State Championship Preview: Thursday
An historic weekend at AT&T Stadium kicks off with 2A and 1A title games.
The UIL will crown ten state championships this weekend at AT&T Stadium, and it starts on Thursday with an unprecedented quadruple-header of action in Class 2A and Class 1A! DCTF’s Greg Tepper previews the action.
REMEMBER: We will be live-blogging all ten games LIVE from AT&T Stadium this weekend at TexasFootball.com/live! Be sure to make TexasFootball.com your home for unparalleled state championship coverage!
1A Division I State Championship
Shiner (11-3) vs. Stamford (13-1)
10 a.m. Thursday at AT&T Stadium
An unprecedented weekend of state championship games will kick off with perhaps the hardest-to-predict of them all, as defending champ Stamford takes on perennial South Texas power Shiner. A week ago, with this matchup, I would’ve predicted a Stamford romp, simply because I didn’t think Shiner’s offense could keep up with Stamford’s attack. And then the Comanches hung a season-high 49 points on Mart. Season-high! In the state semifinals! On a team that looked like the best team in 1A! For the Comanches, it all starts with QB/LB Jacob Stafford, one of the jewels of the 1A level. He’s a bruising runner, a vicious linebacker and an all-around leader for this squad. He’s hardly the only notable player on this old-school team – DE Caleb Kalich steadies the strong defensive front, and WR Tyler Patek is the big-play threat – but he best embodies what Shiner is about: grinding running game and a brick wall of a defense. For Stamford, well, you can’t say they haven’t been in dogfights. Their lone loss game in a blowout to 2A finalist Cisco, but with wins over Anson, Panhandle, New Deal and Hico on their résumé , you know they won’t be scared of anyone. Questions about how they were going to replace all-everything QB/DB Hagen Hutchinson have been answered resoundingly by new QB Bo Wimberley, but the player to watch on this team is WR/DB James Washington. A dynamo on both sides of the ball, he has the ability to change the game with one play. Despite their offensive explosion last week, I still think it’s in Shiner’s best interest to keep this score low – they’re a team that has won an average game by the score of 28-14, after all. But this comes down to one thing: Stamford’s ability to stop Shiner’s ground game. The Comanches likely do not want to throw more than about 10 times if they can help it, meaning it’s up to Stamford LB Ty McLemore and DT Tanner Vance to bottle up Stafford and company at the line of scrimmage. This has the feel of two dead-even teams – one of a long list of coin-flip games this weekend – but when in doubt (and especially with such a bizarre start time), the defending champs get the benefit of the doubt.
Tepper’s pick: Stamford 24, Shiner 21
1A Division II State Championship
Wellington (13-0) vs. Falls City (14-0)
1 p.m. Thursday at AT&T Stadium
This is what we all want in a state championship, right? Two teams from opposite sides of the state who have looked, for most of the season, that there’s not anyone close to their level, meeting on a neutral field on the biggest stage for the ultimate prize. If it gets better than that, I’m waiting to hear about it. From a numbers perspective, these teams are awful similar: Wellington scores 50 points per game, while Falls City scores 48; Falls City allows 6 points per game, while Wellington allows 11. They’ve both been completely, utterly dominant. The big question about Falls City entering last week’s game against Tenaha was: Are they good, or are they just good for a Region IV team? With all due respect, Region IV looked at many times like the weakest of the four regions in 1A DII this season, which could explain why Falls City was simply mauling people. But last week’s win over a loaded Tenaha squad proved: the Beavers are for real. RB Justin Twine is an absolute game-changer, and literally the fastest player I have seen this year. Factor him in with QB Dean Gaskamp – they will both take direct snaps from the shotgun, but Twine is more run-first while Gaskamp is the more established passer – and you have as potent a 1-2 punch as you’ll find in Division II. But Wellington counters with its own dynamic duo: RB Terry Gilbreath, a breathtaking runner, and QB Klark Ashmore, one of the most respected passers in 1A. The great thing about this game, though? These two defenses might be better than their offenses. Falls City’s D, led by LB Eric Wiatrek (it’s pronounces with a V; Falls City has a heavy Polish influence), has been suffocating, and Wellington’s, anchored by LB Edgar Tellez, has answered every challenge. Little things are going to matter, like special teams (Falls City had a couple of blunders last week) and coaching. It’ll be a game determined by turnovers and big plays – specifically, who can prevent those big plays? In the end, with a gamebreaking talent like Twine and a smothering defense, the Beavers have a chance to prove once and for all that they’re not just the kings of Region IV, but also the state. Expect a classic.
Tepper’s pick: Falls City 38, Wellington 34
2A Division I State Championship
Wall (15-0) vs. Cameron Yoe (14-1)
5 p.m. Thursday at AT&T Stadium
Do you see what I mean when I say that this may be the best group of state championship games we’ve ever seen? These two teams are razor-close, in my estimation, and there’s a considerable argument to be made for both to be hoisting the trophy after 48 minutes at JerryWorld. The argument for Cameron Yoe: They’re the defending champs; they’ve shown an ability to overcome adversity, like their come-from-behind win over a salty White Oak team last week; they have playmakers at the most important positions in QB Jason Kopriva, RB Traion Smith and LB Somari Wright; and they are battle tested, the champions of District 13-2A DI, which proved to be one of the state’s best. On the other side, the argument for Wall: They have absolutely obliterated people this season, winning by an average of 33 points per game; they’ve played teams like New Boston, like Sonora, like Eastland, and they’ve throttled them; their offense is one that should have a tactical advantage over Yoe, as the chances that they’ve seen the flexbone option are pretty slim; they have QB Luke Dacy, which is a nice guy to have touching the ball every play; and their defense has been exceptional, allowing just 13 points per game behind DE Marcus Michalwicz and DB Brent Matschek. Like I said: a legitimate case to be made for both. One key for Cameron Yoe: start fast. The Yoemen have started slow in the last two weeks against Hallettsville and White Oak, and it’s almost cost them. If they fall behind by any significant margin against Wall, the Hawks won’t let them off the mat. So how do you pick a winner? I think the offensive schemes are huge – Wall has probably seen an offense similar to Yoe’s, but Yoe probably hasn’t seen an offense like Wall’s. Think back to East Bernard’s 2A DII title run a year ago; people had trouble with the Slot-T because they’d never defended it before. I can see that being the same here, which – alongside its mauling defense – gives it just the slightest of edges. This is a tight, tight, tight game to call.
Tepper’s pick: Wall 28, Cameron Yoe 24
2A Division II State Championship
Cisco (15-0) vs. Refugio (14-1)
8 p.m. Thursday at AT&T Stadium
The nightcap of this unprecedented quadruple-header in Arlington brings us a rematch of one of the single-best high school football games I’ve ever seen: Refugio 36, Cisco 35 in the 2011 2A Division II state championship game. And to be frank, this game sets up a lot like that one. Refugio is built almost identically to that 2011 champion, right down to the quarterback Travis Quintanilla – then a sizzling sophomore, now the all-time leader in pretty much every Texas high school football passing category. There’s not that one unbelievable receiver like Lynx Hawthorne was for that 2011 team, but with Tyler Castellano and Dana Franklin, there’s no need to worry about Quintanilla’s weapons. Cisco, under coach Brent West, is still doing its thing, but they’ve added an extra wrinkle to this year’s squad: one of the best passers in school history, QB Colton Kent. Combined with WR Kotie Hoover and RB Mason Reed, these two offenses promise to light up AT&T Stadium. That tends to lend credence to the idea that whoever gets a couple of key stops defensively will win this one, and that’s where we’re faced with a bit of a dilemma about Refugio. The offense is off-the-charts good, but the defense has struggled at times this season – its lone loss to Lago Vista (45 points), its overtime shootout win over Rogers (72 points), its spectacular victory over East Bernard (34 points), its drubbing of Waskom last week (33 points). Refugio has, for the most part, been able to outslug people. But Cisco’s defense has been nails this year, led by two-way player Reed at the linebacker spot and DE Vernon Owings. And perhaps most telling: its quarterfinal win over Canadian, in which the Loboes held the high-powered Air Canada attack to just 14 points, including three interceptions along the way. In short: Refugio has to find a way to get a couple of stops on Cisco, and barring that, it absolutely must take care of the ball. Expect a wild shootout, but the team with the better defense on this day will ultimately prevail. And thus far this season, the better defense has belonged to Cisco.
Tepper’s pick: Cisco 48, Refugio 42