5A/4A Preview: The Semifinals
The 5A and 4A Texas high school football state semifinals get rolling tonight, and DCTF gets you ready.
The Texas high school football state semifinals begin tonight, as teams fight for a spot at next week's state championships at AT&T Stadium. DCTF's Greg Tepper previews the critical matchups.
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.
Class 5A Division I
DeSoto (14-0) vs. Allen (14-0)
2 p.m. Saturday at Mesquite Memorial Stadium
This is what the state semifinals are all about: two of (in our estimation) the three best 5A teams in the state fighting for a spot at AT&T Stadium. It’s not like we couldn’t have seen this coming – in fact, we predicted this exact semifinal matchup back in the 2013 summer edition of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football! All eyes will be on the matchup of dazzling dual-threat QBs in this one – DeSoto’s Desmon White and Allen’s Kyler Murray – and each player represents the single-best offensive threat their opponent has faced. Assume, for the sake of this analysis, that the two offenses are equal: besides their QBs, they have many weapons at their disposal, from DeSoto’s RBs Jaimon Peterson and Jatory Brown to Allen’s embarrassment of riches at receiver in Cole Carter, Jayton Guyton and TE Grant Finney. That leaves us with the defense, where it looks relatively even as well. Allen’s defense has been consistently strong all year, while DeSoto’s had faded ever so slightly of late – credit the gauntlet that is Region I for that. But in a coin-flip game like this, little things matter – like DeSoto’s continued kicking woes, or like Allen having an extra two days of rest and preparation, while DeSoto played on Monday. The big things, like the QBs, will be exciting; the little things should determine the outcome, and the little things tend to favor the defending champs.
Tepper’s pick: Allen 38, DeSoto 35
Pearland (13-1) vs. San Antonio Madison (11-3)
3 p.m. Saturday at Waco ISD Stadium
What a long, winding road of a season it’s been for legendary coach Jim Streety and San Antonio Madison. A 3-0 start, including a win at Region IV frontrunner Cibolo Steele; a 27-point loss to Smithson Valley; a thrilling win over Churchill; a semi-surprising loss to Reagan; a semi-surprising loss to Johnson; three convincing playoff wins; then last week’s blood-pumping win over Converse Judson. And here they are, on the verge of putting one of the state’s finest coaches in his first title game. Pearland’s season, on the other hand, has more or less been smooth sailing, aside from the loss to Manvel. Two different paths to Waco ISD Stadium. Pearland’s defense continues to impress, led by LB Justin Phillips and DT Ronald Fraser; and its offense finds a way behind RB Jacolbie Butler. Madison’s kind of the other way around: the offense has been crazy-fun to watch with QB Cody Ennis, RB Dominique Daniels and WRs Ja’Michael Brown and Byron Daniels, and its defense – while not overpowering – has found the stops it’s needed. A low-scoring game benefits Pearland, since its offense is probably not powerful enough to match Madison score-for-score. A high-scoring game benefits Madison, since any defensive struggle is probably going to lead to a Pearland victory. What’s the difference? Cody Ennis, the best offensive player on the field, looks like he’ll guide Jim Streety – finally – to the state’s biggest stage.
Tepper’s pick: San Antonio Madison 29, Pearland 24
Class 5A Division II
Cedar Hill (12-2) vs. Lake Travis (12-1)
1:30 p.m. Saturday at Waco's Floyd Casey Stadium
The semifinal we anticipated last year – before Lake Travis’ stunning first-round exit – comes a year later, and it packs just as much intrigue as it would’ve 12 months ago. Cedar Hill has looked every bit as good as it did in last year’s run to the title game, and what’s most fascinating about Cedar Hill is its ability to win in different ways. Need to throw? No problem: QB Justin McMillan and WR Damarkus Lodge have you covered. Need to run? Boom: Aca’Cedric Ware and Larry Hill take over. Need to win a low-scoring slugfest? DB Marcus Green, LB Doveon Dillard and DE Xavier Washington can handle that. Lake Travis, for most of the year, has looked like that same kind of team. QB Dominic De Lira has been a revelation under center, and star RB Shaun Nixon has taken over any time he’s had an off game (like last week against A&M Consolidated). And for all the talk about the LT offense – from Garrett Gilbert to Baker Mayfield and everyone inbetween – the defense has been outstanding during the Cavs’ rise to power, and this year is no different thanks to DB Luke Hutton, DL Zach Davies and company. Last week’s win over Consol, however, scares me a bit; that wasn’t a great Consolidated defense, and the Cavaliers struggled to find offensive consistency. That can’t happen again this week against Cedar Hill if they hope to make their sixth title game in seven years. The X-factor in this is the Cedar Hill WR Lodge; he’s a mismatch for everyone, and can make his presence felt in the special teams game, too. That may put the Longhorns over the top, and back in Arlington.
Tepper’s pick: Cedar Hill 28, Lake Travis 24
Katy (14-0) vs. San Antonio Johnson (12-2)
4 p.m. Saturday at Reliant Stadium
San Antonio Johnson’s Cinderella story is pretty remarkable. We picked the Jaguars to finish third in 26-5A; they finished second, but ended up as the second DII seed. We picked them to lose in the first round to unbeaten Smithson Valley; they won, and then won again (27-5A champion Brandeis), and then won again (Valley power Laredo Alexander), and then won again (28-5A champion and Region IV frontrunner Cibolo Steele) to get here. What coach Ron Rittimann is doing at Johnson is sensational, and the story is still going. Do the Jaguars have another stunner in them? And make no mistake: this would be among the biggest upsets of the year. Katy has been as close to automatic as any team in the state this year, and ever since RB Rodney Anderson got healthy, the Tigers have been even more unstoppable. Between the running game and the sensational defense, they look primed for another trip to AT&T Stadium, where they’d be favored to take home another crown. But this is the Texas high school football playoffs, and sometimes, it’s better to be white-hot than dominant. Can QB Hunter Rittimann hit a couple more big plays to WRs Josh Theissen and Devlin Gilligan? Can the defense continue to make the critical plays? Katy is Goliath; how many more stones does San Antonio Johnson have in its satchel?
Tepper’s pick: Katy 38, San Antonio Johnson 21
Class 4A Division I
Denton Guyer (12-2) vs. Highland Park (13-1)
1 p.m. Saturday at Allen
Can you believe that it’s been six years since Highland Park reached a title game? One of the foremost DFW-area powerhouses is always in the mix, but the Scotties are looking to return to the biggest stage in what may be their final year before a leap to the next classification.. And what this HP team lacks in its usual star power, it makes up for in simply fantastic play in the trenches. The offensive line of Tony Richards and Clayton Woods keeps QB Brooks Burgin clean; the defensive line of Andrew Clyde and Caz Orr gets after the opposing offense. They are, simply, one of the most fundamentally sound squads in the state. Now they get their shot at the defending champs Guyer, and the Wildcats have plenty of star power – QB Jerrod Heard is obvious, but RB DJ Breedlove has exploded of late, giving Guyer a powerful one-two punch. And while HP’s O-line has been terrific all year, they may meet their match in the Guyer defensive front: DE Thomas Ferguson and DT Carl Thompson help to form perhaps the best defensive line in 4A. When you’re watching this game, take your eye off the ball and watch the battle at the line of scrimmage. Whoever’s winning that one wins this one. In the end, it’s up to the Guyer offensive line to open things up for Heard, Breedlove and company. Expect a fantastic finish.
Tepper’s pick: Denton Guyer 31, Highland Park 24
Houston Stratford (12-2) vs. San Antonio Brennan (14-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Reliant Stadium
The reason that coaches love the mantra of “run the ball and play defense” is that those aspects of the game, generally speaking, are weatherproof: if you’re a solid running team, and you’re a solid defensive team, it doesn’t matter what Mother Nature does. That has to be part of the reason that Stratford is here: its defense is as strong as any in the Houston area, anchored by LB Jajuan West and DL Jay Harper, and the running game got back on track last week with Terrence Peters and Raqueem Boyd. This is a good, good, good team, and since a 45-42 loss to Conroe Oak Ridge, the defense has allowed just four touchdowns. But to get to the title game, Stratford will have to beat Brennan at its own game, because Brennan is, right now, the undisputed king of defense. The Bears allowed their fifth touchdown all season last week, and DE Derick Roberson, LB Grant Watanbe and DT Evan Ferguson have been especially devastating against the run, where they’re allowing 50.8 yards per game on the ground. It’s possible that Stratford is able to slow down Brennan star QB Da’Shawn Key, and that’s likely Stratford’s most accessible path to victory: something like 10-7. But in this defensive struggle, one team has both the better defense and the best offensive player.
Tepper’s pick: San Antonio Brennan 21, Houston Stratford 7
Class 4A Division II
Aledo (14-0) vs. Ennis (14-0)
3:30 p.m. Saturday at Midlothian
The quote of the week goes to Ennis star RB Terence Williams, who told The Dallas Morning News’ Matt Wixon of Aledo, “They can be beat.” And you know what? He’s right. Aledo can be beat. And Ennis is good enough to beat anyone – and I mean anyone. They run the ball about as well as anyone with Williams and fellow backfield boomer Nick Gabriel; QB Devin Smith has a knack for the big play; and the defense has plenty of playmakers, from DB Jah’Shawn Johnson to DE James Lockhart to DB Taylor Thompson, who returned a pair of interceptions for TDs in the fourth quarter to turn the game against Mesquite Poteet into a laugher. This Ennis team is great. But Aledo is another animal. The Bearcats have already broken the state single-season scoring record, and are likely to set the national scoring record. QB Luke Bishop, RBs Jess Anders, Daythan Davis and Ryan Newsome, WR Taco Anderson and company form, quite simply, one of the best offenses in Texas high school football history. And the defense is no slouch either; LB Jordan Mittie and DE Zach Hyles anchor a unit that’s holding opponents, on average, 24.4 points below their season scoring average. Terence Williams is absolutely right: Aledo can be beat. But there’s very little evidence to suggest it’s going to happen, through no fault of Ennis.
Tepper’s pick: Aledo 42, Ennis 24
Brenham (13-1) vs. Port Lavaca Calhoun (13-1)
12 p.m. Saturday at Reliant Stadium
At this point in the playoffs, every team is in the very top tier, and it’s a matter of who matches up well against whom. Anything can happen in 48 minutes, and that’s never more on display than this deep in the postseason. So here’s one big, honking matchup that favors Port Lavaca Calhoun: Brenham’s offense starts with running back Earnest Patterson, and Calhoun has been, for the most part, very good against the run. The Cubs’ running game against the Sandcrabs’ rushing defense is a key component to this one, but not the whole picture, since A) Brenham has a pretty darn good QB in Caleb Hill, and B) their defense is awful solid as well. Can Calhoun’s secondary, with Taylor Lee and Mauro Garcia, limit the big plays from Hill? And, more importantly, can Calhoun’s old-school offense, with RB Cory Williams and QB Hunter Boehm, push around the Brenham front? These are two teams with very firm identities; the game will be won by the team that most disrupts that. In the end, maybe there’s something about the Sandcrabs’ running game, or maybe it’s something about how their defense has seemingly always had an answer, but Calhoun looks like a team ready to send longtime coach Richard Whitaker to his first title game.
Tepper’s pick: Port Lavaca Calhoun 32, Brenham 31