Week 6 is upon us, and DCTF managing editor Travis Stewart takes you on a high-stakes journey through key district matchups in Classes 5A and 4A.
Non-district play seems like years ago, right?
Well, not if you're in the Panhandle — the 4A schools way up North are just starting their live-or-die games. But for the rest of us, yes — the tension inherent in district play has already swept us off our feet, and playoff races in key districts are starting to take shape.
We go through each of the state's 17 geographic regions — well, 16, since I smushed two together this week — and trust me, you don't want to miss these monster matchups. Enjoy!
There's a lot of really good-looking matchups in El Paso this week, but the king of the crop is surely Montwood vs. Americas, a game we'll be highlighting on Fox Football Friday tonight. Picking a key 4A matchup from the bin is like a pirate settling on just one gold coin from a treasure chest, but I guess I'll take Del Valle at Hanks.
Now that Montwood has QB Angel Garcia back in the lineup — he was suspended to start the season — the Rams are rolling like old times. They dazzled Sun City last week with a dashing comeback win over El Dorado, simultaneously showing both explosive offensive and defense ability, and a penchant for come-and-go play. Young Americas, as talented as the junior class (led by RB Javier Hinojos) is, would seem overmatched here. But its two losses on the season — Midland Lee and Lubbock Monterey, both by a touchdown or less and both on the road — are now a combined 8-2. We wrote this team off early, but no longer. The Trailblazers are alive, baby.
Down in 4A, Hanks is likely going to face its first close game since the season opener, when it squeaked by Andress, 36-35. Since then, the Knights have either won impressively or lost big-time (Coronado, 41-7). The biggest shift is the defense, which has allowed just 20 total points over its last three games. But Del Valle, folks, is even better — it's riding three-straight shutouts. First one to three, wins?
Picks: I'll take Montwood over a game Americas squad, and I'll run with Del Valle this week against Hanks. But it'll be close. Low-scoring, but close.
|Permian Basin/Big Country|
The two biggest games in the Permian Basin are the two biggest games in the Big Country, too, so we'll smush them together this week. It all comes down to Abilene at Midland Lee and Midland at Abilene Cooper in Week 6 — winner of the former should win the district title, and the loser of the latter is in danger of missing the playoffs.
As for Abilene, the trick to shutting down Lee is right in front of its nose — plugging up RB Jason McAfee and forcing the Rebels to throw. Of course, that's easier said than done — McAfee set the single-game school record last week with seven rushing touchdowns, and this is the land of Cedric Benson. Records don't fall every day out there. But Abilene will be looking for him all game, while simultaneously turning the offense over to always-great QB Evin Abbe, who was good enough to down heated rival Abilene Cooper last week. I wouldn't be surprised if Lee jumped out to an early lead in this one, but I would be surprised if Abilene didn't close it out late.
Both Abilene Cooper and Midland are coming off tough losses last week — Cooper fell in the final seconds in the Shotwell Showdown, and Midland tumbled late as San Angelo Central completed the most unlikely and painful of comebacks. So who bounces back more effectively? Midland definitely took a harder beat last week, and to make matters worse, the guy who hurt them the most was dual-threat QB Mickey Scott. Well, Cooper has its own speedy-and-smooth QB in Lorenzo Joe, who played one of his best games under center against Abilene. If he plays that well again, I expect more trouble for the Midland defense.
Picks: I'll take Abilene over Lee, and Cooper over Midland. That second one was tricky, though. I could still be convinced otherwise.
The Panhandle is erupting into action this week, as the 4A districts finally — finally! — start district play. Right off the bat, we've got two games that everyone will be clamoring over: Canyon Randall at Canyon and Amarillo at Amarillo Palo Duro.
The Canyon ISD showdown has everyone in a tizzy, and rightfully so: both teams are unbeaten, both teams are averaging more than 40 points per game on offense, and both teams are allowing less than 20 points per game on defense. Statistically, it's a dream matchup. But Randall threw the gauntlet — in plain view — two weeks ago, scoring 14 points against Borger before the offense even took the field. The Randall attack, led by QB Collin Bowen and WR/DB Logan Brittain, was special, and probably will be again. Canyon can't claim the same right now — it survived salty Monahans, which is commendable, but it did so without starting QB Blake Weaver, who went down with an injury. If he's not back tonight, it's tough to argue that Canyon won't suffer a little. Both teams are talented, but Randall feels a little more solid right now.
The Amarillo-Palo Duro showdown isn't quite the same caliber — yes, Palo Duro is 4-1, but there were red flags all over the place last week when the Dons had to rush back in the second half to overcome winless Borger from Class 3A. The offense was so-so for much of the game and got a little help out of 15 Borger penalties. Amarillo, on the other hand, may be just 3-2, but those losses are to state-ranked Wchita Falls Rider and top-flight 3A squad Stephenville. Amarillo doesn't dazzle you at any one position, but it overwhelms you with balance across all of them. A Palo Duro win would be a significant upset.
Picks: I'll take Randall over Canyon and Amarillo over Palo Duro and feel pretty good about both picks — which, of course, means I'll be wrong on each.
The Metroplex is batting about .333 today — solid if not spectacular, full of good games but lacking a truly great one. Still, I find my eye drawn towards Allen at Plano East — a district opener for both teams — and Cedar Hill at South Grand Prairie. Both have clear favorites, but both offer some potential for drama.
Ninety-nine percent of the Texas population will throw their chips in with Allen tonight, both because of the Eagles' No. 6 ranking in the TexasFootball.com Class 5A Top 25 and, perhaps more importantly, Allen's recent reputation as a state-wide powerhouse. But Plano East is a dangerous foe, primarily because of a high-powered offense that's straight-up blown people out of the water so far. The only fly in the ointment is the health of QB Mario Smalls, who was nicked up in East's last game (which, because of scheduling oddities, was almost three weeks ago). If Small, in many ways the straw that stirs the drink, doesn't play, the pressure will be on the accomplished PEHS ground game to pick up the slack. Allen, with one of the best front sevens in Texas, usually eats that stuff for breakfast. That'd be a tough matchup.
Cedar Hill and SGP's showdown will be a different breed of beast. Both play good enough defense to beat skilled teams, but the real allure, especially for Cedar Hill, is in explosive athleticism. The Longhorns probably have the state's most feared open-field athlete in Laquvionte Gonzalez — a quicksilver wraith in red and black if there ever was one. He's already got 11 touchdowns on the year in several different ways. SGP's defense, which has been a bit up and down, will need to mesh neatly with the Warrior ground game to keep this Cedar Hill attack arm's length. I'm just not sure they can.
Picks: I'll take Allen over Plano East and Cedar Hill to down SGP. Both should be fun games to watch, though.
It's a fairly quiet night in North Texas, and with all due respect to Prosper vs. Frisco Wakeland — which is a delicious duel, indeed — I'll side with Wylie East at Sherman as the must-see material of the week.
Reason being? These two teams are actually pretty similar. Both roll out dual-threat QBs; for Sherman, it's prolific Dru Smith, while Wylie East counters with Garrett McCain (1,283 yards, 16 TDs, 2 INTs). Both have elusive/explosive RBs; for Sherman, it's Tre Mask, who was excellent against Denison last week, while Wylie East counters with Jabari Anderson (6 total TDs). And both offer dynamic WR duos; for Sherman, it's Joseph Harvey and J.T. Luper, while Wylie East counters with Quan Jones and Marcell Ateman, who's 10 touchdowns is tied for third in the Metroplex. Look, you could bring out the Steelers' Steel Curtain at this one and still give up touchdowns — that's just a ton of offensive talent! Sherman played aggressively last week, and a few key penalties kept its big rivalry game close. The same kind of hiccups against East could be more disastrous.
Pick: I'll take Sherman, but I expect something wild and high-scoring. I'd rate this one a Popcorn Affair.
The big gun here is pretty clearly Pflugerville Hendrickson at Round Rock Westwood — the two best teams in district going to head to head in what could end up being the de facto 16-5A title game. Picking a game to ride shotgun is tougher, but I suppose I'll choose Connally and Hutto. Couldn't go wrong with pretty much any matchup in 17- or 25-4A, though.
The funny thing about Hendrickson and Westwood is that they're both very consistent — both have an offensive plan that they've stuck by, with great success, for years, with few significant deviations. On the Hendrickson side, it's the ground game — grind and grind with a series of surely college-bound backs (each of the last three have signed FBS scholarships) for the whole 48 minutes, until the opposing defense is simply out of gas. Then run some more for good measure. For Westwood, it's been QB play — Bear Fenimore has filled in capably for the graduated Ben Johnson, and the result is a 4-2 mark. As much as I love Hendrickson's style of play, I think it's Westwood's that can play a more versatile brand of ball.
Connally and Hutto sport some clear differences, too — Hutto, which runs the I-formation, is more of a pro-style, while Connally is siding with a two-back spread look that gives its deep base of RBs a chance to shine. And when I say deep, I mean it — four guys on the Cougar offense have 20 or more carries and a whopping six have 100 or more yards rushing. QB Dajon Williams is a skilled passer, but that ground game is what makes the engine turn. So Hutto, with a defense giving up about 18 points per game, has to rip the treads off the tires to slow this freight train down. If it can, QB Chase Adams has the tall task of giving Connally's balanced offense the edge.
Picks: I'll take Westwood over Hendrickson, but Connally-Hutto is a tough call. I think Connally will win, but Hutto has a lot of elements you want to see in a scrappy underdog.
The Centex area probably has the best Texas two-step of games you're going to find anywhere in the state tonight. First up is Hewitt Midwat at Copperas Cove, a showdown that most pundits (definition: me) think will end up deciding the district title. Next in line is spicy local rivalry Belton vs. Temple, probably one of the best rivalry games you've never heard of.
Midway and Cove is best described as a clash of the titans, truly one of top three games in Texas this week. It's a really tough game to breakdown, too, because both teams are doing so many things well right now. For Cove, the top two priorities should be A) keeping QB Kramer Robertson in the pocket, where his nimble feet can't hurt you as much, and B) doing something to slow down WR Hunter Jarmon, who's more or less become the best receiver in Central Texas. If either — or, worst case scenario, both — get loose, it's going to be a long day for Cove. Midway's job is more one-dimensional, but just as difficult — stop Cove's Vondareaz King and Daniel Ruff from running all over the place. Even for a team as deep and talented as Midway, that's a pull-your-hair-out proposition.
Belton and Temple would seem to be a battle of QBs, as Temple's Zach Allen and Belton's Peter Shelburne, both seniors, are the district's two leading passers. Both then consider that Allen is doubling up Shelburne in yardage and it looks a little different: Belton needs a much better showing out of its defense than from anywhere else to button up the high-powered Wildcats. The Temple defense should be alert, too — Belton's only loss came to (1-4) Harker Heights, when the Knights completely shut down the Belton attack. In an old, heated rivalry like this one, defense should naturally, and if both units more or less cancel each other out, I like Temple's odds. Even if it was trounced by Midway last time out.
Picks: I'll take Midway over Cove — by a field goal or so — and Temple over Belton, by about the same margin.
There's really only one big game out East in the 5A/4A ranks this week: Rockwall-Heath at Longview. Two other talented teams are facing well-known foes but are heavily favored should win by 13-20 points: John Tyler (over Corsicana) and Whitehouse (over Lindale). Looks I just issued picks for those, so I'll only take Heath-Longview in depth.
And that one is a sticky one to figure out, isn't it? Longview has shown flashes of both greatness and grogginess this year, lighting up the scoreboard in a big win over Lufkin but flaring out against Metroplex powers Coppell and Mesquite. While I'm not sure Heath is quite at the level of that duo, it's still a pretty good squad, especially along the defensive line. That means Longview, which still needs good-to-great games out of RB Tory White to win on a regular basis, is going to have to control the line of scrimmage for the majority of the night. Longview has seen a tough schedule to date, though — nothing Heath throws out there should surprise it. If Longview can take away either QB Chase Schultz or super-promising sophomore RB Rico Henderson — and control that LOS — it can walk away with a win.
Pick: I was originally siding with Heath here, but I'm flip-flopping to Longview. That Lobo home crowd knows how to bring the noise.
Your big gun here is unquestionably Sulphur Springs at Mount Pleasant, a game laden with importance for both district implications and, quite frankly, pride.
You're not going to find a metric that suggests Mount Pleasant has, at any point, been the better team of these two over the past decade. Sulphur Springs has a state title, for pete's sake (2008), while MP would be content to take a playoff berth (none since 2007). But that gap closed in a hurry this year when Mount Pleasant, with QB Monty James at the helm, roared out of the gate to a 4-1 start that few saw coming. The offense is tough to stop these days, and while the defense still has some growing to do, the passing game can keep people at arm's length long enough to win a shootout. But Sulphur Springs can chuck the ball around a little bit, too, and the bevy of skill players that the Wildcats always seem to enjoy is once again deep and talented. Sulphur Springs has specialized in winning high-scoring, wide-open affairs as of late, so for Mount Pleasant to take this one, the learner will almost assuredly have to become the master.
Pick: Sulphur Springs is the safe choice, being winners of nine-straight in the series and all. That's my choice, but MP could be ready to signal the start of a new era tonight.
North Shore is in action tonight, which more or less has the Houston crowd locked in from the get-go. But I'll move that to the Golden Triangle to open up some slots here, which I'll wisely use on two mammoth district matchups: Cy Falls at Cy Ridge, and Friendswood at Texas City.
Cy Falls and Cy Ridge is just about as important as it gets, folks — in anything-goes 17-5A, no less than seven teams are in the running for four playoff spots, and just about any of them could end up bringing home a district title. A loss for either of these teams would still leave it at 3-2 in district, which sounds great, but any of the seven teams in the playoff hunt could be at 3-2 before the weekend is over. Falls is also hurting, too — it just lost it's best weapon, WR Jacorey Warrick, to a likely season-ending knee injury. That means a few explosive plays from Ridge — and superstar RB Renderick Childs (1,004 yards, 10 TDs) — could put Falls in a precarious position. Falls is the best defense in the district, and that's worth something. But the injury bug bit hard here.
Friendswood's star, QB Jordan Wood, is as healthy as they come, and tearing up everyone in sight. Just how good has he been? He's third in South Texas (excepting the Valley) in rushing with 1,087 yards (and averaging 12.64 yard per carry, at that) and first with 22 touchdowns. And that doesn't even include his passing numbers: 360 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions on 60 percent passing. Think Texas City needs helping finding who they're supposed to lock down?But TC is no slouch, either, especially after it nearly dragged down top-ranked Pearland Dawson last week. The ground game is excellent — especially RB Deshaun Rawls. I can't say he's Wood's equal, but he has a lot of ability.
Picks: I'll take that Cy Falls defense tonight, though Ridge will sorely test it. And I'll run with Friendswood, too, though Texas City is actually the favorite, I think.
I promised North Shore-Memorial here, and I'm going to deliver. But if you don't mind, I'm going to tag on West Brook and Deer Park, too — in some ways, that may be the biggest game of the weekend.
North Shore vs. Memorial. Unbeaten vs. unbeaten (Memorial 6-0, North Shore 5-0). Both excellent defensively — 14 points allowed per game for North Shore, 17.8 for Memorial. Each in possession of a bona fide star under center — Micah Thomas for North Shore, Ricky Fisk for Memorial (both seniors). Folks, it's about as good as it gets. For North Shore, it all comes down to keeping Fisk out of sync — he's already got 12 touchdowns on the ground this year, so the Mustangs can't get him establish the passing game to the point that it opens up his running lanes. Memorial's task is tougher; even if you can eliminate Thomas — which is very, very tough to do — you jump from pan to fire with sophomore speedster Tristan Houston, who's averaging nearly 20 yards per carry. Keep in mind that North Shore has won its past two games by a combined 115-15. They just look angry right now. That's not a team you want to see.
And then down to West Brook-Deer Park, also part of 21-5A. Why is this important, say you? Well, the other two teams we just talked about (North Shore and Memorial) are both making the playoffs. Put it in Sharpee. It's happening. La Porte, chugging along at 5-1 and 2-0 in district, probably is, too. Channelview and Baytown Sterling are probably out of it. That leaves these two — West Brook and Deer Park, and the winner is probably making the playoffs. The loser more than likely won't. Is that enough pressure for you? Both teams have been up and down this year — offensively and defensively — but Deer Park has seemed to be the more consistent of the two. Being at home only helps.
Picks: North Shore-Memorial is giving me heartburn, but I'll take North Shore. As for the second, I'll take Deer Park, but whichever one of those two teams grasps the gravity of the moment is going to win, plain and simple.
We've got a dashing double in the Piney Woods this week, one of which proved impossible for the DCTF crew to ignore — Brenham at Montgomery, where the Fox Football Friday crew (7-11 PM, Fox Sports Southwest) will be setting up shop for the evening. But don't overlook The Woodlands at Lufkin, either. As usual, that one has a lot riding on it.
Brenham vs. Montgomery, once again, looks like it will decide the district title — after all, it's been that way for the past two years. Why change now? The only problem is that has never worked in Montgomery's favor, as the Bears are still looking for their first win over the Cubs as district rivals. Neither team has ridden a star to their unbeaten district records, but both are getting balanced efforts out of their run games and just enough from the passing attack to get by. I'll reveal my pick tonight on FFF, but for now, suffice to say that this should be close — again, it has been for most of recent memory.
The Woodlands and Lufkin have both been tough teams to get a bead on as of late. After all, the Fox Football Friday crew saw Lufkin get pummeled — at home — by rival Longview a few weeks back, and then the Pack went and beat A&M Consolidated in four overtimes in their next outing. The Woodlands, sufferers of a severe beating at the hands of Katy, actually played pretty well against Dallas Skyline in the season opener. They probably could have won last week against A&M Consolidated had starting QB Blaine Gillespie not been out with an injury (concussion). And, honestly, I think that's more or less the game — if Gillespie is in, I like the Highlanders. If he's out, I'm privvy to Lufkin and suddenly surging star QB Tyler Stubblefield.
Picks: I'll have to abstain (temporarily) on Brenham-Montgomery, but I think Gillespie plays against Lufkin — and I think The Woodlands wins.
There's not one clear-cut heavy-hitter in the San Antonio area this week, but there are a handful of games that should register on the local scale. I'll do my quick-hitter trick on this region:
New Braunfels Canyon at New Braunfels: Both are searching for an identity right now. Good chance the loser here misses the playoffs. I'll take New Braunfels ... barely.
Converse Judson at SA Wagner: Judson's losses were heavy-handed but against exceptional teams. The Wagner defense has been good (for the most part), but I think Judson cracks it.
Cibolo Steele at CC King: I said this last year, too, but I'm not going to pick against this Steele team until they lose. They're that good right now.
Kerrville Tivy at Boerne Champion: Champion ran into an odd problem the last two weeks — it couldn't score! If Tivy can replicate that issue, it's going to run away with this one.
Lockhart at Buda Hays: Hays QB Caleb Kimbro got back into the swing of things in a loss to Kerrville Tivy last week, and now he'll be in full stride against Lockhart. I'll take Hays.
We've got two good ones on the Coastal Bend this weekend — one with two teams going in the right direction, Gregory-Portland at Port Lavaca Calhoun, and another where one team is struggling to stay afloat, Tuloso-Midway at Calallen.
The first one, Calhoun-GP, is legitimately one of the biggest games in the state this weekend, even if most of the major metro areas will overlook it completely. The teams are a combined 11-0, a number that really starts to mean something at this point in the year, and both have reasonable aspirations of playing for a regional final. Expect both to pound away at the ground, but in different ways — Calhoun, as it's known to do, will be running the triple option, and doing it pretty well, at that. There's no point in listing individual kids, because you're going to see a lot of them. Suffice to say the G-P defensive line will be busy. Gregory-Portland, on the other hand, takes a two-back shotgun approach, with the lion's share of the carries going to steller RB Devin Bisby. This game is going to move quick, but it's tough to turn my back on Calhoun's seemingly limitless options in the ground game.
Calallen, on the other hand, is just looking for anyone to step up — the offense has been stagnant all year, and that's been the main thing that's kept the Wildcats from living up to preseason expectations. The bad news is that Tuloso-Midway is averaging more than 30 points per game offensively, so if Calallen wants to win this one, it's going to need to keep the score down. Shootouts do not work in this team's favor — especially when you're playing a diverse run game like T-M's, which offers Matthew Dickson, Maclovio Reyes and Tyler Smith.
Picks: I like Calhoun at home — I always like Calhoun at home, come to think of it — and I'll give Calallen the benefit of the doubt one last time. But Tuloso-Midway could surprise here.
|Rio Grande Valley|
There was one game that kept singing me a swan song in the Valley this week, and it's a team you've seen a lot of this year — McAllen Rowe, this time in action against McAllen Memorial. Can you blame me? This district 31-5A is great!
I said on Twitter this week or last week that I couldn't decide if 17-5A or 31-5A was my favorite Class 5A district right now — I still haven't decided. I picked one game from each this week, if you noticed. For this matchup, be prepared to see two sharply contrasting styles — Rowe, a potent offense, is going to throw the ball quite a bit, and effectively. When QB Javi Obregon is on, he's hard to stop. The defense will chip in when it can, but this is an offensive team, first and foremost. Memorial is the exact opposite — the offense hasn't done much this year, especially the passing game, and the defense has had to do almost all of the heavy lifting. It's allowing less than 20 points per game, which is great. But it's had to in order to stay in games. It's premature to say the loser here would be out of the playoff race, but there's certainly pressure to win — especially for Rowe, which would fall to 2-3 in district with a loss.
Pick: I'll take Rowe, though Memorial will win if it can keep the pace of the game down.
Travis Stewart is the managing editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.
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