It’s hard to imagine two football programs 338 miles apart could be each other’s biggest rivals. That spot is usually suited for a town within a 60-mile radius with true bad blood.
However, that’s the case when it comes to the highly anticipated UIL Class 3A Division II state semifinal showdown that will take place between No. 2 Canadian and No. 1 Gunter at 6 p.m., Friday on Anthony Field at Wildcats Stadium on the campus of Abilene Christian University.
Talks about this epic matchup between both communities, and high school football junkies across the state begin during fall workouts in August and these two teams for a near decade have always delivered. Before 2016, Canadian fans couldn’t tell you where Gunter was on a map and the same for Gunter fans. The Tigers probably thought they were going to battle a team from the Great White North.
Fastforward to a seventh matchup in eight years on Friday, and this battle of small school blue bloods meeting on the second weekend of December has become an all-timer for folks to follow across the state with one of these two teams representing at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“I’m so excited for this game,” said Canadian head coach Andy Cavalier, who took over for the legendary Chris Koetting this season. “It has to be one of the most unique rivalries in the entire state. To get matched up in the semifinals so many times is really cool. Gunter does a phenomenal job, and we just can’t wait.”
Gunter head coach Jake Fieszel agreed with Cavalier’s comment.
“I think it says speaks to how these programs are so similar in many ways,” Fieszel said. ” The players are bought in to do anything to win and be coached hard. That says a lot to both communities. There’s much more to it than good coaching and players. Everyone has to be all in.”
The numbers are flat out mind-boggling when it comes to Canadian and Gunter.
The Tigers have won 30 straight games with their last loss coming at the hands of Franklin in the 2021 state title game while Fieszel has an amazing 207-30 record in 17 seasons leading the Tigers.
Since the Wildcats (14-0) and the Tigers (14-0) have started playing this intense semifinal eight years ago, the two are a combined 220-21. Gunter is 116-6 since 2016, while Canadian is 104-15.
One of these two powerhouses has also been in a UIL state championship game since 2014.
Canadian won back-to-back Class 2A Division I state titles in 2014-15, were the Class 3A Division II runner-up in 2018, and won the Class 3A Division II championship in 2020. Gunter on the other hand won the Class 3A Division II state titles in 2016, 2019, and are the Class 3A Division II defending state champions with a runner-up finish in 2017 and 2021.
The Tigers have the upper hand leading the series 4-2 which includes a come-from-behind 21-20 win in the late moments of last year’s classic.
Previous semifinal games
2016: Gunter 44, Canadian 34
2017: Gunter 56, Canadian 27
2018: Canadian 17, Gunter 7
2019: Gunter 27, Canadian 20
2020: Canadian 33, Gunter 6
2022: Gunter 21, Canadian 20
Both Canadian and Gunter bring back veteran leadership from the meeting a year ago. Let’s start with the Wildcats and what makes them go and that’s senior dual-threat quarterback Camren Cavalier. Cavalier has been flat out sensational having a season for the record books. On the year, Cavalier has gone 201-of-280 for 3,705 yards passing with 57 touchdowns to only three interceptions. On the ground, Cavalier has racked up 1,410 yards with another 24 TDs giving him 5,115 total yards with a combined 81 touchdowns.
“I love getting to coach Camren,” Cavalier said. “It’s something I always look forward to and whatever the outcome is I’m just thankful that he’s my son. He’s a blast to coach and getting to experience this together is something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. This is going to be a challenge and we’ll have to be great in big moments and I can’t wait to see us put ourselves in that position.”
Complimenting Cavalier is a host of talent starting with the very versatile Luke Flowers. Whether it’s at receiver or running the ball, Flowers is flat dangerous with the ball in his hands hauling in 61 catches for 1,379 yards with 20 visits to the endzone. On the other side is another leader in Preston Neumeier. The speedy wide out has been a valuable weapon for Cavalier with 57 snags for 1,149 yards with 20 touchdowns. Leading the defense, is junior Wyatt Davis. Davis is a terror at linebacker leading Canadian with 161 tackles and four sacks.
“Nothing changes with Canadian,” Fieszel said. “They look exactly like always they always do and that’s very scary. They are always in the right spot they don’t do anything wrong. They are an outstanding program I have a ton of respect for.”
Not to be outdone is Gunter and its weapons. Like Canadian, the Tigers go as quarterback Walker Overman goes. The not very big but lightning-fast quarterback is scary in space and gets it done with his arm throwing for 2,678 yards, rushing for 961 yards with a total of 61 scores. Helping Overman in the complex offense that Gunter brings to the table is receiver Cannon Lemberg with 599 yards receiving and running back Brock Boddie with 657 yards.
“They are the same Gunter,” Cavalier said. “They have a lot of same skill guys from last year. Like us, they have guys that grew up in the program and play in the same offensive and defensive system for a lot of years now. They are so talented, and this will be the best team we’ve played all year.”
The Canadian-Gunter winner will play the winner of Daingerfield-Tidehaven in the Class 3A Division II state championship game at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.