Ballinger Bearcats look to defend district title after breakthrough season
The Ballinger Bearcats posted noteworthy accomplishments last season – including 10 wins, the program’s most since 1995, and a district championship.
They also were the only team to beat Class 3A DI state champion Jim Ned in last year’s season opener, an impressive accomplishment for 3A DII Ballinger.
Now comes the rebuilding. Ballinger returns just three offensive and three defensive starters, but the Bearcats are still picked to win the District 2-3A title ahead of Sonora, Bangs and Brady.
“We lost eight or nine seniors that had started for three years,” said fifth-year Ballinger coach Chuck Lipsey, 28-17 with the Bearcats. “We’ve got some kids coming back that played last year but didn’t start and some JV kids coming up. We have to get them ready to contribute.
“A lot of people don’t think we’ll be as good this year. We need to win a few games we’re not supposed to, win district again, and make the playoffs. Sometimes, those are the most memorable seasons – when you’re not supposed to be as good.”
Ballinger, which fell 35-7 to Spearman in last year’s area playoff game, lost its leading rusher (Garrett Dixon) and receiver (Weston Rollwitz).
But the Bearcats return quarterback Carter Arrott, who last year passed for 1,240 yards and eight touchdowns. The 5-foot-8, 160-pound senior also rushed for 520 yards and five scores. Arrott took over during last year’s opener, leading the winning drive against Jim Ned and remaining in the lineup for the remainder of the season.
The Bearcats’ offense, which averaged 28 points per game last year, also returns senior linemen Markus Castleberry (6-1, 275) and Nakia Villarreal (5-10, 200). Trey Matschek is the top returning receiver with 225 yards last season.
Beau Perkins, a 6-1, 210-pound third-year varsity senior, rushed for 303 yards last year. He could share running back duties with junior Nathan McDuffee and sophomore Zack Canada. McDuffee spent most of the 2020 season in COVID quarantine, while Canada played on the varsity last year as a freshman.
Perkins and Canada also will fill the H-back role when they’re not playing running back. In addition to Matschek, wide receiver candidates include Blake Collum, Luke Rollwitz, Landen Landers and Martin Quieora.
Besides Castleberry and Villarreal, the offensive line includes Daniel Medina (5-9, 220), a senior who saw a lot of playing time last year. Other line prospects include Robert Roman, Monte McKinnon and Jonathan Wheeler.
Ballinger’s defense was outstanding last year, allowing only 11.8 points per game and limiting six opponents to six or fewer points. From the line, Villarreal logged 86 tackles, including 19 for loss, while Castleberry made 53 stops. Arrott made 37 tackles from the secondary.
Perkins saw action last season at inside linebacker, and he’ll be joined by Canada and Roman. McDuffee, Quieora and McKinnon are outside linebacker prospects. Junior Jayden Fuentes should also help at linebacker after missing most of 2020 with two concussions.
Collom, Landers and Rollwitz are the top cornerback candidates. Joining Arrott at safety will be Matschek and Briley Clinton.
After a season-opening rematch at home against Jim Ned, Ballinger faces nondistrict opponents Breckenridge, Colorado City, Clyde and Llano, which advanced to the 3A DI state semifinals last year.
Lipsey hopes challenging nondistrict games will prepare the Bearcats for district.
“We were the team that kept Jim Ned from going 15-0, so I’m sure they’re licking their chops to play us this year,” Lipsey said. “We’ll be throwing our inexperienced kids to the wolves, but they’ve got to grow up sometime.
“We scheduled tougher nondistrict games for last year’s team, and those games helped us get better. Now, these young kids will have to step up in a hurry. Our kids improved a lot over the spring and summer, so we’ll see how they respond.
“Our goal is to make another run at the district championship,” said Lipsey, 151-83 overall in 20 seasons overall as a head coach.
Ballinger dominated District 2-3A DII last year, outscoring the other five teams by an average of 39-5 with two shutouts. Bangs, last year’s district runner-up, returns just seven starters. Sonora and Brady each return 16 starters, but both teams finished 4-7 last year.
District: 2-3A Division II
Head coach: Chuck Lipsey (151-82; 28-17 at Ballinger)
Last year’s record: 10-2; 5-0 in district
Last district title/playoff appearance: 2020/2020
Stadium: Bearcat Stadium
Returning lettermen: 13
Returning off./def. starters: 3/3
Base offense: Power spread
Base defense: 3-4
Team strength: Dedicated hard workers
Team weakness: Young, varsity inexperience
Players to watch
QB/DB Carter Arrott (5-8, 160), OL/DL Markus Castleberry (6-1, 275), OL/DL Nakia Villarreal (5-10, 200), TB/LB Beau Perkins (6-1, 210), TB/DB Nathan McDuffee (5-7, 150), HB/LB Zack Canada (5-8, 185), OL/DL Daniel Medina (5-9, 220)
Aug. 27 Jim Ned
Sept. 3 at Breckenridge
Sept. 10 at Colorado City
Sept. 17 at Clyde
Sept. 24 Llano
Oct. 8 Brady*
Oct. 15 at Grape Creek*
Oct. 22 Ingram Moore*
Oct. 29 at Bangs*
Nov. 5 Sonora*
Jim Ned W 20-14
Breckenridge W 13-0
Colorado City W 34-2
Clyde W 21-14
Llano L 0-34
Sunray W 46-12
Brady W 1-0 (COVID forfeit)
Grape Creek W 41-0
Ingram Moore W 47-6
Bangs W 25-13
Sonora W 42-0
Odessa Compass W 1-0 (COVID forfeit)
Spearman L 7-35