DCTF's Greg Tepper on what the 2011 Texas high school playoffs got wrong: who should've made the playoffs but didn't, and who shouldn't have made the playoffs but did.
The playoffs are a fickle, fickle thing.
It’s not just in football, either. Every playoff system – from hockey and soccer to baseball and basketball -- suffers from the same unavoidable follies. Every year, a great and worthy team or two (or ten) miss the playoffs, while a less-worthy team or two (or ten) make it into the postseason.
Like I said, it’s unavoidable: the basic premise of a playoff itself precludes it from including every playoff-worthy team and keeping out every unworthy squad.
That is, of course, the case in the Texas high school football playoffs. Every year, there is wailing and gnashing of teeth as to which teams should be in the playoffs and which teams shouldn’t. But the rules are set up in such a way – the top four teams from each 5A and 4A district, the top three teams in each 3A, 2A and 1A district, and the top two teams in each six-man district make the playoffs – that it’s not always going to work like clockwork.
Today, I’m going to attempt to flesh out exactly who had the biggest cases in the state in each class. I’ve been doing my research, and I think I’ve been able to pinpoint the Best That Missed and Worst That Made the playoffs in each class.
(A side note: I know how touchy it can be to talk negatively about a high school football team – and I avoid it as much as possible – so let me just say that this is by no means meant to be insulting. This is only to illustrate the unavoidable issues that come along with a playoff. Please don’t e-mail me angrily, I’m not trying to insult anyone.)
We’ll call them the Most Egregious Snub (the best team that missed the playoffs) and the Most Dubious Inclusion (the least-deserving team that made the playoffs).
I vote that we start small – in six-man football – and work our way up, because frankly, six-man football doesn’t get enough notoriety. Without further ado, the Most Egregious Snubs and the Most Dubious Inclusions of the 2011 Texas high school football playoffs.
Most Egregious Snub: Trent (8-2)
The Gorillas, as you’ll see will become a theme throughout this exercise, were the victims of a tough district. After mowing through their non-district schedule undefeated, including win against a tricky Guthrie squad, they lost steam in District 7-6M Division II play, dropping a slugfest on the road against eventual state semifinalist Sterling City and coming out flat against regional finalist Loraine to fall to 0-2 in district play. From there, it was academic; 1-2 in district play just won’t cut it, and it left Trent on the wrong side of the cut.
Most Dubious Inclusion: Jayton (2-8)
Simply put, the Jaybirds didn’t beat anyone of note. Jayton scored a Week 1 win over Hedley, a team that eventually made the playoffs with a 4-6 record, and then became the beneficiary of the very strange three-team district out in 9-6M Division II. It didn’t start off as a three-team district, but when Benjamin cancelled its season, just Jayton, Lueders-Avoca and Rule were left standing. All Jayton had to do to soar into the playoffs was beat lowly Rule, who finished winless in 2011, to seal their playoff berth. They didn’t stay long, however; state semifinalist Newcastle mercy-ruled the Jaybirds, 52-0 in the playoff opener.
Most Egregious Snub: Wink (5-5)
To be frank, Class 1A did perhaps the best job getting the teams that deserved to be playoff-bound in the playoffs, but the Wildcats’ omission hurts. Playing in a difficult District 5-1A DII, the Wildcats got off on the wrong foot by dropping their first two district games to area finalists McCamey and Iraan, then inexplicably getting thumped by a sub-par Marfa team. From there, a solid win over Van Horn was not enough to save the Wildcats, who finished the year with emphasis with a 35-8 win over non-district foe Tornillo. It’s a disappointing miss, but the Wildcats really only have themselves to blame.
Most Dubious Inclusion: Burkeville (1-7)
One and seven. That’s the Mustangs’ final record. Burkeville had a really hard time filling their schedule – they even played Beaumont Legacy Christian Academy twice in non-district play – and it hurt them in preparation for play in District 14-1A Division II. But give the Mustangs credit: they did what they needed to do to snag one of the three playoff spots, toppling High Island (who finished 1-8) to secure a playoff spot. Sure, it all ended with a 55-0 drubbing at the hands of Milano in bi-district play, but the Mustangs made it, believe it or not, with just a single win.
Most Egregious Snub: White Oak (5-5)
With apologies to 7-3 Thorndale (who is getting snubbed in a piece about snubs, which is very meta), White Oak is my pick here. This is a team with an exceptional résumé, with wins at Frankston, at West Rusk and at home against Redwater in non-district play. But as it always is with these bubble teams, one dubious loss looms large: a 35-30 heartbreaker to Jefferson on October 14. They didn’t know it now, but that would be the Roughnecks’ undoing, despite taking district champ Tatum to the wire on the road in the season finale, losing 44-42. The Roughnecks were on the outside looking in despite their impressive year.
Most Dubious Inclusion: Callisburg (2-9)
With all due respect to the Wildcats, this one’s pretty bad. Callisburg only managed to score 147 points in their 11 games – a paltry 13.3 points-per-game average – but managed to scrape together enough offense (39 combined points, to be precise) to beat District 5-2A Division I foes Ponder and Paradise in consecutive weeks in October. Those two wins were enough to get the Wildcats into the playoffs, despite dropping their final four games of the season – including their 28-0 loss to Eustace in the bi-district round of the playoffs.
Most Egregious Snub: Fischer Canyon Lake (8-2)
How do you finish the season 8-2 – and go 3-2 in district – and not make the playoffs? Canyon Lake managed the unenviable feat despite a season that included a win over Sealy and a win over 4A Austin Travis. How, you ask? You lose to the team that wins the district (in this case, eventual state champion Wimberley) and you lose a game you shouldn’t (the next week, a 35-14 loss to a middling Boerne team). From there, Canyon Lake’s strong finish that included impressive wins over Fredericksburg and Bandera was for naught, as the damage had already been done. Eight wins and no playoffs is a tough pill to swallow.
Most Dubious Inclusion: Fabens (3-7)
There are a couple of other candidates for this one – 2-9 Mexia and 3-8 Ferris spring to mind – but Fabens gets the nod here for one incredible reason: the Wildcats’ three wins came against teams that finished a combined 1-29. Yes, you read that correctly: between wins over non-district foe San Elizario (0-10) and District 3-3A bunkmates Anthony (0-10) and Clint Mountain View (1-9), the Wildcats managed to find a way into the district’s top three. Give Fabens a ton of credit for winning the games it needed to – albeit against miserable competition – but it’s easy to see now why Seminole was able to cruise to a 61-0 victory in the bi-district matchup the next week.
Most Egregious Snub: Mesquite Poteet (7-3)
The Pirates – the Class 4A Cinderella last season – did not have a bad year by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Poteet started the season off 5-0 and looked poised to wreak havoc on District 15-4A again. But a midseason stumble turned into a full-fledged tailspin, as the Pirates lost to Corsicana (understandable) before dropping heartbreaking one-point contests to West Mesquite and Lancaster on back-to-back weeks. From there, wins against Ennis and Waxahachie couldn’t save the Pirates from being on the outside looking in, finishing with a 5-3 district mark but losing the head-to-head tiebreaker to crosstown rival West Mesquite. Ouch.
Most Dubious Inclusion: Austin Lanier (2-8)
District 26-4A wasn’t the toughest district in the state, and Lanier benefitted from that in a special way. A winless non-district slate led to a district opening loss to LBJ on September 22. But the Vikings were able to turn it around in games against Austin Reagan and Austin Crockett, scoring 109 of their 191 total points in those two games alone. Despite dropping a game to Austin Travis – another team that could have a claim to this title – the Vikings were able to sneak into the playoffs. They didn’t hang around long, getting shut out by Dripping Springs, 48-0, but they did just enough to get there.
Most Egregious Snub: Plano West (6-4)
Much like Class 1A, I think 5A had a good year as far as getting the deserving teams into the playoffs. That said, it’s a shame that Plano West was left out in the cold. The Wolves played in one of the most competitive districts in the state – 8-5A – with the likes of Allen, Flower Mound Marcus and the other Plano schools. And really, you could argue that Mike Hughes’ squad did enough to get into the playoffs, finishing with a 4-3 record in district play. The problem is, two other teams – Plano East and Hebron – also finished at 4-3, and it was West that was the odd man out after all of the tiebreakers. A crushing end to what was a pretty strong season for the Wolves.
Most Dubious Inclusion: Eagle Pass (5-6)
I know what you’re thinking: why is it dubious that a team that finished 5-6 made the playoffs? Simply put, I think the Eagles were the benefactor of a weak District 29-5A, beating up on teams like lowly Laredo Cigarroa, Laredo Martin, Laredo United South and Eagle Pass Winn to build up their win total. Now, give the Eagles a ton of credit for winning the most important game – the district-opening win over Laredo LBJ ended up being the tiebreaker to get into the playoffs – but Eagle Pass’ first round exit to McAllen Memorial should’ve been expected.
Greg Tepper is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.