5A/4A Preview: Regional Finals
The 5A and 4A Texas high school football playoffs continue tonight, and DCTF gets you ready.
It’s playoff time! The Texas high school football playoffs continue tonight in the fourth round -- the regional finals. DCTF’s Greg Tepper previews every game in the state.
DON'T FORGET: DCTF Playoff Central has everything a true Texas high school football fan needs for the playoffs, including brackets, matchups and DCTF associate editor Greg Tepper's complete predictions for every bracket.
IMPORTANT NOTE: With the inclement weather hitting parts of the Lone Star State, all game times and locations are subject to change. We'll be updating DCTF Playoff Central with the latest news of game changes.
5A Division I
DeSoto vs. Euless Trinity, 4 p.m. Saturday at Allen's Eagle Stadium
Let’s start off the top: this is a rematch of a non-district game back in Week 2, and that was all DeSoto, as the Eagles soared to a 61-35 win behind a huge day from QB Desmon White. And really, it wasn’t that close – DeSoto led 54-14 at halftime. So, the question is: has Euless Trinity closed the 36-point gap with DeSoto? Sure, the Trojans have improved – the running game of Isaac Ellsworth and Ja’Ron Wilson is humming, and the defense made the plays it needed to last week against Southlake Carroll– but there are two big advantages that DeSoto will have. First: Trinity has trouble stopping the pass. Carroll QB Ryan Agnew threw for 488 yards against the Trojans, and considering White has already thrown for 346 yards against Trinity, that’s a mismatch. Secondly: DeSoto has a good-enough rush defense to at least slow down Trinity. This game should be closer than the original, but the Eagles look like the favorite.
Tepper’s pick: DeSoto 45, Euless Trinity 35
Spring Westfield vs. Allen, 2 p.m. Saturday at Round Rock's Reeves Stadium
Westfield has caught its breath from its double-overtime thriller over Skyline last week, and now must tangle with one of the – if not the – best team in 5A in Allen. The Eagles have been nearly flawless all season, and it starts with QB Kyler Murray – 37 pass TDs and 15 rush TDs qualify as “special” – and his bevy of weapons, from WR Cole Carter to TE Grant Finney to RB Jaelen Barlow. Now, Westfield can score in bunches, too, and a lot depends on getting the ball to Courtland Greenwood, who managed three pass TDs and two rush TDs last week against Skyline. Between him and RB Latevius Downs, this is an explosive attack. But if this comes down to defense – and in the playoffs, it so often does – that’s where Allen has an advantage. LB Tay Evans and DB Chad Adams lead an Allen unit that’s still a bit under-the-radar. Westfield’s defense has been great all year behind DB Brian Peavy and LB Paul LeBlanc, but giving up 48 points to Skyline last week has me a little spooked. If the Westfield defense of most of the year shows up, this is a close one. If last week’s Westfield defense comes to play, it’s Allen’s to lose.
Tepper’s pick: Allen 38, Spring Westfield 27
Cy-Fair vs. Pearland, 1 p.m. Saturday at Fort Bend's Mercer Stadium
Talk about your unforeseen regional final! Galena Park North Shore and Houston Lamar entered last week as (in my opinion) clear favorites to beat Cy-Fair and Pearand, respectively…and yet here we are! Both defenses stood tall last week – DE Brady Wright, DT Ross Donnelly and DB Brandon Richmond led the way to Cy-Fair’s staggering 9-7 win over North Shore; and LB Justin Phillips and DT Ronald Fraser helped Pearland to a 21-13 win over Lamar – but both offenses struggled to get in gear. Now, that’s largely due to playing great defenses themselves, but the big question surrounding this game is which offense will be able to get back in gear quick enough. Will it be Cy-Fair? RB Dillon Birden carries the mail, but WR Drew Tobler is perhaps their most versatile and explosive threat. Will it be Pearland? They’re a little more diverse with RB Jacolbie Butler and QB Kalen Johnson. We expect another low-scoring slugfest – that’s what got them here – but which offense will make the plays necessary to get to the state semifinal?
Tepper’s pick: Pearland 24, Cy-Fair 21
Converse Judson vs. SA Madison, 7 p.m. Friday at San Antonio's Heroes Stadium
It’s the old-school San Antonio slugfest that the Alamo City deserves for its regional final! Both teams cruised past Valley Week, and now we’re faced with a matchup of two of the best San Antonio-area programs out there. Converse Judson’s really emerged with QB RayJohn Austin-Ramsey, but let’s not overlook its defense, with LBs Justin Johnson and Malik Pryor leading the way. For Madison, they’ve got an offense that’s just plain-old fun to watch when it’s going right, from QB Cody Ennis to RB Dominique Daniels to big-play WRs Ja’Michael Brown and Byron Daniels. If there’s a question here, it’s Madison’s defense: the Mavericks aren’t an elite defense, but they’ve got playmakers like DB Latrell Sledge and DL CJ Reese. That, in my view, is what this game comes down to: whether or not Madison can find those big, game-changing defensive plays that they so often force. If that happens, the Mavericks are through to the semis. If not, it’s the Rockets.
Tepper’s pick: Converse Judson 35, SA Madison 28
5A Division II
Cedar Hill vs. Denton Ryan, 2 p.m. Saturday at Denton's Apogee Stadium
Talk about different paths to this point. Cedar Hill, last year’s 5A DII runner-up, took a lead over Abilene Cooper last week and held off a late rally. Denton Ryan, on the other hand, mounted an insane rally, down 31-0 to Keller Fossil Ridge, to storm to an improbable win. What impresses me most about Ryan is its QB Mitchell Bridges, a versatile dual-threat who accounted for six touchdowns last week; when he’s on the same page as WR Xavier Gray, it’s something special. But Cedar Hill can beat you in so many different ways – through the air with QB Justin McMillan and WR dynamo Damarkus Lodge; on the ground with RBs Aca’cedric Ware and Larry Hill; with defense with DB Marcus Green and DE Xavier Washington; or on special teams, where Lodge stars as well. One thing is clear: Ryan cannot afford another slow start. Cedar Hill is not the kind of team to let teams back off the mat. It’ll be up to DT JT Williams, DB Randalle Williams and the Ryan defense to keep this game close, then let Bridges strike at the opportune time. Expect a great one.
Tepper’s pick: Cedar Hill 36, Denton Ryan 27
Lake Travis vs. A&M Consolidated, 2 p.m. Saturday at Temple
This game all depends on how much stock you put into what happened last week. If you look at the sum of the parts, at the entirety of the season, it’s hard to pick against Lake Travis – RB Shaun Nixon has been spectacular, QB Dominic De Lira has blossomed, and the defense has been its normal exceptional self behind DB Luke Hutton and DL Zach Davies. But…Lake Travis struggled against the pass last week against Jesuit, giving up 333 yards on 62% completion rate. Now, they did pick off three passes, and that’s good, but does that open the door for A&M Consolidated’s attack? QB Kobe Miller and WR Derrick Dick have been outstanding all year, and RB Brandon Jackson is no slouch, either. This team can score, and if we’re all of a sudden seeing a gap in the defensive armor, Consolidated can exploit it. Now, there’s a matter of stopping Lake Travis, which is a lot easier said than done, and LB Riley Garner, DB Sherman Wilder and company would still have to play the game of the year…but don’t automatically put a checkmark next to Lake Travis. This one feels closer than that.
Tepper’s pick: Lake Travis 42, A&M Consolidated 38
Katy vs. Manvel, 7:30 p.m. Friday at Reliant Stadium
When you first get a hold of the playoff bracket, you always look forward to potential big-time clashes…and this one has been on my radar for weeks. Manvel will provide the biggest test Katy has faced all season, and vice versa. We could dive into all the ins and outs of what promises to be an instant classic, but to me, this game will be decided by one factor: can Manvel stop Katy on the ground? Rodney Anderson, the Tigers’ star running back, is healthy and it shows – his 5 TDs last week against FB Elkins prove it – and RB Kyle Porter is more than capable of spelling him. Of course, Manvel’s strength is in its defensive front, with DE Koda Martin and DL Victor Green. That’s not to say that Katy can’t pass, but this is a run-first team. If Manvel slows down the Katy rushing attack, then the Mavericks are in business. There’s an entirely different, tantalizing storyline of Katy’s defense – which looked mortal for the first time last week against Elkins, allowing 403 total yards – taking on dual-threat superstar QB Deriq King, but in my opinion, that’s all secondary to Katy’s running game against Manvel’s run defense. Regardless: get your tickets now.
Tepper’s pick: Katy 31, Manvel 27
SA Johnson vs. Cibolo Steele, 7 p.m. Saturday at Texas State
It’s Cinderella against the powerhouse here, as the story of San Antonio Johnson just keeps getting better. First Smithson Valley, then SA Brandeis, then a rollicking victory in Valley Week. Now, the Jaguars have a chance to bag the biggest catch yet: Cibolo Steele. RB Justin Stockton has been absolutely phenomenal for the Knights, but don’t overlook QB L.G. Williams and a rapidly improving defense that features DE Josh Malin and DB Carl Cunningham. For Johnson to pull off yet another upset, it’ll need to hit big plays with QB Hunter Rittimann, RB Darion McElhannon and WRs Josh Theissen and Devlin Gilligan. Plus, the defense will need to have its best game yet behind LBs Jerod Vick and Eric Huggins. At this point, it’s a fool’s errand to pick against Johnson, but the way Justin Stockton is running, and the way the Steele defense is flying around these days, this might be the time that the slipper no longer fits.
Tepper’s pick: Cibolo Steele 34, SA Johnson 26
4A Division I
Denton Guyer vs. Birdville, 2 p.m. Saturday at Justin Northwest
You really shouldn’t be surprised that Birdville is here. The Hawks have an elite-caliber offensive weapon (RB Xavier Turner, he of 2,857 yards and 50 [!!!] touchdowns), some solid complementary parts like QB Will Hayward, and a defense that has been solid all year but is peaking right now, thanks to the LB corps of Nick Dusak and Sam Gooch. The question is, are they ready for the defending champs? QB Jerrod Heard is (checks again) yep, still incredible, the running game of DJ Breedlove and Anthony Taylor is strong as well, and the defensive front is menacing behind DE Thomas Ferguson and DT Carl Thompson. There’s your ballgame: Birdville’s offensive line against Guyer’s defensive line. With all due respect to Hayward, Birdville’s not built to throw the ball a bunch, but if Guyer stuffs the run, that’s what they’ll have to do. If Turner gets his usual 250+ yards and 3 TDs, Birdville’s in business. Of course, there’s also the matter of slowing down Heard.
Tepper’s pick: Denton Guyer 41, Birdville 28
Wylie vs. Highland Park, 7:30 p.m. Friday at Allen's Eagle Stadium
Wylie is the villain in the horror movie: they just won’t die. The Pirates offense has exploded lately, especially behind versatile weapon Kameron Kelly, who can really do it all. Of course, having a guy like QB Carsen Cook and 1,00-yard receiver Alex Wesley doesn’t hurt, either. Highland Park, after having seen them twice in two weeks, is one of those old school teams that isn’t necessarily amazing at the skill positions (though QB Brooks Burgin is pretty salty), but is so dominant in the trenches – with DLs Andrew Clyde and Caz Orr, and OLs Tony Richards and Clayton Woods – that they break your spirit. Sure, Wylie can get out and run, but they’ll need to match HP’s physicality in order to win this one. But you know what? I’m done doubting Wylie. They’ve more than proved themselves, and I think they can hit the big plays to win this one. It’s an upset pick, but sometimes, you just ride the hot hand.
Tepper’s pick: Wylie 38, Highland Park 35
Pearland Dawson vs. Houston Stratford, 2 p.m. Saturday at Deer Park
Defense, defense, defense! That’s why both of these teams are here! Pearland Dawson has played great defense all year, but has been especially excellent of late, with DT Eric England, DE Brent Johnson and LB Travonte Moody making up a formidable front seven. And Stratford…wow, what a virtuoso performance in a gutty 7-3 win over Georgetown last week. They haven’t allowed double-digit points since Week 3! DB Zack Miller, LB Jajuan West, DL Jay Harper…the entire Stratford defense is devastating. Which then makes us turn to the offense, where Dawson appears to have a clear advantage. RBs Terrence Peters and Raqueem Boyd are solid weapons for Stratford, but it’s been inconsistent. Dawson, on the other hand, features big-play aficionados like RB Brett Winnegan, QB Ross Wicklund and WR Tony Upchurch. So Stratford’s defense is probably a touch better than Dawson’s, and Dawson’s offense is probably a touch better than Stratford’s. What does that give us in sum? I lean toward Dawson, but one thing to remember: Dawson’s QB Wicklund has thrown 11 INTs this season. He absolutely must take care of the ball, because turnovers – every single turnover – will be critical.
Tepper’s pick: Pearland Dawson 21, Houston Stratford 14
Leander Rouse vs. SA Brennan, 7:30 p.m. Friday at San Antonio's Comalander Stadium
It’s probably time to start talking about San Antonio Brennan’s defense in historical terms. The Bears have allowed four offensive touchdowns all season. In 13 games. I mean…at this point in time, they are among the very best defenses we have ever seen in Texas high school football. DE Derick Roberson, LB Grant Watanbe and DT Evan Ferguson are in complete command of this defensive front, and that’s what they do: they stop the run dead, make you one-dimensional, then make plays with their talented secondary. Can Rouse crack the code? The Raiders are back for a second consecutive deep playoff run, and QB Billy Ray McCrary is something special. Between he and RB Andrew Alger, the Raiders have a pair of talented running threats. Of course, there’s also the other side of the ball, where Rouse will have to find a way to deal with Brennan QB Da’Shawn Key, who has more than 1,600 yards and 20 TDs passing and just under 1,600 yards and 28 TDs rushing. Maybe Rouse can break through the Bears defense. But nobody has done it yet, and it’s hard to predict something that’s never happened before.
Tepper’s pick: SA Brennan 35, Leander Rouse 14
4A Division II
4A DII: Aledo vs. Wichita Falls, date TBA (ppd. Thursday)
We must begin with the natural caveat that this is Texas high school football, and this is the playoffs, and it’s cold outside, and anything can happen, and you’re generally a fool to pick against the hot hand (that’s Wichita Falls, who has defied almost every expectation in getting to this point). But Aledo – on the verge of breaking the state scoring record with up to three games remaining, and beating opponents by an average of 59.7 points per game – looks like the clear favorite. Can Wichita Falls pull off the stunner? Sure, especially if their defense led by DE Devon Bazile and DB O.J. Clark play as well as they have of late. But there is very little evidence to suggest that’ll happen.
Tepper’s pick: Aledo 48, Wichita Falls 14
George Ranch vs. Brenham, 1 p.m. Saturday at Houston's Tully Stadium
From a Texas high school football fan perspective, it’s really cool to see Brenham back in statewide contention again. The Cubs are one of the proudest programs the state has to offer, and what coach Glen West is doing to get them back is really cool. But they’re not “happy to be here”; they’re Brenham. And they have every reason to believe they’re booked for the semifinals – and beyond. RB Earnest Patterson and QB Caleb Hill provide a powerful one-two punch offensively, while the defense of DB Courtland Sutton, DL Taylon Shepard and LB JaMichael Adams has a habit of taking their opposition’s top weapons out of the game (just look what they did last week to Texas City’s Foreman brothers). But George Ranch – just in its second year of varsity play – is starting to have that “team of destiny” feel. Last week’s upset win over Elgin was just the latest chapter in what’s been a magical year, and the win last week came via the defense, from LB Tsolo Efejuku and DL Kingsley Keke, forcing three turnovers. And then there’s that running game, with three 100-yard rushers last week – Collins Kwabena, Darius Anderson and Xavian Marks – plus another 71 yards from QB Timon Nolan. So many storylines in this one – can Brenham hit the big play? Can George Ranch’s defense play like that again? Can the George Ranch running game get going against Brenham’s D? – but really, let’s just sit back and enjoy what is a terrific clash between the new kid on the block and the old salty veteran.
Tepper’s pick: George Ranch 29, Brenham 27
Port Lavaca Calhoun vs. SA Alamo Heights, 1 p.m. Saturday at Texas State
So, let’s dive into this Cedar Park-Calallen game we’ve all be waiting for…wait, what? Believe it! Both Calhoun and Alamo Heights pulled stunners last week, with the Sandcrabs taking down defending champ Cedar Park and Alamo Heights corralling previously unbeaten Calallen. So now we get this battle for Region IV supremacy that, really, looks like the same team playing one another. They both rely on a fantastic defense – Calhoun’s secondary is especially strong with Taylor Lee and Mauro Garcia, while Alamo Heights’ front seven with DE Juan Alvarez, DL Ben McSween and LB Adam Luna is the headliner – and use a big running game to get the job done – Calhoun’s Cory Williams and QB Hunter Boerm, Alamo Heights’ Byron Proctor. So, with two teams that look alike, what are the differences? I think Calhoun’s defense is a half-step better, but Alamo Heights’ offense features a little more potent passing game with QB Dalton Banks. What’s more: Alamo Heights’ strength being in the front seven gives it an advantage against a run-first (and second, and third) team like Calhoun. Maybe it’s recency bias, but I go with the Mules.
Tepper’s pick: SA Alamo Heights 28, Port Lavaca Calhoun 24