From 3A down to six-man, a loaded slate of playoff games in the third round.
Look, I know that by the third round of the playoffs, we're supposed to be entering a time where every game is a big one. But even I was blown away by the breadth and magnitude of the small-school action this week. I mean...this is what it's all about. The air is getting cooler, and the games are getting hotter.
As always, I'll preview the best game from each region of each of the brackets. And, in a special feature, Leman Saunders of the great SixManFootball.com provided our six-man preview this week. You can read his preview here.
Without further ado, here is your 3A, 2A, 1A, six-man and private school preview for Round Three of the 2012 Texas high school football playoffs.
Class 3A Division I
Abilene Wylie vs. Stephenville, 7:30 PM Friday, Wichita Falls' Memorial Stadium
Swoon. My love of Class 3A football is well-documented, as are my feelings on both of these teams. It’s Abilene Wylie’s crushing defense, led by Cole Townsend and Jake Linn, against Stephenville’s explosive offense of QB Tyler Jones and WR Brice Gunter. It’s Wylie’s hard-nosed running game of RB Garrett Martin against an underrated Stephenville front, especially DE Chase Varnado. To me, this might as well be the 3A Division I state championship game. Whoever is able to get their offense in gear first – either Wylie’s run game, or Stephenville through the air – gains an early edge.
Gainesville vs. Kilgore, 7:30 PM Friday, Forney
Believe it or not, Gainesville – a team that DCTF picked to miss the playoffs entirely – is still unbeaten. Yep. The Leopards have been astounding, mainly because nobody has come close to slowing them down offensively, not with RB Adam Berryman and QB Denzel Johnson playing the way they have all year. Which makes their matchup with Kilgore – one of 3A’s finest defensive squads – so intriguing. Kilgore has answered all comers with its defense – even its loss to Gilmer was far, far lower-scoring than the Buckeyes are used to playing – and you know coach Mike Wood and LB A.J. Davis will have something special for Gainesville. It’s your classic strength-on-strength matchup, only this time, it’s for a spot in the state semifinals, an unthinkable possibility for Gainesville before the season.
Carthage vs. Silsbee, 7:30 PM Friday, Lufkin
Oh, Carthage. It seems like the Bulldogs love being counted out, love being declared “not as good as they once were.” Because, well, here they are, three wins away from a state title. The defense (which we expected to be great) has been good, but the offense (which we expected to be pretty good) has been great for the Bulldogs, behind QB Blake Bogenschutz (still just a junior) and RB Tevin Pipkin (yep, still just a junior). Silsbee’s defense has been pretty good of late allowing 21 points in its first two playoff wins (largely in garbage time), but where the Tigers really shine is on offense, where QB Patrick Reed has been a revelation for coach Bobby McGallion. For some reason, I think this one turns into a shootout, and I really do think it’s anyone’s ballgame.
El Campo vs. Ingleside, 7:30 PM Friday, Victoria
You want battle-tested? Ingleside has played 12 games this season, and eight of them have come against playoff teams. That’s battle-tested. The Mustangs are at their best when the defense is flying around behind LB Christian Britt and DB Jordan Stone…and that’s mainly because they know QB Tristen Barajas is going to put points up on the board. But here comes the ninth playoff team they’ll face, and the second unbeaten team (Refugio in the season opener), in El Campo. The Ricebirds…I mean, what’s left to say? Their defense continues to maul people with LB Brett Prihuda and DB Mike Wall, and RB Jack Davis and QB Bryce Brandl provide two of the toughest running threats in South Texas. Oh, and they’ve still got 6-7 tight end Cole Hunt, who is a matchup nightmare. Barajas should get his, as always, for Ingleside; the question is, can they slow down El Campo?
Class 3A Division II
Midland Greenwood vs. Graham, 7:00 PM Friday, Sweetwater
Two of the more under-the-radar small-school teams in West Texas battle for a place in the regional finals. If you’re looking for a superstar on Midland Greenwood – Midland’s best team, maybe save Midland Christian – you need look no further than the quarterback spot, where Kam Williams has racked up over 3,800 total yards and 46 touchdowns on the season. But don’t overlook the defense, anchored by the undersized-but-overproductive LB Logan Day, helping the Rangers hold opponents under 20 points per game. But if we’re talking defense, the conversation starts with Graham, one of west Texas’ best defensive units led by Spur Hearne, Hunter Walls and Devin Duame. How good has the Steers defense been? Consider this: they have held every opponent they’ve faced under their season average. Yep. 12-for-12. That’s not to dismiss the offense – QB Ben Davis and RB Dillon Gonzales have been fantastic – but the story here is Kam Williams vs. the Graham defense. And that is worth the price of admission.
Argyle vs. Gilmer, 7:00 PM Friday, Mesquite Memorial Stadium
I mean, this is a slobberknocker, and what a battle of quarterbacks. With Argyle’s Brandon Boyzuick and Gilmer’s Tanner Barr, we’re sure to have some fireworks. And both teams have plenty of big-play threats outside of their QBs – from Argyle WR Ian Sadler to Gilmer WR Chase Tate to Argyle RB Nick Ralston. But lost in all the firepower are two…outstanding defenses! Gilmer has been battle-tested through District 16-3A with LB Josh Walker, and Argyle hasn’t given up much of anything (including basically shutting down Celina) since their opening week loss to Abilene Wylie. This is as good as it gets, folks, and I’d be surprised if this one isn’t decided in the final minutes.
Navasota vs. La Marque, 7:00 PM Friday, Woodforest Stadium
I think it goes without saying that when we get down to this point in the season – there are just 16 teams left in the 3A Division II bracket – there aren’t many uninteresting games. But even considering that, this game is an anomaly in its magnitude. Navasota has soared to the top of the rankings this season, bludgeoning everyone in their path with their explosive Kadarius Baker-led offense (and those wide receivers, Solomon McGinty and Austin Collins? An embarrassment of offensive riches) and a suffocating defense that’s allowing 6 points per game…and that average has gone up in the past two weeks! Simply put, if you want to make the argument that no 3A team has been as consistently impressive as Navasota this season, I’m listening. But if Navasota’s surge to the top of the polls has been a small surprise, La Marque’s hasn’t. The Cougars, a 4A dropdown, were a preseason darling of every pundit from El Paso to Texarkana and, save a recently avenged hiccup to Coldspring-Oakhurst, they’ve lived up to the billing. It all starts on defense for the Cougs, where Will Chapman and Reggie Franklin are ballhawks of the highest order. As for the offense, well, it seems like every week we’re talking about how much better QB Demun Mercer is looking, and with Laderrian Ellis-Jones back there to run the ball, it’s an explosive group. I think Navasota’s the favorite, because the onus is on La Marque to beat both the offense and the defense for, more or less, the first time all season.
Navarro vs. Port Isabel, 6:00 PM Saturday, Calallen
In the bigger classes – 5A and 4A – this is known as “Valley Week.” To hear Rio Grande Valley fans tell it, this is their first chance to upset a big non-Valley opponent; to hear San Antonio fans tell it, this is the chance to prove that the Valley doesn’t play much of anyone. But Port Isabel, way down on the tip of Texas and Mexico, isn’t your typical South Texas squad. This is a run-first, run-second, run-every time team led by RBs Jacob Losoya and Javier Vela, and QB Isiah Martinez. The defense tends to come and go, and it’ll need to be ready for one of its biggest tests to date: A Geronimo Navarro squad that…well, they do the same thing! It’ll be a run-fest, as the Panthers feature two 1,000-yard rushers (Zane Conlin and LJ Anderson) and another guy (Evan Deleon) who’s tantalizingly close to that mark. It’s sort of like looking in a mirror for these two teams: outstanding run games, outstanding coaching, unpredictable defensive performances. Whoever’s D shows up wins the day.
Class 2A Division I
Merkel vs. Wall, 7:30 PM Friday, Brownwood
Badger up! Merkel’s thrilling Thanksgiving Day win over Littlefield (I’d call it an upset, though the Merkel faithful probably wouldn’t) has to have the Badgers flying high, and what’s especially encouraging about it is that Merkel won with defense. Sure, QB Baylor Mullins is liable to go off at any time, but when the Badgers D is flying around, it’s an entirely new team. But now comes a rematch with Wall, a team Merkel handed its lone loss of the year to back on September 7, 40-29. But this is a different Hawks team these days; since giving up 40 points to Merkel back on the 7th, they’re giving up just 10 points per game. The running game is humming behind QB Luke Dacy and RBs Clint Masters, Grant Eubank and Brent Matschek, which should be able to shorten the game. I’m not entirely sure how this game will play out, but I’m about 1,000% confident that it won’t end with Merkel 40, Wall 29 again.
Pottsboro vs. New Boston, 7:30 PM Friday, Paris
Don’t mind Pottsboro, just bopping along at 11-0. The Cardinals continue to fly under the radar, even after a 41-0 drubbing of Malakoff last week. QB Tanner Frye and RB Thadious Flinn give the Cardinals a powerful one-two punch, and if you don’t figure out a coverage strategy for WR Dallas Sewell, it may not matter what the other two do. And that defense…well, they haven’t given up more than 21 points in a game all season; I hope that paints an accurate picture. But you could also make the argument that they haven’t seen a team of New Boston’s caliber. Coach Rick Barker’s Lions, also 11-0, have been just as dominant, and they ran through a tougher district. And now that RB Quinn Dedmon is back from injury, this is a deep, loaded backfield that Pottsboro will need to find an answer to. A battle of unbeatens, yes, but perhaps more importantly, a harbinger of things to come; the winner becomes a real favorite to win the title.
Newton vs. Grandview, 7:30 PM Friday, Bullard
Aside from having the best mascot in the bracket, the Grandview Zebras have a lot to brag about. The offensive triumvirate of QB Ryan Bretton (now over 3,000 yards passing), WR Colby Lee (now over 1,300 yards receiving) and RB Jordan Martinez (now over 1,300 yards rushing) has to have opposing offensive coordinators requesting new underpants to the coach’s booth, stat. But the defense, which has been a strength all year, hasn’t been particularly dominant of late, allowing 65 points in the last three games after allowing just 131 in their previous nine. Whatever the issues are, they need to be ironed out, and quick, if they’re going to take down Newton, a team that, plain and simple, has to be considered in the top two or three teams most likely to win this title. The Eagles have just dismantled teams all year, beating them by an average of almost 50 points. It starts with a fantastic offensive line and a running game featuring Kevin Shorter, Brandon Johnson and QB D.J. Dean. But where the Eagles really give opponents fits is up front on defense, where Anthony Hadnot, Corey Jenkins and Justin Williams have combined for 22 sacks this season. There is a path to victory for Grandview – take care of the ball, protect Bretton, and hold the Newton running game to around 200 yards – but it’s a narrow one.
Cameron Yoe vs. Lago Vista, 7:30 PM Friday, Georgetown
Rematches can be tricky to diagnose. Back on October 12, Cameron Yoe beat Lago Vista, 41-20, and to be quite honest, it wasn’t even that close. QB Jason Kopriva was fantastic, throwing for almost 300 ards and three touchdowns, and NG Edgar Luna and LB Somari Wright turned in one of their finest defensive performances of the season. So now, here we are again, and neither team has lost since then. Yoe has flown past opponents, but there’s some value in the way that Lago Vista is winning ballgames, by the hair on their chinny-chin-chin. Two weeks ago, in a one-point win over Edna, it was the defense that was brilliant; last week, it was the running game of Seth Lozano and Nick Hargrove that guided them to an overtime victory over George West. This is a Lago Vista team that can beat you in a variety of different ways, and they have to be dead-set on not repeating history. Yoe’s still your favorite here, but I’m interested to see what tricks LV coach Alan Haire has up his sleeve for the second go-around.
Class 2A Division II
Colorado City vs. Abernathy, 6:00 PM Saturday, Lubbock Cooper
If you were to describe the way Colorado City wins its ballgames, “beautiful” probably wouldn’t be your adjective of choice. But…well, you kind of know exactly what you’re getting! Consider this: in a remarkable ten of their 12 games, Colorado City has scored between 18 and 27 points. That’s consistency. They do it with RB Nathan Jackson, QB Mark Henderson and an offensive line that just gets the job done. But the real star is the defense, which has keyed their first two playoff wins. And that’s good, because Abernathy, well, defense is kind of their thing. Last week, in their 38-26 win over Alpine, the Antelopes allowed the second-most points they’ve allowed all season. And with guys like LB Dru Lust and DL Ryan Soliz, you can see why. This has all the makings of a low-scoring slugfest, perfect for a Saturday night in December in West Texas.
Corsicana Mildred vs. Clarksville, 7:30 PM Friday, Longview
Clarksville is one of those teams that someone is going to beat you …you just don’t know who. Last week, it was sophomore QB TJ Tinnell and WR Gary Moore, who hooked up for five touchdowns in the win over Jacksboro. Other weeks, it’s RB Devontray Forte. Other weeks, it’s the defense, featuring Stephen McPeters and Gemack Woodberry. Which combination will work this week? It’d better be the right one, because Corsicana Mildred tends to beat teams in one brutally effective way: with tons and tons of offense. QB Nic Shimonek is the headliner, and for good reason (over 2,700 total yards and 40 total touchdowns gets you a lot of press – but don’t sleep on RB Draylon Sterling, who’s run for 1,588 yards and thirty touchdowns in an impressive junior campaign. Clarksville’s best bet is to slow down Sterling and try to force Shimonek into mistakes, but that hasn’t worked out well for many teams this year. Can Clarksville crack another code?
Hughes Springs vs. Centerville, 7:30 PM Friday, Whitehouse
Hey, look, the quietest battle of undefeated teams in the state! Hughes Springs knows how to beat you offensively, and it’s with their mammoth offensive line and the running styles of Michael Martinez, Fred Hopkins, Dustin Ganamillo and Kane Sampson, which rolled up 494 yards on the ground in last week’s drubbing of Hearne. Oh, and the defense is among the best in the state, allowing right at about 10 points per game. And Centerville? Well, they’re more or less the same team. The defense is ripping teams limb from limb behind DB Cort Harris and DL Kurtis Parker, and the running game – Jamal High and Ryan Payne – is no laughing matter. What happens when a team that looks unstoppable…faces a team that looks unstoppable? The beauty of the playoffs is that we get to find out tonight.
Lexington vs. Refugio, 7:30 PM Friday, San Antonio's Farris Stadium
“Any questions?” replied Refugio after taking a very good Rogers team to the woodshed last week. We figured it would be a tougher road to the title game for Refugio this year, but the Bobcats – and especially QB Travis Quintanilla, RB Draigon Silvas and that fantastic defense – don’t appear fazed. Up next: Lexington, a team I truly believe is one of the 10 best in 2A. QB Kogan Garrett has been astounding, and the defense seems to be hitting its stride. Do they have what it takes to knock the freight train off its tracks?
Class 1A Division I
Stratford vs. Panhandle, 4 PM Friday, Amarillo's Bivins Stadium
This one’s easy to break down, because these teams both have relatively distinctive styles. Panhandle would probably admit that defense is simply something they do when they’re trying to get the ball back, because the real star of the team is QB Tyler Hall, a run-pass threat that can really motor. But when they do play defense, it tends to result in good things, like the four turnovers they forced in their win over Seymour last week. For Stratford, while they can score – and boy, RB Alex Chavoya is a challenge for anyone – their best asset is on the defensive side, where Chase Lutes and Logan Uttley hold court. More or less, this one will be decided by how many points Panhandle scores. Stratford’s going to get theirs; if they hold Panhandle under about 28 points, I think they win. Otherwise, let the games begin.
Goldthwaite vs. Lindsay, 7:30 PM Friday, Mineral Wells
I don’t know what it is, but something has clicked with Lindsay. The Knights have rattled off six straight since an uninspiring loss to Jacksboro, and it’s largely due to the defense, which has pitched three shutouts during that span and forced a pair of critical turnovers last week to blow open their game with Cayuga. Don’t get me wrong: QB John Haverkamp has been great, but I think the reason Lindsay is suddenly dangerous is because of that D. It’d better be on its game tonight, because Goldthwaite is a proud member of Team Not Screwing Around. The Eagles rattled off 502 yards of total offense against Wolfe City last week…and not a single one of them was through the air. Between Joseph Paddock, Dakota Perry and Logan Harper (oh, and Rio Delacruz and Taylor Stephens), this offense is hitting on all cylinders, and it’ll provide a real test to the seemingly improved Knights defense.
Bosqueville vs. Alto, 7:30 PM Friday, Buffalo
Survive and advance, right? Both of these squads survived one-possession games last week – and, in Bosqueville’s case, a 1-point win over Joaquin – and have new life in the third round. Both offenses seem to have the upper hand over their opponents’ defenses – and between QB J.T. Antis for Bosqueville and QB Jacolby Whitaker for Alto, we should see some fireworks – so this more or less comes down to which team can make enough stops. I think the idea of a 21-14 game is more or less out the window; four defensive stops really might win this one.
Mason vs. Thorndale, 7:30 PM Friday, Marble Falls
Can Thorndale derail the Rio Schmidt Express? The Mason running back-slash-kicker has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Punchers this season, bowling over opponents and more or less replacing David Mora to a T. And that’s the task facing Thorndale, but if you think about it…aren’t the Bulldogs uniquely suited to spring this upset? Their strength is in the front seven – anchored by DL Fabien Gomez and LB Price Miller – and they’ve slowed down big offenses before. The problem I see, however, is that Mason’s defense, led by DL Hector Medina and LB Tanner Dutton, is also very salty, and even if Thorndale can shoot out one of the Punchers’ offensive tires, that defensive train will keep rolling. A tall task, indeed, for Thorndale.
Class 1A Division II
Wellington vs. Springlake-Earth, 7 PM Friday, Canyon's Kimbrough Stadium
A classic strength-on-strength matchup. I don’t think I need to expound too much on the greatness of Wellington’s offense – you know by now that QB Klark Ashmore and RB Smiley Granadoz have been bowling over people. And Springlake-Earth’s defense is among the best in West Texas, led by DB Elder Rojas, LB Jeremy Gover and LB Andy Garcia. There is a formula here for Springlake-Earth to beat the Skyrockets, but it’s a lot easier said than done. RB Nathan Garcia has to have a big game (a tough ask considering the Skyrockets’ defense, led by Marcus Garcia and Edgar Tellez) and keep the ball away from Wellington, limiting the number of times Ashmore and Co. get the ball. If this game is in the teens or the low 20’s, you have to like Springlake’s chances. But would you care to guess how many times Wellington’s been held under 30 points this season? You got it: zero.
Hamlin vs. Munday, 2 PM Saturday, Abilene Wylie
I love Hamlin. Love their style of play. The defense has been an underrated unit all year, and they’ve got the talent on the offensive side, especially with QB Taylor Lambert, to really give teams fits. But this is Munday. Munday is a buzzsaw. Use whatever hype you want, and it fits. The Moguls are, quite simply, the most dominating team relative to their classification in Texas (yes, more dominating than Refugio and Katy). They have 1A’s best player in Dee Paul. They have a relentless defense. And they have a hunger after coming up short in the title game last year. I’m sorry, Hamlin. If it were almost any other team, I’d like your chances. But it’s not, and I don’t. Now print this off and put it on your bulletin board.
Mount Enterprise vs. Frost, 7:30 PM Friday, Teague
It’s been a big week in the sleepy little hamlet of Frost, Texas. The Polar Bears are in the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 1989, and they’re there because of outstanding defense and a strong rushing attack anchored by Danial Steels and Robert Worley. Can the party continue this week against Mount Enterprise? If so, priority Nos. 1 through 150 will need to be slowing down the amazing Hunter Ammons, one of 1A’s top rushers out of the wing-T offense. That’s, literally, the one and only key to the game. If Ammons has a big day, it’s hard to imagine the Wildcats losing.
Falls City vs. Woodsboro, 7:30 PM Friday, Floresville
Oh man, so many different ways this game could go. Woodsboro – in the playoffs for the first time in 24 years – is a great story, and it got even better last week as they rallied to score the final 22 points in a 36-21 win over Bruni. There’s a lot to like about this offense – QB Tyler Quesada, RB Andy Villarreal, among others – but they’re going up against, quite literally, one of 1A’s stingiest defensive units in Falls City. It all starts with LB Eric Wiatrek, who’s careening toward an All-State spot, and Colton Beam and Dylan Cheatham have been fantastic, too. Combine that with the do-it-all capability of QB Cameron Soto, and you understand why Falls City is a threat to win it all. Woodsboro needs to take care of the ball and start fast to win this one.
TAPPS (All Divisions)
Dallas Bishop Lynch vs. Addison Trinity Christian, 3:00 PM Saturday, Wildcat-Ram Stadium
You just know that Bishop Lynch wants another shot at TCA-Addison. The Friars were in a slugfest with TCA back in their first meeting on Oct. 12, but 14 straight points – capped by Brock Thomas’ game-sealing 41-yard INT return for a touchdown – ended up being the difference. Now they meet again, and these two teams (very evenly matched, I believe) have another shot at one another. Bishop Lynch needs to establish the run with Ira Nunley, then hope to hit them over the top with QB Barrett Renner. For TCA-Addison…just do what you do. Let QB Daniel Davidson air it out, and if you can get RB Nahshon Ellerbe going, too, that’s gravy.
Midland Christian vs. Dallas Christian, 7:00 PM Saturday, Abilene's Shotwell Stadium
Sure, Midland Christian is without their superstar RB Christian Whigham, who’s out for the year with injury, but in the absence of him, they’ve found remarkable offensive balance. QB Mason McClendon is playing well, and RB Justin Fender – just as sophomore – has taken the reins and guided them to this point. Combine that with a breakout effort from safety Matt Ramirez – who notched three interceptions last week – and you have a still dangerous Mustangs squad. But Dallas Christian certainly won’t go quietly. The defense continues to be gangbusters for the Chargers, allowing a paltry nine points per game, and QB Alex Craig is playing particularly well, throwing for 2,259 yards and 29 touchdowns against just eight interceptions this season.
Abilene Christian vs. Dallas Covenant, 5:00 PM Saturday, Zephyr
A juggernaut of a six-man battle. Dallas Covenant first stormed on the statewide scene by knocking off defending 6M-DI champ Throckmorton, and they haven’t looked back since, with RB Ben Coop and do-it-all Clark Martin leading the way for the Knights. Abilene Chrsitian is a team we knew would be very good, and they’ve lived up to the billing, riding an exceptional offense of Trevor Tyson and J.D. Dos Santos to an 11-1 mark. Can The Covenant knock off another reigning six-man state champ?
Greg Tepper is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.