3A/2A Games to Watch: Liberty Hill-Giddings top game in lower classes
Our "Games to Watch" segment is back and better than ever. Published every Friday here on TexasFootball.com, we take as broad a look as possible at the weekend's games. Some of your favorites are back -- like the Name Game, the best matchup between two school mascots -- with some new additions, like Under the Radar -- a great game you may ne thinking about.
No. 6 Giddings at No. 13 Liberty Hill: If I couldn't go to either Allen-Longview or Katy-North Shore, this would certainly be pick No. 3. Not only is this a clash of top 15 teams, this is a true head-on battle of similar smash mouth styles -- both Giddings and Liberty Hill run the ball on 90% of their snaps, and at least Liberty Hill has gone through a game without attempting a pass. What's so fascinating about these two teams is that neither ever seems to truly lose talent -- they each just fill-in-the-blank with another prolific runner and bulldoze their way into a regional final. But it may not be that simple for either team in 2009. Giddings looked poised for a potential state semi, but two unexpected offseason losses -- QB Trey Masek and ROV Rush Plumlee, who combined for 1,700 rushing yards last season -- had the Buffaloes scrambling for answers. They found them quickly -- in came ex-Magnolia QB Connor Wehr, who immediately became one of the better passers the school has had in years, and a number of other players were ready to take Plumlee's place. Liberty Hill's problem is less specific; the Panthers return just four total starters and only one on offense. But the one is FB Ryan Fickel, who rushed for 1,400+ yards and 20 TDs a year ago. Expect both of these teams to show little rust in their season opener, as their respective coaches (Derek Fitzhenry at Giddings and Jerry Vance at Liberty Hill) are too much of a perfectionist to field a sloppy team. But whichever one shows the least amount of drop-off from 2008 should be the winner, and that looks like Giddings.
TexasFootball.com pick: Giddings by 7
Burnet at Brownwood: The back half of the two-year clash between these two powers doesn't sport quite the same star power that it did a year ago -- at the very least, Lions QB Casey Pachall has moved on, along with OL Stavion Lowe and a few others. But the matchup itself should be as bit as interesting (if not more so) than the one we saw at the Texas Football Classic in 2008. The new central star should be Burnet QB Dillon Chafin, who actually played quite well in last year's 34-24 loss; the senior threw for 1,428 yards and 23 TDs on the season, good enough numbers for honorable mention AP all-state status. He headlines 14 returning starters from a squad that showed a considerable amount of fight in last year's 5-6 season, and if coach Doyle Walker is able to harness the same sort of dogged determination that Burnet made a habit of displaying a year ago, the Bulldogs will be tough to beat. But while Burnet would like to carry some things over from 2008, Brownwood is going to be starting anew. Last year's defense was horrible, which was one of the main reasons coach Steve Freeman was replaced by former Coppell headman Bob Shipley. And while the majority of Brownwood's stars from last year's team are gone, new ones were found in WR Jaxson Shipley and a few other transfers. The Lions' attitude should be totally different this season, but the result may be different than 2008.
TexasFootball.com pick: Burnet by 8
Kilgore (4A) at No. 2 Carthage: Spreads on this game are ranging wildly, from Carthage by 10 to Carthage by as much as 28 or 30. But it doesn't quite make sense that, if Carthage lost last year, 33-20, and now will be without all-staters like QB Si'Darius Blackshire and RB Dwight Smith, that it would suddenly become a favorite. But that may be dramatically oversimplified: Championship experience can go a long ways, and the 11 starters back from last year's DII champions now have a taste of what it's like to play in high-pressure environments. And Kilgore has a number of holes to fill, mainly RB Frank Reddic, who ran well enough to push his team into an area final. But Kilgore's calling card has always been prolific, consistent running backs, and coach Mike Vallery, who's won more than 200 games in his high school career, isn't seeing anything this season that he hasn't seen at some point before. The key might be Carthage RB O'Bryan Washington, a talented youngster who played behind Dwight Smith in '08. The talk surrounding him is already tinged with promise, and if he's able to fulfill those predictions, then Carthage may be able to stretch its legs a little. But more than likely, Kilgore will keep pace with Carthage's powerful offensive line long enough to keep it close. The reigning 3A DII champs should come out winners, but not without effort.
TexasFootball.com pick: Carthage by 12
Coldspring-Oakhurst at Crockett: Both Coldspring-Oakhurst and Crockett have the same feel -- talented teams that should be playoff bound but need a little extra something to truly get over the hump. Both are picked second in district, and this could be a possible postseason preview, since both should be DI bound. This could possibly fit into the barnburner category, too; C-O and Crockett have solid skill players and should have little trouble moving the football. But which one has that extra something? Maybe this game will tell.
TexasFootball.com pick: Coldspring-Oakhurst by 2
La Vernia at No. 18 Bandera: Last year, only half the barn burned! La Vernia walloped Bandera in 2008, 49-19, cruising to an easy victory and sending the Bulldogs to the first of three straight losses. But Bandera's biggest gun is back, QB Cole Hubble, one of the most electric and productive players in Class 3A, and he's part of an experienced offense that probably won't score less than 20 in a game all season long. But La Vernia sports its own dual-threat signal caller, Seth Grubb (1,257 yards passing; 940 yards rushing), and his Bears are still the 27-3A favorites. This one may be a season-opening non-district game (definition: completely meaningless), but these are both second round playoff teams, and playing games against this kind of competition could be critical when it comes to crunch time near the end of the year.
UNDER THE RADAR
Paris North Lamar at No. 12 Texarkana Liberty-Eylau: Most outlets have Liberty-Eylau penciled in as the easy winner here, and while it does look like it has the upper-hand, North Lamar may put up a better fight than anticipated. The offense has a ways to go -- just three starters return and most of the skill players are going to be new. But the defense should be solid, especially in the secondary, which could disrupt playmaking L-E receiver Marquez Clark. The Leopards look good on paper, but they did slump to 4-6 a year ago, and until the wins start coming on the field, a shadow of a doubt still exists.
TexasFootball.com pick: Texarkana Liberty-Eylau by 9
No. 18 Blanco (2A) at Fischer Canyon Lake: A traditionally powerful Blanco team against a Canyon Lake squad that slumped to a 1-9 finish just a year ago? Looks like a total mismatch, but the Hawks (like all second-year teams) return all 22 starters and a talented QB in Russ Wagliardo, and Blanco only brings back 8 starters from last year's team. But several of those players are state-wide stars, like DT Henry Greathouse and FB Layton Dworaczyk, and coach Danny Rogers is the 2A equivalent of Liberty Hill and Giddings: Plug 'em in, watch 'em run. Still, Canyon Lake has a puncher's chance of landing a knockout blow, and while Blanco is probably the best team, you never know if these Hawks might just surprise someone.
TexasFootball.com pick: Fischer Canyon Lake by 1
No. 4 Kirbyville (2A) at Diboll: Want to get an early look at how Kirbyville is faring after graduating nearly all of its 2008 2A DI state finalist team? An early clash with Diboll will help. Both these teams are sporting promising new/young faces at the skill positions, as Diboll coach Thomas Sheppard has praised junior QB Chris Bailey and sophomore RB Terrance Taylor this preseason and Kirbyville's Fred Ford averaged more than 10 yards per carry a season ago. The only problem is that both of these teams may be working out a few kinks -- both return just four starters from playoff teams. Kirbyville will be favored by most, but it has every bit as much work to do as Diboll does to reach 2008's heights.
TexasFootball.com pick: Diboll by 2
BLUE CHIP ROUNDUP
Alvarado at No. 8 Waco Midway: Don't worry -- we're not brash enough to try picking this one in the upset column, despite Alvarado's stunning season-opening knock off of Midway a year ago. But there's plenty of star power to see, starting with first-team Super Team DB Ahmad Dixon, a Baylor pledge who enters the year as one of the top safeties in the country. He'll be lining up across from Alvarado RB Broam Hart -- far lesser known than Dixon, the prolific runner cruised for more than 2,100 yards last season and is the top returning rusher in Class 3A. Dixon is obviously already FBS-bound; Hart may be in for the same with another big season.
TexasFootball.com pick: Waco Midway by 16
THE NAME GAME
Cameron Yoe at Waco Connally: You have to love a showdown between the Yoemen and the Cadets, and it actually should be a good game, to boot. Connally is probably going to pound the ball behind a massive OL -- anchored by Super Teamer Troy Baker -- with RB Reggie Richardson, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards a year ago. But while Connally's attack should be slow and steady, Yoe will field the pieces to an explosive offense and could score in a hurry. Odds are, the team that best controls the pace of the game will finish as winners -- Yoe should jump out early and keep Connally playing from behind.
TexasFootball.com pick: Cameron Yoe by 10
No. 9 Paul Pewitt at No. 2 Arp: Some of the luster was robbed from this game when Paul Pewitt lost star runner D.J. Burleson to a torn ACL over the offseason; the powerful fullback-running back rushed for 1,862 yards and 31 TDs a year ago, but now he'll miss all or the vast majority of the season, leaving the Brahmas without the star player they anticipated riding into the playoffs. But the defense is still sharp behind safeties Jerome Whetstone and Jerry Braddock -- a good thing, because Arp is going to move the ball in chunks with ATH Lavocheya Cooper running the ball out of the backfield and returning kicks and punts. The Arp offense is bringing back 8 starters, but QB Will Allen isn't one of them -- he'll be replaced by promising JV signal caller Kyle Copeland, and how he performs may ultimately decide just how far the Tigers will push into the postseason. Were Burleson still healthy, this would be one of the marquee matchups of the weekend. But with Pewitt's gun missing its biggest bullet, this may turn into an analysis of Pewitt than the great football game we were hoping for.
TexasFootball.com pick: Arp by 12
No. 16 Sundown (1A) at Post: While Sundown, one of 1A's most consistent programs as of late, is looking for answers after graduating most of its offense, Post seems to be bringing back everyone that got it so close to the postseason a year ago. This could actually turn into a quarterback battle, something a lot of West Texas games seem to avoid. But Sundown's Jason Durham and Post's Aaron James both threw for 1,000+ yards last season, and since several of Sundown's top rushers have graduated, at least one team may look to the air a little more often than usual. But the defenses may be total opposites -- Post brings back most of its 2008 group and should be solid against both the run and the pass, while Sundown's will focus primarily on all-state LB Jake Carter (129 tackles). This game should play out pretty even, but Post may nip the Roughnecks right up at the end.
TexasFootball.com pick: Post by 2
No. 17 Cisco at Early: There's a chance that Cisco could really lay the lumber on Early -- after all, Cisco is coming of yet another state final berth and Early is going to field a bunch of fresh-faced youngsters. But Early has rarely been without talent recently, and though it hasn't always all come together as planned, the Longhorns have been capable of beating any given team on most weekends for some time. But Cisco is one of the standard bearers for 2A football right now, and coach Brent West's game plans have usually been simple and brutally effective: Run, run, run and play some lights out defense. Early isn't going to be able to coast on talent this season -- it'll have to be knuckles down, dirt in your face effort week-in and week-out. But, like what we've said about Brownwood after last year's struggles, that can be a good thing. Circle the wagons, play tough football and give it everything you got. Cisco is probably going to win this football game, but Early has a great chance to test its kids against a monster program early in the season.
TexasFootball.com pick: Cisco by 15
Aubrey at Whitewright: The game may not be all that great, but this is the first chance to see legendary coach G.A. Moore back on the sidelines after he ended his retirement and took over at Aubrey. Famous for running tough, no-nonsense and razor-sharp offensive and defensive sets, Moore can be a butcher of a football coach: Carve up the opposition and sit 'em down. The story with Whitewright is completely different -- whereas Aubrey is embarking on a new era, the Tigers are hoping a little continuity can offer some more wins than last year's two. The experience is there to do it -- the Tigers bring back 14 total starters, including 8 on offense, and sitting in an easier district would almost surely keep them out of last place. But the real focus is Moore -- Aubrey has just six playoff appearances since the '70s, and he's already expected to light a fire under a somewhat dormant program. We'll see how many matches it will take by this time tomorrow.
TexasFootball.com pick: Aubrey by 11
Newton at Corrigan-Camden: There's a very slim chance that this bi-district matchup could be a possible playoff preview -- Trinity would have to qualify for the playoffs in 21-2A to make it happen -- but more likely this is just another shot for 21-2A to try and wriggle out from under the foot of 22-2A's upper-tier programs. Making it past the first round of the playoffs for teams like New Waverly, Corrigan-Camden and Co. has been very difficult with Newton and Kirbyville constantly fielding potential state finalists, and even though neither of those two are returning large amounts of talent from last year's teams, both would probably still be favored over every team from district 21 except for New Waverly. Newton is bringing back several heavy hitters, including QB Halston Flanigan and DE Malcolm Mattox, two of the best players in the district. C-C sports solid runners and linemen, which is what you need to battle a team like Newton, but veteran coach Curtis Barbay still gets the nod.
TexasFootball.com pick: Newton by 7
Sonora at Ballinger: This one has the potential for big offense -- Ballinger is starting a new era under coach Aaron Keesee, who is bringing in his son from Pilot Point, where he was a starting QR/CB at Pilot Point a year ago. Though the rest of the offense is going to have to learn the new system, the familiarity between Keesee and his son has to be worth something in the points column. And Sonora, which returns 7 starters on offense (and 16 total) has a number of rushers to employ to move the ball. This one should be both close and entertaining, and expect both teams to break the high 20s before the night's done.
TexasFootball.com pick: Sonora by 5
UNDER THE RADAR
Henrietta at Pottsboro: How quickly has Pottsboro been forgotten? With just one returning starting -- one! -- from last year's DI semifinalist appearance, its already a double-digit underdog to an unranked team picked second in its district. But Henrietta isn't just any old team -- the Bearcats return 12 starters and a very good dual-threat QB in Seth Crumpton, and were it not for No. 7-ranked Holliday sitting up top, Henrietta would surely be the favorite in 5-2A. There's a lot of holes to fill out in Pottsboro, and odds are Henrietta will expose them early.
TexasFootball.com pick: Henrietta by 12
Wall at Brady: Brady and Wall are polar opposites right now -- Brady went deep into the playoffs with a number of stars that now return with greater expectations. But Wall, coming off of a three-win season, is hoping 16 starters can right the ship and send the Hawks into the top half of the district standings. Brady is the favorite and rightfully so -- Wall should play well, but Brady QB Mackenzie Hirt should take home an MVP trophy and lead the Bulldogs to a season opening win.
TexasFootball.com pick: Brady by 9
Waco Reicher (TAPPS) at Corsicana Mildred: Waco Reicher was an excellent football team last season, sending both a QB/S and a RB/LB to the FBS ranks and winning a second straight TAPPS 11-man DIII title. But now that those talented seniors are gone, Reicher will be looking for both production and leadership, which will be tough for just RB/LB Tracer McClinton to provide. That's where Corsicana Mildred comes in -- sporting a sensational safety in junior Thomas McDonald, the Eagles were a playoff team a year ago and should be again in 2009. Reicher is always well coached, but Mildred may have too sharp an edge in talent this time around -- despite getting shutout, 28-0, a year ago.
TexasFootball.com pick: Mildred by 5
BLUE CHIP ROUNDUP:
Pittsburg (3A) at Jefferson: This one is mostly about Jefferson, which has quite a bit of talent to fall back on in even the worst situations, and playing a solid 3A team -- a playoff 3A team -- in the season opener can sometimes be rough. But RB Destin Mosley (Kansas State) and DE Clarence Lee (Houston) are both kids with collegiate futures. They'll be the focal point for Jefferson in this one.
TexasFootball.com pick: Pittsburg by 2
Lubbock-Cooper (3A) at No. 3 Bushland: An extremely good matchup, this one pits a number of talented offensive and defensive stars against each other with a little cross-classification spice thrown in. WR/TE/DE Crockett Gillmore, Bushland's No. 1 offensive and defensive threat, is pledged to Colorado State and is a physical mismatch for most defenses. But Cooper counters with the district's offensive and defensive MVPs, QB Tae Richerson and LB Trey Chandler. Cooper is a much bigger school with more kids to play, but Bushland is an excellent 2A football team and might just pull out a huge early season win.
TexasFootball.com pick: Bushland by 3
Gilmer Harmony at Edgewood: Both of these teams are somewhat forgotten behind celebrated district favorites -- Gilmer Harmony is stuck behind White Oak in 18-2A and Edgewood is overlooked behind Kerens in 14-2A. But both are capable of winning a first-round playoff game. Edgewood may excel in a surprising new way, as it sports a highly experienced defense to counter the loss of quarterback Weston Jameson. Luckily, potential FBS receiver Darrius Rogers is still available. Gilmer Harmony, on the other hand, is experienced all the way around -- 19 starters are back, and none are more critical than LB Kolby Hogan, also a college recruit.
TexasFootball.com pick: Gilmer Harmony by 7
THE NAME GAME
Friona at Abernathy: The Chieftans and the Antelopes? Tough to top that duo. Friona, a second-round playoff team last year, was far luckier than 3-2A's Abernathy; the former made the playoffs out of a six-team district win 3 district wins, while the latter stayed home with four district wins in a larger eight-team district. Friona looks like the better team, but Abernathy welcomes in new coach Darrell Daily, who might have some surprises.
TexasFootball.com pick: Friona by 6