5A/4A Preview: Round Three
The third round is upon is, which means we're down to the regional semifinals in the four biggest brackets in Texas. At this point, everyone is dangerous.
Two rounds down, four to go.
At this point in the year, there really aren't any gimmes left on the schedule — sure, you may be a heavy favorite over someone, but it's probably because you're one of the best teams in the country more than it is your opponent being a few playmakers short. So what does that mean? Well, for starters, the games get tougher to pick.
But regardless, we've got every 5A and 4A game on the schedule previewed and predicted for you here — enjoy!
Arlington Bowie vs. DeSoto, 2:00 PM Saturday, Pennington
This is one of the heavy hitters of the DI bracket this weekend, as DeSoto — who pummeled Coppell last week — is flying about as high as you can be in high school football. RB Dontre Wilson is proving to (arguably) be the Metroplex’s best overall player, and the defense is eye-poppingly good right now. But Bowie, with a sophomore at QB in Tony James, is a tough group and is probably the best DeSoto has seen (outside of Coppell) since the first few weeks of the year. It’s certainly the fastest. I like DeSoto here, but Bowie will push the Eagles to the limit. Eagle QB Desmon White will have to hit downfield throws.
Southlake Carroll vs. Euless Trinity, 6:00 PM Saturday, Birdville
Another major Metroplex showdown, but this one is more of a contrast of styles. We know that Carroll will spread the field to run the ball with QB Kenny Hill (1,192 yards rushing) and RB A.J. Ezzard (889 yards rushing), then pick you apart with an uncannily balanced WR corps (10 guys with 100-yards receiving). Trinity is more of a masher, using those big bodies up front to pound away at defenses until they finally give way in the second half. Carroll is the favorite — I think it just has more talent, quite frankly — but the defense will have to get physical and earn its keep to walk out of Birdville with a win.
Pick: Southlake Carroll
Dallas Skyline vs. Westfield, 3:00 PM Saturday, Georgetown
As weird as it sounds for a team that started the year so highly ranked and largely didn’t do a single thing to contradict that, Skyline has been flying underneath the radar this year, probably because of the early loss to Bowie while Mesquite, DeSoto, Coppell and Carroll rolled to 10-0 records. But the Raiders can still hurt you offensively, most notably with QB Devante Kincade and WR Ra’Shaad Samples, who has a ridiculous 22 touchdown catches on just 52 grabs. Unbeaten Westfield can win this one by playing keep away with RB Emmit Raleigh, but getting first downs against Skyline can be tough.
Pick: Dallas Skyline
Allen vs. RR Westwood, 7:30 PM Saturday, Waco ISD Stadium
I think we’ve got two pretty good football teams here, but the only problem is that I think Westwood is almost like Allen Lite — they do a lot of the same things, but Allen is better at most of them and deeper at key spots. And that’s not because Westwood isn’t any good … it’s because I think Allen is realistically one of the top three or four teams in Texas. The front seven on defense is still very tough, and young QB Kyler Murray has really gotten a good thing going running that rock. Westwood will have to completely insulate Murray in the pocket, and, offensively, find a way to get the ball to WR Ty Marshall.
North Shore vs. Alief Elsik, 3:00 PM Saturday, Reliant Stadium
It’s a bit of a surprise that Alief Elsik is here, but not so much North Shore — the defense has been really good down the stretch, allowing single digit point totals in each of its last three games and forcing five turnovers last week against Clear Brook. That could be trouble for Elsik, which hasn’t been a great offensive team for stretches of the year (although Caleb Cormier has 1,009 rushing yards). But what has been good for the Rams is, like North Shore, defense: four shutouts on the year and just 17 points allowed to Cinco Ranch last week. I still think North Shore QB Micah Thomas is the best player on the field, though. It’ll be gritty and grinding, but I like the Mustangs.
Pick: North Shore
Houston Lamar vs. FB Travis, 7:00 PM Saturday, Reliant Stadium
No matter which way I pick here, I’m disrespecting one of these two teams’ resumes. If I go against Lamar, I’m tossing aside a 12-0 record, including a blowout win over an Elkins squad that gave Travis a good game. If I go against Travis, I’m neglecting playoff wins over Deer Park and Clear Springs, two salty squads, and QB Teagan Nehls. Travis has a good offense that knows how to win a shootout, but it’s hard to imagine Lamar letting it get to that point. The Redskins are too balanced offensively and too good defensively, even if Travis is the fastest team it’s seen all year.
Pick: Houston Lamar
SA O'Connor vs. Laredo Alexander, 2:00 PM Saturday, San Antonio's Farris Stadium
Alexander knows no fear when it comes to playoff football, having now played in 13 games for the third straight season. That’s pretty uncommon for any one, anywhere. But O’Connor has the heaviest-hitting weapon in all of Region IV right now — RB Tre Johnson, who is up to 2,066 rushing yards, 26 TDs and an 8.2 yard per carry mark. It’s hard to imagine that Alexander will really be able to slow that kid down, which means they’ll have to beat him with scoring, and that department turns to sophomore QB Aaron Swain (2,871 yards passing) and RB Xavier Skaggs. O’Connor, though, hasn’t had a bad defensive day since mid-October.
Pick: SA O’Connor
SA Madison vs. Mission Sharyland, 7:30 PM Friday, Corpus Christi's Buccaneer Stadium
This is the crucible for Sharyland — all the work they’ve put in all season will be largely overlooked if they can’t get through this round, the point at which most Rio Grande Valley schools bow out every year. The key to the game is probably going to be defense; if this turns into a shootout, it’s hard to see Madison losing. There’s just too much talent at RB and WR for the Mavericks to come up short there. I think Sharyland, as good as QB Tres Barrera is, is going to have to find a way to get a couple of stops along the way and keep this game in the 30s. The Rattlers deserve a lot of credit for the way they’ve played this year, but I like Madison.
Arlington vs. Cedar Hill, 2:00 PM Saturday, Mansfield
So is this the week where people outside of Arlington ISD really start looking at this group as a state semifinal contender? After all, the defense was pretty good against Abilene Cooper last week, and QB Connor Huffman showed a lot of moxie in windy conditions. Yes, the Colts have been overlooked for a good chunk of the year. But a win here, against one of the more explosive offensive teams in 5A, would really put them front and center. Stopping QB Damion Hobbs and RB Laquvionte Gonzalez is task No. 1, but I don’t know if Arlington can derail them and keep WR Quincy Adeboyejo out of the endzone, too.
Pick: Cedar Hill
Abilene vs. Hewitt Midway, 2:00 PM Saturday, Justin Northwest
Ah, the rumble of the unbeatens — arguably the top game in this half of the 5A-DII bracket this week. The good thing for Abilene is that it saw a bit of a primer for Midway last week, when it downed Arlington Lamar — Lamar ran the ball a lot with two backs, and Midway will do the same with B.J. Kelly and DeChaar Greer. But Midway is better at it, and QB Kramer Robertson can hurt you on the ground, too. The rub is when you step up to play that run, Robertson hits you over the top. In short, this is the toughest team Abilene has seen all year — it just does everything well.
Plano West vs. Lufkin, 2:00 PM Saturday, Waco ISD
Plano West is into the third round of the playoffs for the first time in school history, but there’s something special going on out in Lufkin, too — a late-season surge that has the locals excited and the offense clicking on all cylinders. Really, there’s been three guys doing the heavy lifting — QB Tyler Stubblefield (3,125 yards), WR Jabryce Taylor (1,391 yards) and RB Kendrick Mapp (1,068 yards). Seems like it’d be easy to find who to stop, but once the playoffs hit, no one has been able to do it. Plano West’s defense has been very up-and-down, so RB Sotonye Jamabo (1,458 yards, 21 TDs) is probably going to have to have a career day.
Westlake vs. Longview, 4:00 PM Saturday, Midlothian
This isn’t exactly the Austin-area team that Longview is used to seeing in the playoffs; Lake Travis has been the normal postseason foe for the Lobos. But Westlake’s defense has suddenly thrown it into high gear, giving up just 13 points to Hendrickson in the first round and nothing (2 points on a safety) for A&M Consolidated in the second. That’s bad news for a Longview team that is likely to be without RB Tory White, another in a long line of injuries the Lobos have had to deal with this year. It’s next man up at this point for Longview, but this matchup should push them back to their defense-first roots.
Katy vs. La Porte, 11:00 AM Saturday, Reliant Stadium
Well, we never root for certain teams here at DCTF, but it was tough not to want to see this showdown in the postseason after last year’s stone-cold stunner in the third round: La Porte 9, Katy 7. Katy has been so good this year that a duplicate result seems impossible, but it seemed crazy last year, too (Katy had scored 107 points in its first two playoff games last year). In short, I still think Katy has more talent (excepting La Porte LB/ATH Hoza Scott) on both sides of the ball, and RB Adam Taylor and the offensive line are just ridiculously in sync right now. Like last year, La Porte is going to have to play its best football of the year, especially defensively, and turn this into a grinding, halting, physical matchup. I still think that, overall, Katy is the best team in Texas. It’s going to take an equitable performance from the Bulldogs to make that ranking a thing of the past. The emotion is going to be beyond anything I can remember at a high school game in recent years. It’s going to be a sight to see.
Cy Ranch vs. Manvel, 2:00 PM Saturday, Berry Center
The last time I saw Cy Ranch play, it downed eventual district champ Langham Creek in one of the most thrilling games of the year, 64-63 in overtime. There was no defense that day. But last week, when Ranch upended Houston Memorial 17-7, the defense was magnificent. The latter effort is what the Mustangs must bring to the table to down Manvel, because Maverick QB Shane McCarley might be the most prolific QB in Texas right now — 52 touchdown passes in just 12 games, putting him just five tosses behind fifth place all-time in Texas and 16 behind first. He’s red-hot, and I’m not sure anyone can derail him.
SA Brandeis vs. Del Rio, 7:30 PM Friday, Eagle Pass
Del Rio may have the tallest task in Class 5A right now — knocking off a Brandeis team that stunned Smithson Valley in the second round, holding the Ranger offense to just six points. The bad news about it? Smithson Valley runs the ball very well traditionally, even getting 178 on the ground against Brandeis in that upset loss. But if the Rangers couldn’t turn that into a win, will similarly run-first Del Rio be able to? RB Gudelio Garza has 1,966 yards and 35 touchdowns on the year, but Brandeis, a bigger, deeper team, is going to throw the kitchen sink at him.
Pick: SA Brandeis
Cibolo Steele vs. Edinburg North, 7:30 PM Saturday, Javelina Stadium
Actually, check that — this may be the toughest task in Texas right now. Can you find me someone playing better football than Steele these days? The Knights have been great all year, but last week’s dismantling of 9-2 Roosevelt (45-0; 42 total yards allowed) raised the bar in breathtaking fashion. North is going to have to be basically perfect — Steele QB Breylann McCollum doesn’t really make mistakes, and the Knight ground game is not forgiving either. There’s a reason why this group has been to back-to-back title games; a win by North here would probably be the biggest upset of the year, by far.
Pick: Cibolo Steele
Amarillo vs. Denton Guyer, 2:00 PM Saturday, Grande Communications
This one is very, very tough to call — both teams have looked unbeatable at times this year, and both have a fallback option that most teams can’t match. For Amarillo, it’s a strangling ground game that keeps opponents on the sidelines and physically exhausts a defense. For Guyer, it’s dual-threat QB Jerrod Heard, who’s matured into one of the Metroplex’s premier offensive talents. But the way Guyer played last week — jumping out to a 21-0 lead on Aledo, allowing the game to inch closer only late in the fourth quarter — makes me wonder if this isn’t suddenly the title-caliber group we predicted in August.
Pick: Denton Guyer
Lubbock Monterey vs. Birdville, 2:00 PM Saturday, Wichita Falls
Birdville, a team that’s lost in the first round in each of the last two seasons, is in rarefied air now, pushing for a shot at a regional final with a ton of momentum. The question is, can a passionate Monterey defense keep this Hawk offense under wraps? Birdville head coach Jim Skinner, one of the winningest coaches in state history, has one of his best-ever offenses churning right now, getting more than enough out of RB Xavier Turner (1,245 yards, 25 TDs) to make the spread-out passing game click. Eight receivers have 100-plus receiving yards, and the top two (Samuel Northey and Collin Basinger) combine for 22 TDs. It may be too much for Monterey to slow down tomorrow.
Frisco Centennial vs. Red Oak, 7:30 PM Friday, Royse City
This is will be the much-anticipated site for our Fox Football Friday program this week, and with good reason — Red Oak is in the midst of arguably its greatest season in school history, while Centennial isn’t far off that claim, either. I’m fascinated to watch the offensive heroics from Red Oak — RB Cameron Bausley (1,673 rushing yards) and do-it-all TE/ATH Jeremiah Gaines (20 TDs) — against the defensive stalwarts from Centennial — CB Ranthony Texada and DL Kevin Smith. Remember, this is a Red Oak team that’s beaten both Lancaster and Sherman. I think Centennial is the better team, but not until it scores late to win it.
Pick: Frisco Centennial
Frisco vs. John Tyler, 7:30 PM Friday, Allen
Pretty much everyone outside of the Frisco program is going to side with John Tyler here — including me — but here’s what we have to understand: Frisco has seen and beaten dual-threat QBs recently, most notably Prosper’s Davis Webb and Highland Park’s Jet Tuma. I think Tyler QB Greg Ward is the best of the bunch, but the point still stands — if the Raccoons can put Ward on ice in the ground game, it changes the Tyler offense, and they become at least somewhat beatable. The problem is that Tyler DE Tyus Bowser, who had seven sacks last week, has become the most dangerous defensive end in Class 4A. He could really sour Frisco’s run game.
Pick: John Tyler
Georgetown vs. Angleton, 2:00 PM Saturday, Cedar Park's Gupton Stadium
At this point, Georgetown has become a pick-at-your-own-peril group — you can side against them if you like, but they’re still going to roll out an elite defense. And that’s the story of this game — the defense, especially in the front seven. Angleton has one of the best overall ground games in the state, getting silly numbers out of Josh West and Richard Cooper over the last few weeks. But to say Georgetown is peaking defensively is an understatement; it held high-powered Summer Creek to just 21 points, far below its average. It’s held eight teams to single digits. Angleton can run, but Georgetown has the upper hand here.
Nederland vs. Pearland Dawson, 7:00 PM Friday, Reliant Stadium
Now we’re really going to figure out what Nederland is made of. One of the most balanced and efficient teams in Class 4A this year, Nederland has made a habit out of wearing down opponents all season long. But Dawson, so deep and talented, is almost immune to attrition, and the Eagle ground game, led by A&M-bound RB James White, is a meat-grinder all its own. I think the only way Nederland gets out of this one is by keeping it low-scoring and ugly; the closest thing Dawson has seen to that would be a 28-14 win over Foster, whereas the Bulldogs have played the role plenty of times already. I just don’t think that’s what we’ll see.
Pick: Pearland Dawson
Leander vs. CC Flour Bluff, 7:30 PM Saturday, SA's Heroes Stadium
Well, the story of this one is probably pretty clear-cut — Leander’s incredibly fast, extremely aggressive defense matched up with Flour Bluff QB Kolton Mims. So far, Mims has been nigh unguardable both throwing (1,980 yards, 26 TDs, 4 INTs) and running (1,161 yards, 13 TDs). He's legitimately very good. But outside of him, I’m not sure there’s a guy at the skill spots that can crack this Lion defense. It’s ridiculous — outside of last week’s 36 points allowed to Hays, the most Leander has coughed up is just 14 points. After Leander QB Caleb Woodward’s breakout game last week (252 yards, 3 TDs rushing), Flour Bluff, while very talented, is a long shot.
Rouse vs. Gregory-Portland, 2:00 PM Saturday, SA's Heroes Stadium
So Rouse, a team that had to win by a significant amount in Week 10 just to qualify for the playoffs, is still playing in the third round, and for the first time ever, too. That’s high school football for you. These teams are actually fairly similar — both run the ball very well, often times at the exclusion of the passing game, and both have more or less followed the chalk all year (lose when underdogs, win when favored). There’s no doubt that G-P has been red-hot offensively as of late (at least 56 points in each of its last three games), but Rouse, who’s played the likes of Leander and Cedar Park, is about as battle-tested as they come.
EP Burges vs. WF Rider, 7:00 PM Saturday, Grande Communications Stadium
Suddenly, we have an El Paso team poised to make the fourth round, and the reason why is the Jones brothers — QB Alvin and RB Aaron, who can pretty much do whatever the coaching staff needs them to. But outside of those two, Burges is vulnerable to a good defensive team like Rider, and there’s no doubt that Roho knows who it needs to be looking for. Expect Rider to clamp down on the Jones boys hard, and follow it up with the two-headed ground game of RBs Carlos Fleeks and Dominic Thrasher (1,117 yards, 18 TDs rushing). Rider may not have QB J.T. Barrett, but it’s made the regional finals two years running for a reason.
Pick: WF Rider
Wolfforth Frenship vs. Waco, 2:00 PM Saturday, San Angelo
Speaking of clamping down, no one is doing it better than Wolfforth Frenship right now — the Tigers have given up more than 20 points just four times this year, and all to playoff teams. But the really scary thing is that the offense has woken up, too, averaging 46 points per game over its last eight (all wins). Waco can move the football with QB Traynham Moore and RB Christian Simms (1,576 yards, 17 TDs rushing), but Frenship is a unique blend of stifling defense and blistering offense right now: you have to do more than score … you have to stop RB D’Maujeric Tucker, too. I think the list of teams who can is pretty short.
Pick: Wolfforth Frenship
Lancaster vs. Prosper, 3:00 PM Saturday, Garland's Johnson Stadium
I’m pretty sure no one in Texas wants to play Lancaster right now, and the team that several coaches described to me as a “sleeping giant” in the offseason is awake and angry. Lancaster has specialized in cutting down dual-threat QBs this year — primarily with defensive speed — so Prosper’s Davis Webb is without question facing his toughest task of the year. Prosper’s defense is going to be severely taxed, too — Tiger QB Demarcus Ayers has been incredible lately, and his top wideout, Nick Harvey, can hurt you at a number of spots. You can never count Prosper out (Kent Scott is too good of a coach), but all signs point to Lancaster here.
Mesquite Poteet vs. Wylie East, 7:00 PM Friday, Rockwall
And then there’s this game, in many ways the most intriguing of any Class 4A matchup this weekend. It’s pretty simple, really: can Poteet (or anyone, for that matter) stop this Wylie East offense? RB Jabari Anderson ran for 384 yards last week. QB Garrett McCain threw for 7 TDs passes two weeks ago. WR Marcell Ateman has 25 TD catches on the year. The list goes on. It’s just a ridiculously explosive and quick attack. But Poteet is the best defense East has seen in weeks, evidenced by its strong showing against Little Elm in bidistrict (14 points allowed). They can run with this group, but East is starting to feel like a darkhorse title favorite.
Pick: Wylie East
Manor vs. Rosenberg Terry, 7:00 PM Saturday, Kyle Field
Now we’re in to the “overlooked” bracket of 4A-DII, where most people are just passing through on their way down to checking out Cedar Park in Region IV. But there’s some danger lurking in here, and Terry, a team who’s been very inconsistent defensively this year, spun together arguably its best showing of the year against 11-0 North Forest last week, stuffing a game-winning two-point try in the waning moments. When Terry brings that kind of defense to the field, it’s a special football team. Manor has gotten good play out of QB Chris Johnson and RB Tyrone Owens as of late, but Terry has the higher ceiling here.
Pick: Rosenberg Terry
Elgin vs. FB Marshall, 7:30 PM Saturday, Houston's Berry Center
Elgin has now worked its magic two weeks in a row, downing both Brenham and Barbers Hill from the underdog spot and looking pretty darn good along the way. But this is the best team the Wildcats have seen so far, and without question the fastest. Elgin QB Te’Rel Simmons has topped 1,000 yards passing and rushing and has been a thorn in many a defense’s side, but Marshall QB J.W. Ketchum is just filleting teams with his speed (23 TDs rushing). The rest of the offense isn’t forgiving, either. Elgin is a team to watch moving forward, but I think Marshall is the best team this weekend.
Pick: FB Marshall
Alice vs. Cedar Park, 7:30 PM Friday, SA's Heroes Stadium
You know, Alice and Cedar Park really aren’t all that different — they both like to run the ball (a lot), and, as long as you overlook some early-season hiccups for Alice, they both like to buckle down and play defense. Alice has been especially good at it as of late; just 22 total points allowed in its last three games. It held Calallen to just 133 yards last week, too. That’s especially important because Calallen is a run-based team, like Cedar Park is. But Cedar Park is a much bigger, stronger team than Calallen was, and as good as Alice is defensively, Cedar Park is probably better. Those are the only two things CP has needed all year.
Pick: Cedar Park
SA Brennan vs. Edcouch-Elsa, 7:30 PM Friday, Javelina Stadium
I’d be a little worried if I was Brennan right now — after all, E-E did knock off Calhoun last week, a team that was running the ball as well as anyone in Texas coming in to the second round. That’s all Calhoun does — run, run, run. Well, that ground game wasn’t enough last week. The problem is that Brennan is run-based, too, with three guys with 10 or more TDs and two guys with 800-plus rushing yards. I think Edcouch-Elsa is going to make life very difficult on the ground, which means the Brennan defense is going to have to step up like it did in the first half of last week’s game, when it forced turnover after turnover. I like Brennan here, but I took a long, hard look at this one.
Pick: SA Brennan
Travis Stewart is the managing editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.