points to go along with six steals and two assists. "It makes them shake up, and they turn the ball over."

When Garland senior point guard Marcus Thompson, who normally only sits for a minute or two per game, picked up his third foul in the second quarter and went to the bench, the Patriots swarmed the Owls.

"We haven't had opportunities to play without him [Thompson] so much, and we made some bad choices and decisions," Garland head coach Randy Love said.

With Patriots leading scorer Toddrick Gotcher (18.7 points per game) struggling to find his shot, Jones came alive, attacking the inexperienced ballhandlers with the help of guards Chris Copeland and Tez Demas, leading to three consecutive steals and three easy layups.

Garland had trouble getting the ball past midcourt and managed to take fewer shots in the second frame -- eight -- than Lakeview (9-of-16) made. Emmanuel Okoroba, Garland's 6-foot-8 big man who towers over the Patriots' frontcourt, hardly saw the ball and took only one shot in the period on his way to 10 pints, 12 rebounds and five blocks for the game.

"I think that was the turning point in the game, and it created tempo," Lakeview head coach Tony Mauldin said. "They have bigs, and if we play a halfcourt game we can't stay with them. I think that was the difference in the game because we were able to play our tempo. We got a 12-point lead, and when they made a run we were able to hold them off."

Garland did make a run. Even though Thompson fouled out with 6:09 left in the game, his replacement, sophomore Tra Fountain, adjusted to the pressure. He and junior D.J. Ozigbo started dribbling through the press as the Patriots' legs got increasingly tired thanks to the tempo and the temperature.

Jones left the game with cramping in his legs, tried to come back, but had to sit back down due to the discomfort.

The Owls found cut the lead to 52-50 with three minutes to go. That's as close as the game got; however, even with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Jonathan Walter, as the Patriots managed to keep up the defensive pressure just enough to hold the lead.

"In the fourth quarter, we got tired in that furnace," Mauldin said. "But, even in the fourth quarter, we got some turnovers when it counted."