The state finalists we thought would be here...and the ones that completely surprised us.
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After months and months, through two-a-days and non-district and district play and the playoffs, there are now just 20 teams left standing in the 2013 UIL Texas high school football playoffs. Those 20 teams will take the biggest stage this weekend, playing for state championships at AT&T Stadium in an unprecedented ten-games-in-three-days mega-event.
Some of these teams we expected to be here. Some of these teams…not so much. Let’s roll through the 20 teams vying for a title, ranking them from Most Surprising to Least Surprising.
Not Surprising They’re Here
20. Allen (5A DI)
DCTF ranked the Eagles No. 1 in 5A before the season, and considering they’re the defending champs, bringing back our preseason All-State QB Kyler Murray and a plethora of depth, it’s no real surprise that they’re here. 5A Division I was an absolute gauntlet, and Allen had to go through a tough road – including last week’s thrilling win over DeSoto. But Allen has looked like 5A’s best from wire-to-wire.
19. Denton Guyer (4A DI)
It’s not just that they’re the defending champs, and it’s not just that they were DCTF’s preseason No. 1 in 4A, and it’s not just that they have Jerrod Heard, one of the most dynamic high school players on the planet. Actually, yeah, it is all of those things.
18. Carthage (3A DI)
We do love when we’re right, and through a glut of really good 3A teams, we chose Carthage as our preseason No. 1 team in 3A, and here they are. QB Blake Bogenschutz has been as advertised, and his surrounding cast – Tee Goree and Tevin Pipkin inparticular – has been excellent. But it’s the defense that has been even better than we anticipated, leading them to AT&T Stadium.
17. Cameron Yoe (2A DI)
We ranked the defending champion Yoemen at No. 2 in our preseason 2A DI poll, and you can understand why: bringing back players like LB Somari Wright and QB Jason Kopriva – the defensive and offensive state title game MVPs, respectively – makes you an immediate contender. They fought through a dogfight of a Region IV, but you never doubt the defending champs.
16. Wellington (1A DII)
Only defending runner-up Tenaha – with its 20 starters back from a state title game run – ranked ahead of the Skyrockets in DCTF’s preseason 1A DII poll, and Wellington quickly established itself as the team to beat in Region I. QB Klark Ashmore has been great, but it’s been RB Terry Gilbreath and that sturdy defense that has led them here.
15. Refugio (2A DII)
We knew it would come down to the Region IV final between East Bernard (our preseason No. 1) and Refugio (our preseason No. 2) and we were spot-on, as EB and Refugio gave us another classic. But it was record-smashing QB Travis Quintanilla and the Bobcats exacting revenge from last year, pushing them into the title game.
14. Katy (5A DII)
Yes, Katy was ranked third in our preseason 5A poll, but we predicted that with all the Division I/Division II breakdown, they’d be here facing Westlake for the title (oops on that one). The Tigers have been dominant all year with their running game, and it became apparent early that our prediction of them back in the title game was a good one.
13. Aledo (4A DII)
In the offseason, Aledo coach Tim Buchanan told us that this is the best team he’s ever coached. Of course, a lot of coaches say that…yet Buchanan – who coached Johnathan Gray – was prescient in his declaration. The Bearcats (whom we ranked No. 3 in our preseason 4A poll) have been absolutely running over people all year, and it certainly helps that they went the Division II route, ducking teams like Denton Guyer in the process.
A Little Surprised They’re Here, But Only A Little
12. Stamford (1A DI)
We had the defending 1A Division I state champs ranked 4th in our preseason 1A Division I poll, and the biggest question was at quarterback, where they had to replace all-everything star Hagen Hutchinson. Well, Bo Wimberley has more-than-filled in for Hutchinson, and WR/DB James Washington has been sensational. Hence, a return trip to Arlington.
11. Wall (2A DI)
We knew the Hawks were going to have a big year – bringing back all that experience was key, and having QB Luke Dacy back to run the show was a big boost – which is why they ranked 4th in our preseason 2A DI rankings. But there was work to do to get out of Region I. If you haven’t noticed, the Hawks have been doing work all year.
10. Argyle (3A DII)
Argyle entered 2013 absolutely loaded. There was no doubt that Ian Sadler, Blake Boyzuick, Sam Sizelove and company were going to be a force. But there was question before the season as to which bracket they’d go to. Would they go DI, and likely face juggernaut (and defending DI champ) Stephenville in the semifinals? Or would they go DII, where they’d need to get by Gilmer in the regional final. Either one was a tough test, but Argyle quickly established itself as one of the best teams in 3A, making the division argument relatively moot.
9. San Antonio Brennan (4A DI)
Did we think Brennan was going to be good? Absolutely! We did, after all, rank them 4th in our preseason 4A poll. But we projected that Brennan would go Division II, meaning it would have to go through defending champ (and preseason second-ranked) Cedar Park in the regional final. Well, not only did Brennan go to a slightly easier Division I path, but their historically-good defense has absolutely mauled people.
8. Cisco (2A DII)
2A Division II is always one of the most entertaining – and hard to predict – brackets in the state, and 2013 was no exception. Cisco began the year 4th in DCTF’s 2A Division II rankings, and really, we couldn’t put them any higher – not above defending champ East Bernard, perennial superpower Refugio and aerial mavens Canadian. Where did we go wrong? Picking Canadian over Cisco in the Region I final. Mason Reed, Stanton Keane and the Loboes made sure they told us loud and clear that they’re the kings of Region I.
We Didn’t Expect Them To Be Here, But It’s Not Totally Shocking
7. Kilgore (3A DI)
It’s good to be the champions, like Stephenville. You get the benefit of the doubt in the preseason, which is why they ranked third while Kilgore ranked 5th in DCTF’s preseason 3A rankings. Top 5 is still plenty of respect, but we foresaw a considerable roadblock for the Bulldogs to reach a title game. Then last week happened, and they flexed their muscle in absolutely drubbing Stephenville behind a terrific running game featuring Juju Brown and Kevrin Justice. Kilgo, as they say, fo sho.
6. Shiner (1A DI)
On one hand, being ranked 5th in the state – like we did with Shiner in the preseason – is quite a heavy dose of respect. And when you have our preseason 1A Defensive Player of the Year in LB Jacob Stafford, you understand why they got that respect. But Shiner faced what we perceived to be a very, very tough road to the title game, needing to beat Mason and Mart to get there. Check, and check. Now, the Comanches are dancin’.
5. Cedar Hill (5A DII)
Cedar Hill is one of those programs that reloads instead of rebuilding, and 2013 was no different. We didn’t think the Longhorns, who played for a title last year, were even the biggest title contender in their own district (that’s DeSoto), but the emergence of WR Damarkus Lodge as the state’s most uncoverable player, strong running from RBs Aca’Cedric Ware and Larry Hill, and the defense being as good as we thought it would be have the Longhorns back in a familiar place: the title game.
We Thought You’d Be Good, but Probably Not This Good
4. Falls City (1A DII)
The category says it all. We knew that Falls City would be a really good team, and probably the class of Region IV in 1A Division II. But there were a number things we didn’t anticipate, specifically the transfer of superstar RB Justin Twine from Hemphill to Falls City. He has completely changed the tenor of this offense, and turned them from a good-not-great offense into a juggernaut. Beyond that, Region IV is always the hardest to get a handle on in this division: sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s average. This year, Region IV wasn’t great, but Falls City sure is.
Wait, Really? They Made It Here?
3. Brenham (4A DII)
It’s not like Brenham flew completely under our radar – while the Cubs didn’t crack our preseason Top 25, we listed them in our summer magazine as a “Dark Horse.” But with all due respect to Glen West and his bunch, it was hard to rally around them after recent playoff disappointments, including their first-round exit in 2012. But something has obviously clicked, and the combination of RB Earnest Patterson, QB Caleb Hill and an opportunistic defense has led the Cubs back to the promised land for the first time since 2009.
The Two We Absolutely Didn’t Expect
2. Pearland (5A DI)
Uh, yeah. This is a big ol’ swing and a miss by the Bible of Texas football. We figured this would be a down year for the Oilers – 2012’s first-round exit, a very tough District 22-5A and the need to replace 10 starters made coach Tony Heath’s squad fly completely under our radar. That’s why they began the year unranked in our 5A rankings. But the Oilers have found playmakers in RB Jacolbie Butler and the defense, anchored by Justin Phillips, has turned this team into a vintage Pearland squad – the kind that won the 2010 title over Euless Trinity. Simply put: we did not see this coming, at all.
1. Fairfield (3A DII)
How under-the-radar were the Eagles? So much so that we didn’t even pick them to win their own district! Nope: we picked Palestine to run take the 19-3A crown. And really, there wasn’t a whole lot to suggest that this Fairfield team would turn into the menace it has become. Last year, they went 8-4 and were bounced in the area round. They returned just four starters on offense and seven on defense, a relatively average amount. And more than anything: Fairfield doesn’t have the kind of pedigree that you expect from state champions. They’ve never played for a title – in fact, they were 1-9 just three years ago! But the second year under coach John Bachtel has been a magical one, as RB Larry Rose has emerged as one of the state’s finest and the defense has been smothering. And now – believe it or not – they’re a win away from a much, much bigger trophy than the district championship for which we picked them second.