Tepper's Take -- State Championship Edition
State title previews, predictions, educational games and fried turkey.
[NOTE: Tepper will be live-blogging all nine of the state championship games LIVE from Cowboys Stadium starting at 11:45 a.m. on Thursday up through the final whistle on Saturday! Be sure to make TexasFootball.com your source for all things state championship games as we provide wall-to-wall coverage LIVE from Cowboys Stadium!]
[Editor’s note: This is Tepper’s Take, the weekly column from associate editor Greg Tepper. It’s a blend of football and non-football topics. All opinions are Greg Tepper’s alone. Enjoy.]
It’s the December 19 edition of Tepper’s Take, ball so hard record labels wanna sign me, life is a race and everybody’s behind me.
I’ll save my sappy Christmas wishes column for next week (plus the always popular Teppy Awards!). Instead, let me tell you a little about my experience as the world’s most uncomfortable sideline reporter.
I spent my Saturday pretending to be a professional as I made my sideline reporting debut on Fox Sports Southwest’s broadcast of the Katy-Cibolo Steele state semifinal. All in all, it was a fun experience…but peek behind the curtain with me and I’ll tell you a little about the behind-the-scenes aspect of the gig.
First of all, you cannot overestimate how loud it was down on the field at Waco’s Floyd Casey Stadium. Between the bands and the fans – a great contingent on hand for both sides – it was deafening down there. That means that I had to turn my IFB – that’s the little earpiece reporters wear, which lets you hear both the other people on the broadcast as well as the producer back in the truck – all the way up. The result? I was almost totally deaf in my right ear for the next two days, courtesy of our producer screaming in my ear.
Whenever you broadcast a game – whether you’re the play-by-play guy, the color commentator or the sideline reporter – you pray for a good game. There’s nothing worse than trying to fill hours of air time during a blowout. That’s why you research and research and research ahead of time, just in case you need oodles of things to talk about. Luckily for us, it was a fantastic game.
Though it didn’t look like it at the beginning, as Katy raced out to a 21-0 lead. I was under advisement to interview the winning coach going into halftime, so I camped out with our camera guy Stevie – seriously, he saved my bacon about 30 times – on the Katy sideline, waiting for coach Gary Joseph.
Well…then Steele scored 21 points in three minutes before halftime, tying the score. The plan changed. Now I needed to run back over to the Steele sideline to get coach Mike Jinks instead. We made it, but don’t let anyone tell you that TV guys don’t need to be athletic.
The coolest part of the entire experience was probably the Kiley Huddleston situation. The Katy QB came out of the game during the third quarter with what looked like a shoulder injury. I watched as he got his shoulder iced, then went through some strength tests with the training staff. He was stretching on the sideline when – just on a whim – asked him if he was going back in. He replied that yes, he was going back in, and all of a sudden, I have a scoop to report to the fans watching on TV. Pretty neat.
One final funny story: on the way out, as DCTF managing editor Travis Stewart (who was the play-by-play guy) and I walked out to the car, a woman stopped us.
“Are you Greg Tepper?” she asked. First time I’ve ever been asked that by someone other than the police.
Turns out, she’s the wife of one of the teams’ assistant coaches. And she and her husband don’t think I give her team enough respect.
Now, I’ve been called a hater before – very frequently, actually, because everybody likes to feel slighted – but never in person, by a coach’s wife.
She was friendly about it, and simply wanted a photo with me to show her husband, just for a laugh. I, of course, obliged. It’s good to know that, somewhere, my face is on a dartboard.
All in all, an excellent experience. But next time, Katy and Steele fans, can you keep it down? I’m trying to work.
Games I’d TiVo If The UIL Would Let Me (And College Games I Will, In Fact, TiVo)
Lancaster vs. Cedar Park
Oh my, where to start? Nine terrific state championship games taking place at Cowboys Stadium this weekend, but we might as well start with this one, which may provide the most storylines-per-capita than any other game. To call Lancaster’s season a Cinderella story isn’t strong enough; it’s a fairy tale the likes of which we haven’t seen in a while. The Tigers, behind the explosive offense of QB Demarcus Ayers and do-everything talent Nick Harvey, have soared into their first state title game ever. Cedar Park, on the other hand, was more-or-less expected here; with longtime foil Lake Travis out of the way, the Timberwolves – buoyed by a fantastic defense and the emergence of QB Nate Grimm – have lived up to expectations to make it to their first state title game. So now, we have this 4A Division II state title game, and it should be a dandy. Lancaster will be the faster team, but Cedar Park boasts the superior defense. Can Lancaster – which isn’t afraid of big-time offenses (see: win over John Tyler and Wichita Falls Rider) – make enough plays defensively to rise to the top? Or will the Cedar Park offense win the day? This should be a dogfight, and you can’t count either of these teams out.
Tepper’s pick: Cedar Park 31, Lancaster 27
Gilmer vs. Navasota
This is, in my estimation, the toughest of the nine games to predict. I think these teams are so razor-close to one another that it’s sometimes hard to tell them apart. Navasota has been sensational, especially offensively behind newly minted AP 3A Player of the Year QB Kadarius Baker and his dynamic receiving duo of Solomon McGinty and Austin Collins. But don’t overlook that defense, which all but shut down Bellville last week behind big games from Jake Bauer, Coy Imhoff and Jordan Wells. But as good as Navasota has been, Gilmer has matched them step-for-step. Whether it’s with QB dynamo Tanner Barr, sensational sophomore RB Kris Boyd or a bevy of talented defenders led by Josh Walker and Xavier Fluellen, this is a Buckeyes team that can beat you in a lot of different ways. So, where are the advantages? It’s tough to say. Navasota needs to stop the Gilmer running attack first and foremost, while Gilmer needs to put pressure on Baker in the backfield (and keep him from scrambling). I go back and forth on this game, but either way, I think it’s decided by less than a touchdown.
Tepper’s pick: Navasota 28, Gilmer 26
Stamford vs. Mart
There’s been a lot of talk about Stamford QB/DB Hagen Hutchinson, and for good reason: he’s been tremendous. Whether it’s throwing the ball, running the ball or playing defense, he can do it all and has proven himself to be one of 1A’s most dangerous players. But…isn’t Mart’s sophomore sensation De’Narian Thomas basically doing the same thing? He’s a running threat…a passing threat…and just last week, he returned an interception for a touchdown in the Panthers’ win over Mart. This is a fantastic matchup of quarterbacks for the 1A Division I title, but obviously, it goes deeper than that. Can Stamford’s defense slow down Thomas and company? Can Mart’s defense do the same? I will say this: Stamford holds a slight edge in my book because they have a healthy Hutchinson, which is not something they could claim in last year’s title game against Mason. This should be another game that could go either way.
Tepper’s pick: Stamford 31, Mart 28
Apologies to: All of them; it’s the state championships!
Three Bold, Sure-To-Be-Wrong Predictions
They say 2-out-of-3 ain’t bad (or, at least, that’s what Meat Loaf sang), and that’s what I got last week, only missing Allen’s win over DeSoto. Entering the final week of the season, I’m 31-14 on the year. Last year, I went 33-18, good enough for a 64.7% hit rate. That means that, in order to best my predictions from last year, I have to go at least 1-for-3 this week. No pressure.
-Katy finishes off another unbeaten season by beating Cedar Hill for the 5A Division II state championship, capping off one of the more dominant years in recent history.
-Sam Houston State avenges its loss in the title game last year, beating North Dakota State to win the FCS National Championship (of course, this won’t be until Jan. 5).
-East Bernard’s Ty Slanina outduels Corsicana Mildred’s Nic Shimonek to lead the Brahmas to the Class 2A Division II state title.
Every week, I’ll identify one player to watch across the state who could be poised for a breakout game. If he does, in fact, have a breakout game (we’ll define the stakes each week), he’ll get the honorary title of Manster – half-man, half-monster – and a place in this column for the entire season. Also, a Great American Steakhouse Onion Machine. OK, just the title.
Last week, the Manster Watch fell on Manor RB Tyrone Owens. The stakes for Mansterhood: 90 yards and a touchdown against in the Mustangs’ state semifinal game against Cedar Park. Unfortunately, it was just an all-around bad day for Tyrone. Not only did his team lose, but he only managed 38 yards on the ground (though he did have a touchdown run). Sadly, Tyrone, them’s the breaks.
The final Manster Watch of the season sets its eyes on Houston Lamar DE Zelt Minor. Minor has been a driving force behind the Redskins’ surprising rise to the state title game, dominating opponents off the edge and using his size and speed to get to the quarterback more often than not. So here’s the deal, Mr. Minor: if you can notch a combination of three sacks, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries or interceptions, we’ll name you our final Manster of the year. And, while we’re at it, congratulations to all of the Mansters this season. You’ve certainly made it fun to watch you week in and week out, and you’re truly deserving of the title. Make sure to put it on your résumé.
2012 Mansters: Jasper WR D’Marcus Collins, Newton RB Kevin Shorter, Glen Rose QB Colton Bretton, Dallas Jesuit WR Jake Oliver, the Poth Pirates defense, Mason RB Rio Schmidt, Graham QB Ben Davis.
Song Sure to Get You Fired Up for Football
“Battleflag,” by Lo-Fidelity Allstars. This is not a new song – it comes off of the 1998 release “How To Operate With A Blown Mind” – but man, does it still hold up as a pre-game song. Lo-Fidelity All-Stars is a British group that relies on big, big basslines and a six-piece big-beat band. But the one instrument that sets LFAS apart is the organ. It’s intoxicating, and it’s everywhere in their music. If this song doesn’t make you want to watch football, check your pulse.
Personal Rankings Apropos of Nothing
Top Five Bowl Games I’m Most Looking Forward To:
1) Cotton Bowl – Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma
2) Holiday Bowl – Baylor vs. UCLA
3) Alamo Bowl – Texas vs. Oregon State
4) Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl – TCU vs. Michigan State
5) BCS National Championship – Alabama vs. Notre Dame
Pre-Game Meal of the Week
Fried turkey. That’s right, it’s a Tepper family tradition: nearly burning down the house while trying to fry a turkey for Christmas dinner. But when properly executed – which we’ve done once – fried turkey is divine. So moist and succulent, and the skin is the best part. Plus, when you’re done with the turkey, you can fry all sorts of things. This year, the menu includes fried pickles, fried Snickers and fried Oreos. If you have any other suggestions as to what we should fry, let me know. I’m willing to fry anything.
Bye Week Distraction
Well, first of all, shame on you for needing a distraction. You should go out to the state championship games out at Cowboys Stadium this weekend (or follow my marathon Live-Blogs on TexasFootball.com!). But if you really need me to spoonfeed you something to do this weekend, I guess I can oblige.
Nobody likes an ulterior motive. That’s just plain mean. But sometimes…it can be educational. Take, for example, the fine folks over at Persuasive Games. They’re designing games that are not only fun, but can teach you about things. For example, there’s a game called Killer Flu, which was commissioned by the UK Clinical Virology Network, that teaches you all about seasonal and pandemic flu and how to prevent spreading it. Or there’s Debt Ski, which is a game about a pig on a jet ski but really teaches you about savings and debt. Ulterior motive? Yes. But also a fun way to learn things. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to fix these wind turbines…
Yell At Me
Impressive (and True!) Trivia of the Week
Did you know that in the cafeteria at Google’s headquarters, the food prices are set by nutrition facts? For example, it’s one cent for each gram of sugar, four cents for saturated fat, a dollar for trans fat. Which helps to explain the $11,000 GoogleBurger.
Greg Tepper is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.