Outside looking in
Who were the best high school teams to miss the playoffs in 2012?
Recently, the UIL announced that Class 3A and Class 2A – which will soon be known as Class 4A and Class 3A (don’t ask) – will be expanding the playoffs, with four teams from each district qualifying for the postseason.
And the reaction from the old school football fans, the purists, the “the game isn’t what it used to be” crowd was swift and unified:
What?! There are too many teams in the playoffs as it is!
We’ve hashed and rehashed the arguments for and against expanded playoffs over and over on this site, so I won’t bore you with that again. But here’s what I will say: even with so many teams in the playoffs, there are good teams that don’t make the postseason.
It’s true. Purists may not want to hear it for fear of sparking a new round of playoff expansion (certainly not what I’m advocating), but every year, there are darn good teams that are left on the outside looking in for the playoffs. Whether it’s a tough district, a key injury or just plain bad luck, teams that are otherwise worthy of making the playoffs sit it out, and 2012 is no different.
Who were the best teams not to make the Texas high school football playoffs in 2012? Why, I’m so glad you asked! Let’s go class by class and identify the “first team out” of the playoffs.
5A: South Grand Prairie
The Warriors’ record is a bit uninspiring – they finished just 5-5 on the year – but you have to dive deeper to see why they’re a tough cut from the playoffs. First of all: SGP’s district was brutal. Theire three district losses came to DeSoto (a state semifinalist), Cedar Hill (a state finalist) and Midlothian. What’s more, one of their other losses came to the dynamic Arlington Martin Warriors, who were no slouch. In the end, though, SGP’s loss to Midlothian proved costly. It put them in a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots out of District 7-5A, tied with Mansfield (whom the Warriors beat) and Midlothian (whom they didn’t). The point-differential tiebreaker didn’t go their way, and they were left out. It’s a shame, too; it would have been fun to see what QB Elijah Wright or that quick-footed defense could do in the postseason.
4A: Austin Vandegrift
Another 5-5 team, Vandegrift’s defense was pretty sturdy all year long, holding opponents to just 19.1 points per game. And QB Forrest Threadgill had a pretty darn good year, too, throwing for 1,160 yards and 11 touchdowns. But ultimately, the Vipers just plain didn’t score enough, averaging just 21.3 points per game. And that’s going to cost you in a district like 25-4A. The Vipers finished in a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots with Cedar Park Vista Ridge and Leander Rouse. And – you guessed it – Vandegrift was left out. In hindsight, if they would’ve made it, there’s a high probability that coach Drew Sanders’ crew would’ve made a deep run. Why do I say that? Look at how the rest of 25-4A fared. Cedar Park Vista Ridge nearly knocked out San Antonio Brennan in the area round. Leander went all the way to a regional final. Leander Rouse was one of the stories of the year, as the young program surged to the state semis. Oh, and Cedar Park won the state title. Nice to have powerful friends, except when they get you left out of the playoffs.
It figures that the best team left out of the playoffs would come from the District of Doom, District 16-3A. The Panthers were dominant at times, with QB Colton Mebane lighting up the east Texas sky through the air and Brent Henderson doing a lot of work on the ground. In fact, the average margin of a Bullard game was +21 for the Panthers. But the three losses in the Panthers’ 7-3 season proved to be extremely costly, since those losses came to the three teams that made the playoffs: Gilmer, Henderson and Kilgore. Henderson made the DII quarterfinals; Kilgore made the DI semifinals; and Gilmer made the DII title game. Plain and simple: in pretty much any other district in Texas, the Panthers would’ve been dancing. Instead, they were left out in the playoff cold.
The Shorthorns are used to making the playoffs. Entering 2012, they’d made the postseason in five of the last eight seasons. And in most years, their performance – a 6-4 season – would be good enough to get them in. QB Ross Buldau had a terrific year, throwing for 1,719 yards and 19 scores, while RB Jyron McKenzie ran for 835 yards and another nine touchdowns. WR Jeffrey Lara hauled in 35 catches for 959 yards and 11 touchdowns. And the defense, led by Colton Bubela, was excellent, holding opponents to just under 20 points per game. But as it usually is, it’s not how many you lose, but to whom you lose. The Shorthorns dropped three games in District 14-2A DII play, all to the teams that would eventually make the playoffs – Blanco, Rogers and Lexington. What’s worst of all: they lost those three games by a combined 22 points. A tough way to go.
To be truly honest, there’s not a whole lot of teams that qualify as the “deserved to be in the playoffs” teams in 1A, but the Eagles come the closest. Milano was seeking its third consecutive playoff appearance, and for a while, things looked very good. They jumped out to a 4-0 start and looked strong behind do-it-all threat Jordan Millar, big-play WR/LB Dominique Messar and a strong defensive unit on the whole. But when District 13-1A DII play hit, the Eagles just couldn’t catch a break in close games. They lost 36-30 to eventual state quarterfinalist Burton, lost 26-25 to eventual playoff team Granger, and lost 28-26 to eventual playoff team Bartlett. That’s three losses by nine total points. And when games are that close, you can say that plain ol’ bad luck kept Milano out of the playoffs.
Greg Tepper is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.