When Nocona takes the field for its state quarterfinal matchup Friday night, the Indians will be facing one of the top 2A quarterbacks in the state.
Corsicana Mildred senior Nic Shimonek is a University of Iowa commit who has played on varsity since he was a freshman.
Shimonek's career high school stats include 7,776 passing yards and 94 touchdowns. He only has thrown eight interceptions in more than 500 passes the past two seasons.
But Shimonek will be airing it out against an experienced Indians' secondary that is the biggest strength of a stingy unit, having picked off 17 passes in 2012.
Cornerbacks Hayden Hill and Shelby Womack and safeties Tate Fenoglio and Bryce Dingler have started a combined 11 seasons and are excited about the challenge Mildred's passing attack presents.
"We have quite a bit of confidence in our secondary," Fenoglio said. "It's four seniors and we've been playing together since sophomore year. All of us have a pretty good bond."
Nocona mainly uses zone coverages with Hill and Dingler on the defensive left side of the field and Womack/Fenoglio on the right. The Indians enter Friday's game allowing 85 passing yards per contest.
Hill leads the group with eight interceptions, including five in important victories against Holliday, Jacksboro, Edgewood and Gunter. All five of those picks came with the opposition threatening in Indian territory.
"He can sure go up and get the ball at the highest point. I really don't know why teams keep going to his side," Nocona coach Brad Keck said of Hill. "Shelby is getting lonely back there. Maybe it's because they see No. 2 (Fenoglio) over the top."
Fenoglio has five interceptions and Womack has three. Dingler didn't grab his first pick until Nocona's playoff win against Edgewood, but he has a good reason for that.
"I've had some chances to pick some balls, but when I see the kid going for the pass, I usually hit the kid instead of going for the ball," said Dingler, who leads the Indians with 119 tackles.
Keck said he has never coached a player Dingler's size that hits as hard as he does. The 141-pounder is a fiery leader whose teammates feed off his physical style.
While Nocona's front seven has more than held its own, the Indians rely heavily on their safeties in the running game. Fenoglio is third on the team with 86 tackles.
"We really treat them like linebackers who are eight yards deep," Keck said. "The reason we're predominantly a zone team is because we know those guys are experienced and they can look for run-pass reads and get involved in the run game."
A 12-win season had never been accomplished in Nocona's history until last week. If the Indians are to claim their 13th victory and a spot in the state semifinals, Nocona's secondary must be up to the task against Shimonek and the Eagles.
"It'll be on our shoulders, but there have been passing teams that we've gone up against and we've done what we're supposed to do," Hill said. "I think if we stay focused, watch film and come out mentally prepared, surely we'll finish and do what we've done all year."