5A/4A Preview: Bi-district, ahoy
The first Friday night of the playoffs is finally upon is, so we take you on a ride through the busiest night of the postseason in Classes 5A and 4A.
It's the moment we've all been waiting for all year — the first Friday night of the playoffs. Take a deep breath.
This night is tough to beat in the high school sporting world: the biggest sport in one of the nation's biggest states, sending roughly a third of its teams into do-or-die showdowns that have local fanbases from Canadian to Calallen at a fever pitch. To say things are tense is a massive understatement.
But we're going to preview the highpoints for you, offering up three games per region (per division): a Best-in-Show, or the best matchup in that playoff region tonight; a Runner-Up (the second-best matchup); and a Saturday Special (the best game on Saturday). Down in Class 4A, where there's a derth of Saturday games, we changed that last one to Three's Company.
There's a lot to sift through here, so let's get to it. Charge!
Southlake Carroll vs. Arlington Martin: 6:00 PM Friday, Cowboys Stadium
Best-in-show: Well, we think it’s the best in show. But realistically, Carroll hasn’t seen anything remotely resembling a challenge since the season-opening loss to Allen, and it’s debatable how much of a speed bump Martin really is. If RB Kyle Hicks is healthy and at his best, this is a molehill-turned-mountain. If Hicks is a stride short or the defense plays like it did against Arlington Bowie, Carroll is going to take its first step towards a repeat 5A DI title with authority.
Pick: Southlake Carroll
EP Franklin vs. San Angelo Central: 6:00 PM Friday, Midland's Grande Comm. Stadium
Runner-up: You have to love the first-round rematch, which is exactly what these two will be offering us tonight in Midland. Central and Franklin squared off way back in Week 0, with Franklin squeezing out a thrilling 41-40 victory. But since that point, Central has been money in the clutch, clinching a playoff berth on the shoulders of two incredible come-from-behind victories: 43-42 over Midland, and 28-21 in the finale against Midland Lee. Central QB Mickey Scott is as icy as they come these days.
Pick: San Angelo Central
DeSoto vs. Killeen Harker Heights: 1:30 PM Saturday, Waco ISD Stadium
Saturday Special: Harker Heights is a team from decades past, when winning a game 7-6 was perfectly acceptable. Sure, the Knights’ offense isn’t anything to write home about, but its defense has done some impressive damage to marquee foes, and expect LB Naashon Hughes to be tasked with disrupting DeSoto’s intricate offensive attack. But Heights is still coming off consecutive heavy-handed losses to Midway and Copperas Cove, and DeSoto isn’t going to be any easier to handle. Expect speed to win the day for these flying Eagles.
The Woodlands vs. Klein Collins: 7:00 PM Friday, Klein Memorial Stadium
Best-in-show: With QB Blaine Gillespie back in the fold and fully healthy after missing some time earlier in the year, The Woodlands looks as stout as ever. But it’s the sudden surge in the ground game that has Highlanders fans feeling even more optimistic, chiefly because of RB Patrick Carr, who finished out the regular season with a spectacular 265-yard, 5-TD performance that had everyone buzzing. Collins answers back with a diverse and talented ground game of its own, but an at-times leaky defense makes me think that the Highlanders will be going home happy.
Pick: The Woodlands
Dallas Skyline vs. Plano, 7:30 PM Friday, SMU's Ford Stadium
Runner-up: We’ve been silent on Skyline so long that it’s almost like they don’t exist, but that’s part of the deal when you play in a largely overmatched district (9-5A) like the Raiders did. You know the two principle names — QB Devante Kincade and WR Ra’Shaad Samples — a pair of guys that make the offense almost unstoppable. But it's DT Kerrick Huggins that has the chance to be most successful in shutting down Plano; no one has been able to block him all season long. Plano is better than people think, but so is Skyline. And that’s bad news for Region II.
Pick: Dallas Skyline
Garland vs. Mesquite Horn: Noon Saturday, Allen
Saturday special: Garland’s overall record may look a little ragged (6-4), but this Owls team has gotten increasingly better as the season goes on — they’ve now won six-straight, the last two by double digits, and RB/WR Ja’Taveon Green, while quieter than he was last year, is still capable of the big play at any moment. But Horn may still be the better overall squad — QB Destri White and RB Treyvon Marsh form a fearsome duo (combined 1,671 yards, 24 TDs rushing), and LB D.J. Green is leading one of the best defenses in the area. Garland’s turnaround from an 0-4 start is impressive, but it’s tough to deny Horn.
Pick: Mesquite Horn
Houston Lamar vs. Katy Seven Lakes: 7:00 PM Friday, Houston's Delmar Stadium
Best-in-show: Seven Lakes put on a thrilling show down the stretch run, rebounding from losses in Weeks 7, 8 and 9 to stun Morton Ranch in the finale and clinch 19-5A’s final playoff spot. But the show stops here, as the Spartans go toe-to-toe with a team that knows no drama — not with coach Tom Nolen in charge. The man just wins, even if the style doesn’t thrill us media types, and the ground game (led by RBs Ronnie Wesley and Levy Whiteing and QB Darrell Colbert) is as effective as ever. Seven Lakes may be flying high right now, but no one takes the air out of the ball faster than Lamar does.
Pick: Houston Lamar
Cy-Fair vs. Alief Taylor: 7:00 PM Friday, Cypress' Berry Center
Runner-up: From one Week 10 qualifier to another, I can’t think of any other team that closed the season as frantically as Cy-Fair did: 5-1 in their final six, with the last two games both decided with less than a minute to play. QB Logan Taylor has been red-hot, and the ground game is getting into the swing of things, too. But Alief Taylor’s defense, when it’s on top of its game, is very tough to beat — it gave Katy arguably the closest game its had all year! If that top-notch defense shows up, this is Taylor’s (low-scoring) game to lose. But if it’s flat, I like Cy-Fair.
Clear Springs vs. FB Travis: 7:00 PM Saturday, Pearland's The Rig
Saturday special: The first thing to note here is that this is not the same Clear Springs team that opened the year with embarrassing losses to both North Shore and Pasadena Dobie. Since that point, Springs has beaten five playoff teams, including now 9-1 La Porte. QB Zach Cripps is playing excellent football, and WR Byron Jones isn’t far behind. With that in mind, it’s tough to take Travis here — yes, the offense is fast and effective. But the defense has been spotty all season long, and it’s tough to think that Springs won’t take advantage of that with its speedy receivers.
Pick: Clear Springs
Weslaco vs. Los Fresnos: 7:30 PM Friday, Los Fresnos
Best-in-show: There’s more than one way to skin a cat, I suppose, and while Weslaco dominates time of possession the old fashioned way — the ground game — Los Fresnos can turn to a bevy of skilled receivers, namely Jaime Mata, Brandon Colon and Akeen Simien, to keep an opposing offense at bay, too. In short, when Weslaco’s ground game is clicking, it wins ball games. But that’s been an inconsistent element of the team all season long, and steady-if-not-spectacular Los Fresnos hasn’t been plagued by the same issues. I’ll roll the dice in this one and take Weslaco, though it has to bring its best effort offensively to keep from coming up short.
McAllen Memorial vs. Harlingen: 7:30 PM Friday, Harlingen
Runner-up: Harlingen, usually the standard-bearer for the Valley in Class 5A, finds itself up against the ropes in this one, primarily because Memorial’s defense has really hit its stride as of late. Unlike last year, when Harlingen could score 40-plus points in its sleep, the Cardinals now have to sweat out every score they put on the board, and a Memorial defense that’s allowing less than 250 yards per game isn’t going to be generous with the yardage. Were this 2011, I’d be leaning heavily towards Harlingen, but it’s not. Memorial is the tougher out right now.
Pick: McAllen Memorial
Converse Judson vs. SA Churchill: Noon Saturday, Alamodome
Saturday special: Not all 7-3 records are created equal, and Judson can certainly claim some extenuating circumstances with the one it's saddled with — losses to Smithson Valley, Lake Travis and Cibolo Steele, three teams with a combined one defeat, is about as respectable as they come. Knowing that RB Jarveon Williams (1,204 yards, 18 TDs) is there patrolling your backfield helps, too. Churchill is good enough to win here, especially with QB Nate Pearson in the fold, but Judson has seen the best and should be prepared for anything. Churchill would need to get a bevy of lucky bounces to survive this one.
Cedar Hill vs. Copperas Cove: 2:30 PM Saturday, Waco Midway
Best-in-show: This matchup exemplifies one of the most enjoyable things about bi-district play — smashing together two teams from different geographic regions of Texas and watching the contrast of styles. Both teams come from really tough districts, and both have taken their lumps along the way, but the winner here could legitimately play several rounds deep. Cove’s Vondareaz King is a bona fide star in the ground game, but it’s tough to find a game breaker quite like Cedar Hill’s Laquvionte Gonzalez — he may be the fastest and most elusive runner in Texas. This one should be a thriller, and I betcha it’s still a ball game late in the fourth quarter.
Picks: Cedar Hill
Hewitt Midway vs. Midlothian: 7:30 PM Friday, Corsicana
Runner-up: So which Midlothian defense are we going to get — the one that stonewalled the likes of Waxahachie, Justin Northwest and South Grand Prairie, or the one that struggled against DeSoto and Mansfield? If it’s the former, we’ve got a ball game. If it’s the latter, it’s going to be a long night against the likes of Midway QB Kramer Robertson — as dazzling a playmaker as you’ll find in Central Texas — and WR Hunter Jarmon. Midway’s speed is dizzying, and even though Midlothian has faced its fair share of athletic ability this year, Midway is one of the state’s best at getting to the edges and turning the corner. It’s a tough maneuver to stop.
Pick: Hewitt Midway
Abilene vs. EP Montwood: 1:00 PM Saturday, Odessa's Ratliff Stadium
Saturday special: With QB Angel Garcia once again fully entrenched under center, and with RB Alexis Ortis averaging darn near 10 yards per carry en route to his 1,000-yard season, Montwood is peaking at the right time. The Rams may be a little up-and-down sometimes, but when they’re up, they’re way, way up there. Still, unbeaten Abilene is 10-0 for a reason — QB Evin Abbe is a special talent throwing the football, and RB Marcell Porter is very dangerous on the ground. Montwood would be a dangerous opponent for a lot of other playoff teams out there, but Abilene is one of the most complete and explosive teams in Texas.
McKinney Boyd vs. Dallas Jesuit: 7:30 PM Friday, Plano's Clark Stadium
Best-in-show: One way or another, we’re going to see the end of a special high school career in Plano tonight — either Boyd RB Bryan Driskell (5,000-plus career rushing yards) or Jesuit WR Jake Oliver (state record for career receptions) will play his last game. That’s tough to swallow, because they’ve been poster children for both good football and good character. But in the end, Boyd has seen the tougher teams this year and, from time to time, beaten them. I’m also not sure there’s a team in Texas that can really get its arms around Driskell, who really serves as the heart and soul of that offense. I’ll take Boyd in a spirited, emotional night for both squads.
Pick: McKinney Boyd
Hendrickson vs. Westlake: 7:30 PM Friday, Austin's Reeves Center
Runner-up: The last time most people checked in with Hendrickson, it was stuck at 0-2 after one-sided season-opening losses to Rouse (50-23) and Leander (35-0). Gross, right? Well, since that point, Hendrickson has won eight straight, with only one coming by less than ten points. It’s an overnight makeover fueled by RB Samaje Perine, who’s living up to his spectacular billing in the second half of the season. Westlake, which has been oh-so-close in a number of games this year, has to keep Perine in check to give itself a chance, and it would be helpful to jump out to a lead and make Hendrickson throw to keep up. If you let the Hendrickson ground game control the pace of the game, you’re probably not going to win.
Longview vs. Rowlett: 4:00 PM Saturday, Kincaide Stadium
Saturday special: It hasn’t always been pretty — or easy — for preseason favorite Longview this year, but the Lobos finally look like they’re settling into place after losing QB Bivins Caraway in the opener: new QB Dezmond Chumley has morphed into a go-to guy, and RB Tory White has been as consistent as ever. But most importantly, the defense has kicked into high gear — even if it’s been against the bottom three teams in 12-5A, Longview has only allowed 16 points over the last three weeks. Rowlett, with QB Carson Hyles, is a better offensive team than it gets credit for. But still, with Longview rounding into form at the right time, this game has a clear favorite.
PA Memorial vs. Manvel: 1:00 PM Saturday, Channelview
Best-in-show: I spoke briefly with Manvel head coach Kirk Martin yesterday, and joked that it’s a bummer when it’s you that draws the best first-round matchup in 5A — coaches don’t want the marquee ones, they want the easy ones! He didn’t seem too amused, and I can’t blame him — there’s not much that’s funny about Memorial. First of all, they’re fast, especially on defense, and QB Ricky Fisk has been hurting people all year with his dual-threat skills. The best way to down Memorial is to not turn the ball over; they thrive on those extra opportunities, so you have to make sure you play good football, not necessarily the spectacular, high-risk kind. Lucky for Manvel, they have QB Shane McCarley, who’s only thrown 8 INTs all year, as contrasted to his ridiculous 46 TDs. It’s tough to find numbers like that anywhere in Texas.
Langham Creek vs. Eisenhower: 7:00 PM Friday, Aldine's Thorne Stadium
Runner-up: Langham Creek, a proud alum of Fox Football Friday this year (we showcased them against Cy Ranch about a month and a half ago), has really put on a show this season, winning the outright district title in one of the toughest districts in Texas (17-5A) with a 6-0 finish behind stellar QB Connor Feist. But this Eisenhower team it will see tonight is very different from Langham Creek’s Cy-Fair ISD brethren — there’s not much offense to offer (Ike was shut out twice in its final four games), but the defense can get after you. That’ll be a mental shift for Langham Creek after winning high-scoring 17-5A, but it’s one I feel pretty certain they can handle.
Pick: Langham Creek
FB Bush vs. Clear Creek: 7:00 PM Saturday, Deer Park
Saturday special: Clear Creek’s exceptional 8-0 start to the season came crumbling down with losses in each of the last two weeks, underscored by a blowout to district champ Clear Springs. But the Wildcats can still play a little football, especially with QB Jarrett Hildreth under center (2,888 yards, 22 TDs passing). Bush is another story – like all four Fort Bend schools in the 5A playoffs, the Broncos are hard to figure out, as they played just one game outside of FBISD (21-8 over Hou. Madison) all season. That said, speed is speed, and Bush, with QB Ronald Monroe, has that all over the field. I lean towards Bush, but if we here at DCTF have the wrong bead on FBISD, things could go the other way quickly.
Pick: FB Bush
Smithson Valley vs. SA Reagan: 7:30 PM Friday, Alamodome
Best-in-show: San Antonio Express-News writer Lorne Chan will provide us with some live updates from this one on Fox Football Friday tonight, and with good reason — Smithson Valley is one of the top two or three teams in Division II, with a legit chance to win it all. When I try and break down teams for people, I usually start with some major strengths and a few key weaknesses. But that’s where Smithson Valley is unique – it doesn’t really have any weaknesses. Even if it doesn’t do everything perfectly (no one does), the Rangers just don’t have that fatal flaw that another team can exploit. Reagan is going to try and run the football from the get-go, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bigger, stronger and more physical team than Smithson Valley. The more you watch them on the film, the more you like them.
Pick: Smithson Valley
McAllen Rowe vs. Harlingen South: 7:30 PM Friday, McAllen Veterans Memorial
Runner-up: Rowe sure did make things a nail-biter, huh? After we had them against McAllen on Fox Football Friday near the start of the season, McAllen stumbled down the stretch (and coach Tony Harris was reassigned yesterday) and Rowe, the loser on that night months ago, did just enough down the stretch to qualify. An odd world we live in. But now Rowe QB Javi Obregon comes face to face with one of the best defenses in the Valley — a South squad that’s allowing less than 13 points per game. Rowe’s wide-open attack will be tested against that feisty unit, and I can’t help but wonder if the Warriors are going to be running low on fuel after such a grueling district slate.
Pick: Harlingen South
Del Rio vs. Economedes: 5:00 PM Saturday, Schertz's Lehnhoff Stadium
Saturday special: I was a little surprised to see Del Rio as a landslide favorite in a number of polls; surprised not because I was low on Del Rio, but because I think Economedes is much better than its record indicates. See for yourself: Economedes’ losses came to 8-2 Edinburg North (21-20), 10-0 Sharyland (55-48), area rival Edinburg (29-26), and 9-1 Donna (55-34). You can do a heck of a lot worse than that. Del Rio RB Gudelio Garza (1,727 yards, 32 TDs rushing) is one of Region IV’s best, but I like Economedes in the upset special — something like 32-29.
Aledo vs. Cleburne: 7:30 PM Friday, Mansfield's Newsom Stadium
Best-in-show: Aledo starts its defense of three-straight 4A titles in an unfamiliar position — big-school DI, after its great run of success down in DII with the likes of Johnathan Gray and Matt Bishop. Now it’s QB Pate Davis and a stellar linebacker corps that runs the show, plus a little magic from WRs Willie Gibson and Taco — yes, Taco — Anderson. That defense will have to keep tabs on Cleburne QB Quade Coward, who’s enjoying one of the best seasons we’ve seen from a kid in that neck of the woods in a long time. Aledo coach Tim Buchanan told us in the preseason that this defense was going to have to be the rock of any kind of new-look title run. They’ll get a chance to prove that’s what they are right off the bat.
Amarillo Palo Duro vs. Lubbock Monterey: 7:30 PM Friday, Lubbock's Lowery Field
Runner-up: Why don’t we swing up to the Panhandle for a moment, where Palo Duro’s offense is going to face a very different kind of animal: ground-and-pound Monterey, which is still recovering emotionally from the sudden, tragic death of defensive coordinator Reese Fleming to an inexplicable illness. Palo Duro will want to air it out with QB Malik Sims, but if Monterey rolls out the same kind of relentless assault tonight that it did against rival Lubbock last week, this could be an avalanche. Palo Duro faired pretty well against district 4-4A in non district play (2-1, four-point loss at Frenship), so I’ll take them here tonight. But Monterey is going to make this a one-possession game through the final whistle.
Pick: Palo Duro
Frisco vs. Highland Park: 7:30 PM Friday, Denton's Apogee Stadium
Best-in-show: Could we have an upset special in this first-round matchup? Actually, follow-up question: would a Frisco win even be an upset? Highland Park may be a sterling 9-1 (with its only loss coming to Aledo), but it’s certainly had to work for it at times, escaping Mesquite Poteet and Carrollton Creekview with 20-19 and 28-23 victories. The offense isn’t near as explosive as what we’re used to either, instead getting grinding, gritty production out of QB Jet Tuma and RB Hank Howard. So why could this new-look Scot attack be in trouble tonight? Well, Frisco is great defensively — it held Prosper to 7 points last week, with really only two or three hiccups defensively all season. If Frisco falls behind early, I’m not sure it’s a gifted enough passing attack to catch back up. But if the defense can keep HP at arm’s length, the Raccoon ground game could be just the trick for a big bi-district upset.
Pick: Highland Park
Wylie vs. Mount Pleasant: 7:30 PM Friday, Royse City
Runner-up: Mount Pleasant has been turning heads all season, and with good reason — QB Monty James (3,186 yards, 39 TDs passing) and WR K.D. Cannon (1,516 yards, 25 TDs receiving) have been two of Texas’ most dazzling playmakers right from the get-go, and they’ve got Mount Pleasant in rarefied air as of late — in the playoffs, with a real chance to do some damage. I think MP thrives in shootouts, too, and that’s what we may have here tonight — Wylie allowed at least 28 points in each of its last three games, two of which were against non-playoff teams. Still, Wylie has some recent skins on the wall after that title run a few years back. Mount Pleasant, on the other hand, is just now cresting after a long climb back from mediocrity. By the chalk, MP is the favorite, but Wylie has been here before recently. That could make a difference. Then again, so could the ridiculous dual-threat skills of James, and that’s the one I’m banking on.
Pick: Mount Pleasant
Frisco Centennial vs. West Mesquite: 7:30 PM Friday, Kimbrough Stadium
Three’s company: If you haven’t yet jumped on the Centennial bandwagon yet, there’s still room, and this team that suddenly saw the light last season is back for another postseason run. Centennial has two primary strengths — the defense, which hasn’t given up more than 24 points since the first week of October, and a balanced offense led by an experienced QB (Lamar Jordan). There’s going to be a lot of pressure on West Mesquite LB Darryl Battles tonight, as he’s going to be a primary piece in making Centennial one-dimensional; if you let the Titans get both facets of their offense working, it’s probably game over. West Mesquite QB Chason Virgil is good, but I don’t know if the team is good enough to down Centennial when it’s hitting on all cylinders.
Pick: Frisco Centennial
Summer Creek vs. Vidor: 7:00 PM Friday, Deer Park
Best-in-show: I would say the tenor of this matchup took a drastic turn after Summer Creek really showed its fangs in Week 10 against previously unbeaten Dayton — a 45-7 win, and one that Summer Creek dominated in every single facet of the game. If that’s what Summer Creek (and QB Aaron Sharp) really is, it’s more than just a tough out; it’s a legit title favorite. Vidor, as area fans know, doesn’t just want to run the ball … it has to. That’s the offense: run, run, run. When it works, perfect. When it doesn’t, it leaves the Pirates a little low on options. With that in mind, Summer Creek’s explosive offense is just a really, really bad matchup. Vidor is good enough to play into the third round this year, but it may have drawn the nastiest bear in the woods right off the bat this time.
Pick: Summer Creek
Angleton vs. Friendswood: 7:00 PM Friday, Missouri City's Hall Stadium
Runner-up: Speaking of one-dimensional offenses, Friendswood makes no bones about where it butters its bread, too — QB Jordan Wood, specifically in the ground game. The kid has a ridiculous 2,005 yards and 35 TDs rushing, and when we set up Fox Football Friday alongside their game with Pearland Dawson a few weeks ago, head coach Robert Koopmann chuckled when we told him that Wood was only accounting for 65 percent of the offense. He thought it would be more! So Angleton knows exactly what it has to do in order to slow these Mustangs. The good news for Angleton is that Friendswood doesn’t have much going for it defensively, so Angleton just needs a stop or two to come out ahead here. Expect a shootout, and expect an Angleton win — but not without some Wood-provided fireworks, first.
Dayton vs. Nederland: 1:00 PM Saturday, Lamar University
Three’s company: I think every Region III prognosticator is a little gun-shy of Dayton right now, primarily because of the point I mentioned two capsules before this one: the 45-7 loss to Summer Creek in Week 10. Was that just a bad day? Is Dayton overmatched against elite teams? We don’t really know right now. But what we do know is that Nederland is built for postseason success: the ground game and the defense are both excellent, and it’s hard to imagine this Bulldog squad every really letting a game get away from it. There’s not one star that’s really floating the boat, but that also means there’s no one guy to key in on for Dayton’s stout defense, either. I was high on Nederland a month ago, and I’m even more so now.
CC Ray vs. Mission: 7:30 PM Friday, Mission
Best-in-show: Mission came oh-so-close to perfection this year, stumbling only to Mercedes in the season finale to finish at 9-1. But incredibly, Ray may end up sending this Mission team to two-straight losses — after all, Ray’s three losses came to 5A CC King (playoff-bound), unbeaten Flour Bluff, and CC Miller (playoff-bound). Ray knows how to win ball games, and it starts with QB Marcus Mosley, one of the best dual-threats on the Coastal Bend (2,739 yards, 37 TDs passing; 582 yards, 10 TDs rushing). If Mission can’t slow him down, it’s going to be a long night out there, even in front of a home crowd. The Mission defense has typically been a given this year — it’s only allowing about 13 points per game — but I’m not sure Mosley isn’t the guy to crack the safe.
Pick: CC Ray
Alamo Heights vs. SA Brackenridge: 2:00 PM at SA's Alamo Stadium
Runner-up: Alamo Heights in the clear favorite here, and while it’s not fair to say that Brackenridge doesn’t have a chance, it is fair to say a lot of people down in the River City are going to be using this matchup as a barometer on how title-ready this Mule team really is. At times, Heights has been excellent — 31-24 over Tivy, for example — and at times it’s looked vulnerable, like in a 24-21 loss to Buda Hays. I think Heights has the defense to be a contender, but it may be limited on its future if the offense doesn’t find an explosive guy to really threaten opposing defenses. Is RB Byron Proctor that guy? We may find out tonight.
Pick: Alamo Heights
Canyon Randall vs. Hereford: 7:30 PM Friday, Plainview's Sherwood Stadium
Best-in-show: Will the real Hereford please stand up? There’s no arguing the Herd is a two-face straight from a Batman movie — on one side, you have the five-game losing streak to start the season, three of which came by double digits. On the other, you have the 4-1 finish in which all four wins came by double digits. Why is this important? Well, one of those early losses was to Randall — 33-0, back in Week 1. If that’s actually what Hereford is, we’re going to see history repeat itself. But if Hereford really has turned the corner, then Randall and QB Collin Bowen are in for a ball game. I think the answer is somewhere in between — yes, Hereford is better than it was in September. But 33 points better, to a one-loss team whose only defeat came in overtime to Amarillo? I’m not there yet.
Pick: Canyon Randall
Canyon vs. Wolfforth Frenship: 5:00 PM Friday, Canyon Kimbrough
Runner-up: The other team from Canyon ISD has its work cut out for it in this one, as Frenship has the look and feel of a state semifinalist. No matter which way you slice the break, the Tigers are an intimidating breed — the defense has allowed more than 13 points just three times this season, and it still found a way to win two of those outings. RB D’Maujeric Tucker is as dangerous as ever, and the offense, which was a little hit-and-miss at the beginning of the year, is starting to round into form. So what does Canyon have to do to win? Convert every opportunity it comes across. Field goals probably won’t be enough, and turnovers would be killers. In short, Canyon has to be pretty much perfect offensively, and I wouldn’t bet on many teams to do that against Frenship.
Pick: Wolfforth Frenship
EP Burges vs. Canutillo: 7:00 PM Friday, EP Burges
Three’s company: I think Canutillo is a good football team in its own right, but it’s a long shot against Burges tonight. The number of teams in El Paso that can matchup to the Mustangs is a pretty short one, as RB Aaron Jones and ATH Alvin Jones might be the two best overall players in the area. Add that to the fact that Canutillo has yet to record a win against a team with a winning record, and it’s tough to go any other way than Burges here.
Wylie East vs. Sulphur Springs: 7:30 PM Friday, McKinney's Poe Stadium
Best-in-show: Do you like points? I mean, do you REALLY like touchdowns? Then this is the place for you. I think I’d bet my firstborn child that this is going to be a shootout we’ll remember for a long time, as both teams are almost unfairly laden with offensive talent. For East, you have the razor-sharp trio of QB Garrett McCain (2,546 yards, 33 TDs passing), RB Jabari Anderson (1,445 yards, 13 TDs rushing) and WR Marcell Ateman (1,172 yards, 17 TDs receiving). For Springs, you have RB Buddy Ivery (1,216 yards, 11 TDs rushing), QB Brad Macek (2,018 yards, 20 TDs passing), WR Cole Hill (962 yards, 9 TDs receiving) and do-it-all threat Willy Ivery (28 total TDs). Both teams are averaging more than 40 points per game. Honestly, there’s no point breaking this one down — odds are, it’s going to come down to whoever has the ball last. I’ve got a 50/50 chance.
Pick: Sulphur Springs
Lucas Lovejoy vs. Hallsville: 7:30 PM Friday, Forney's City Bank Stadium
Runner-up: This matchup is a substantial offensive downshift from the last one, primarily because both teams can buckle down on defense — both are allowing about 22 points per game. For Hallsville, that defense starts in the trenches, where DE Coby Bradford has now run up his season sack total to an impressive 12.5 — the Bobcats are a terror along the defensive line, and can change the tenor of a game in a heartbeat with a big play behind the line of scrimmage. The only issue is that Lovejoy runs it more than it throws it, by a substantial margin. Bradford and Co. can still make plays in the backfield against the run, but I still think it’s a unit that really shines against the pass. Lovejoy, in its first season up from 3A, has thrown the ball 200 times this year, but it doesn’t need those attempts to win. I think that gives it an advantage.
Pick: Lucas Lovejoy
Ennis vs. Whitehouse: 7:30 PM Friday, Mesquite Memorial
Three’s company: So which one of these teams has a worse hangover effect from Week 10: Whitehouse, which let a 24-0 second quarter lead (as well as a 10-0 season and district title) slip away against John Tyler, or Ennis, which was shutout by district rival Waxahachie? Both results hurt. But the level of talent Whitehouse saw against John Tyler is great preparation for the postseason, and that once-massive lead showed that the Wildcats can still play with the best of them. Whitehouse QB Pat Mahomes will be the best player on the field tonight, and as long as he lives up to that billing, the ‘Cats will win. Ennis will have to limit him both running and throwing to give itself a chance.
FB Ridge Point vs. Houston North Forest: 6:00 PM Saturday, Humble's Turner Stadium
Best-in-show: This game fascinates me, if for no other reason than that I have no idea what to expect out of North Forest. Here’s the short version: the Bulldogs have mauled their way to a perfect 10-0 season, downing their district foes by scores of 60-6, 70-7, 43-0, 63-0, 57-0, 68-0, 56-0 and 81-14. Those are mind-boggling margins. The only hiccup is that only one of those foes (Sharpstown) is ranked in Class 4A’s top 130 (that’s not a typo). In short, North Forest has yet to be tested in even a remote way, and this will be a sudden jump up in competition. The ground game is good out there, and the top two backs have just lived in the endzone. But Ridge Point, the new kid on the block out in Fort Bend ISD, has RB Jemarcus Johnson, who can do some damage himself. I’m going to take North Forest here, but with the caveat that I could be completely, 100 percent incorrect. Regardless of the outcome, however, North Forest is still an incredible story. Read more about it here.
Pick: North Forest
Elgin vs. Brenham: 7:30 PM Friday, Bryan
Runner-up: By the chalk, this one shouldn’t be close — Brenham is 9-1 and Elgin, just 6-4, has yet to beat a team with a winning record. But I think there’s a close game lurking in here, primarily because it’s a good draw for Elgin. After all, these Wildcats have been excellent defensively down the stretch, allowing just 13 total points over their last three games, and Brenham just isn’t a heavy-hitter offensively. It’s not bad by any stretch — the Cubs haven’t scored less than 30 points in a game since we saw them clash with Montgomery on Fox Football Friday in late October — but they don’t have one superstar that can bury you in a quarter. RBs Darrion Johnson and Kalagino Leakes are dangerous — especially Johnson, who stars on defense and special teams, too — but Elgin is in this game more than the record indicates. I’m going to take Brenham, but narrowly.
Barbers Hill vs. Livingston: 7:30 PM Friday, Humble's Turner Stadium
Three’s company: This Barbers Hill team is much better than people realize — coming in at 7-3, its only losses are to Crosby, 9-1 Dayton (13-6 loss) and 10-0 Summer Creek (24-11). The resume in the wins is even more impressive; the Eagles have outscored opponents 146-0 over its last three victories, and they’re doing it primarily with the ground game. Even though Barbers Hill is throwing the ball about twice per quarter this year, it’s still averaging 6.76 yards per rushing attempt. That’s excellent. So it’s incumbent on Livingston, which is coming into the postseason on a bit of a hot streak (4-1 in its last five), to either jump out to a quick lead behind the versatile Chevoski Collins, or to sell out on stopping the run game and make Barbers Hill throw. I’m not sure it will be able to do either.
Pick: Barbers Hill
Boerne Champion vs. SA Brennan: 7:30 PM Friday, Boerne ISD Stadium
Best-in-show: Champion completed an incredible Week 10 rally last week, beating playoff hopeful Seguin by 10-plus points and getting some help from a Lockhart loss to qualify at the eleventh hour. But SA Brennan has been on cruise control for a while, primarily because it’s just been really good — the ground game carries the offense (the Bears have thrown the ball just 81 times all year), with RBs Nathaniel Wells and Makai Green and RB DeShawn Key all above the 600-yard and 10-TD mark. Stopping all three has proven very difficult for opponents this year. That’s trouble for Champion, which is kind of a rhythym offense — when it gets into sync, QB Kyle Poeske can light you up in a wink. But if Brennan keeps the Chargers stuck on the sidelines for long stretches with its ball control offense, it spells trouble. I think that’s what we might see tonight.
Pick: SA Brennan
Medina Valley vs. Calallen: 7:30 PM Friday, SA Southside
Runner-up: Calallen has had its ups and downs this year, primarily on offense, but it might be finally catching a second wind after a 77-27 win in the season finale with Victoria East. To put that in perspective, Calallen scored 78 total points in a four-game stretch back in September. But last week showed what Calallen is capable of when the ground game is hitting on all cylinders — the Wildcats had eight different players rush for touchdowns, two of them on their only carry of the night. They just couldn’t miss. But Medina Valley will be a tougher out defensively, as it hasn’t given up more than 20 points since mid-October and can do a little running itself — Panther RBs Ben Mata (1,637 yards, 21 TDs) and Weston Beck (1,056, 14 TDs) have been running the show all year. Both teams are going to churn up the turf tonight, but a win will come down to whoever converts their red zone opportunities. Field goals won’t play here.
Floresville vs. PL Calhoun: 7:30 PM Friday, Calallen
Three’s company: The Tigers will be the first team to draw the Calhoun short straw this year, taking their shot at derailing this nigh-unstoppable triple-option offense. Even though the Sandcrabs have lost FB Cory Williams for the season (presumably), the ground game is still ruthlessly efficient, and Floresville has been hurt by a running team before this season (27-13 loss to Medina Valley). The Tigers are 8-2 for a reason, but it’s tough to go against Calhoun here. These Sandcrabs are on a roll not just this year, but really over the past four or five.
Travis Stewart is the managing editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.