3A/2A/1A Preview: The Semifinals
The 3A, 2A, 1A and six-man Texas high school football state semifinals continue 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 3A Division I
Stephenville (12-1) vs. Kilgore (13-0)
2 p.m. Saturday at Corsicana
This is how it’s supposed to be, right? If Stephenville is going to defend its state title, it’ll have to go through arguably 3A’s most impressive team thus far this season in Kilgore. On the other side, Kilgore’s had state title dreams all season, and now it faces its biggest test yet. There’s not a weakness on either side of this matchup: Stephenville’s Jarrett Stidham-led offense against Kilgore’s suffocating LaDarrin Anthony-led defense, and the Bulldogs’ bruising running game of Juju Brown and Kevrin Justice against Stephenville’s playmaking defense with DE Jonah Noah and DB Mookie Carlisle. So where is this game run? Kilgore’s running game and an ability to keep the ball away from Stephenville’s quick-strike offense is key; the Bulldogs must sustain drives and shorten this game. Similarly, Stephenville needs to find those big defensive plays it’s had a knack for all season. But this is the time of year where being battle-tested matters, and Kilgore’s run through the District of Doom – 16-3A – should serve it well.
Tepper’s pick: Kilgore 38, Stephenville 32
Carthage (13-1) vs. La Grange (13-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Mansfield
It’s cool to see La Grange back in this position. It’s easy to forget that just 10 years ago or so, the Leopards made it to back-to-back state title games, winning in 2000. They’re roaring again behind what’s been a sensational defense, led by DL Alex Glaiser and DB Bralon Hutchinson. They were especially impressive last week against Gonzales, shutting down superstar QB Alyas Ramirez. But Gonzales – with all due respect to our Apaches friends – weren’t as versatile Carthage, who have many different ways to win. It can be through the air with QB Blake Bogenschutz; it can be on the ground with RB Tevin Pipkin; it can be with defense with DL Mario McClain. To reach the AT&T Stadium, La Grange will have to find many answers, including how to get its own offense led by RB Rodney Fillmore going. The X-factor: Carthage WR/DB Tee Goree, who can affect the game in any number of ways. Carthage is your favorite here – a spot they’ve inhabited since knocking off Navasota – but another big effort from the Leopards’ defense could make this anybody’s ballgame.
Tepper’s pick: Carthage 34, La Grange 24
Class 3A Division II
Graham (14-0) vs. Argyle (14-0)
6 p.m. Saturday at Justin Northwest
Two of 3A’s most dynamic offenses square off in this one. Graham’s Flying Steer offense, fueled by QB Ben Davis, WR Bryce Reeves and RB Dillon Gonzales, is averaging upwards of 48 points per game. Argyle’s explosive attack, with superstar do-it-all Ian Sadler, RB Nick Ralston and QB Blake Boyzuick, averages more than 52. And it’s not like the defenses are any slouches, either; playmakers like Graham LB Spur Hearne and Argyle DB Connor Wilson make these truly complete teams. So, how do you separate the two? It’s not easy; this is truly a clash of titans. But Argyle has proven itself against some of the very best teams in the state – Gilmer, Celina, Melissa, private school champ Fort Worth Nolan – so it’s earned the benefit of the doubt. The key for a Graham victory: keeping the ball away from Sadler. Any time he’s got the ball, he’s a threat to score.
Tepper’s pick: Argyle 35, Graham 27
Fairfield (14-0) vs. Sinton (12-2)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Katy's Rhodes Stadium
Here comes a statement that will either delight or disgust Sinton fans: I think the Pirates are the biggest underdog in a state semifinal. Now, that has very little to do with Sinton itself – QB Tyler Handson has been absolutely fabulous, and the defense really impressed me in the win over La Vernia, with LB Tracker Conn and DE Mike Huerta. But for one: Region III is a really, really deep part of the Division II bracket. And two: Fairfield is an absolute buzzsaw. Last week, the defense shined in shutting down an explosive Rockdale squad, using Devin Eggins, Jeremiah Simpson and Dedrick Garner to keep them from even breathing. From there, the offense – RB Larry Rose and QB Jacob Gallegos – did their thing. They are, right now, as dominant as anyone in the state at any level. Can Sinton pull off the upset? Sure, especially if its defense continues to play as well as it did against La Vernia. But Fairfield hasn’t showed signs of slowing, and it’ll take a special effort to derail them.
Tepper’s pick: Fairfield 38, Sinton 22
Class 2A Division I
Wall (14-0) vs. New Boston (13-1)
5 p.m. Saturday at Hewitt Midway
A true East vs. West collision, as one of Big Country’s best teams takes on arguably the best team in northeast Texas. But as far apart as these two squads are – separated by more than 400 miles – they certainly play a similar brand of football, predicated on running the ball and outstanding defense. Wall has bludgeoned people with its flexbone option offense, using QB Luke Dacy and RBs Clint Masters and Kris Gutierrez to roll up an unbeaten campaign so far. But it’s the defense – DB Brent Matschek, DE Marcus Michalwicz and company – that’s the true shining star, giving up right around 12 points per game. New Boston scored revenge over longtime nemesis Daingerfield last week to earn its first state semifinal berth, and the reason is defense, as DB Jawaun Johnson and LB Wes Teague led the way. That type of effort – as well as another big game from RBs Quinn Dedmon and Keith Baldwin – will be necessary if they hope to hand the Hawks their first loss of the year. Despite the firepower, this figures to be a game determined by turnovers and heady defensive plays. But it bears mentioning: Wall has not been held under 35 points all season. Can the Lions crack the code and punch their first-ever trip to the title game?
Tepper’s pick: Wall 35, New Boston 27
White Oak (13-1) vs. Cameron Yoe (13-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Allen
We’re not sure that White Oak qualifies as a surprise to be here – after all, the Roughnecks have been solid all season, especially as its defense of DE Hayden Nichols and DL Dee Sutton has matured. But the way they’ve done it – stunning unbeaten and unchallenged Newton, and then thumping Franklin last week – is surprising. But that’s what happens when everything clicks, and that includes QB Dylan Gale and WR Jansen McCurdy hitting big play after big play offensively. Meanwhile, Cameron Yoe may be the quietest defending state champ in Texas, plodding along like it owns the joint because, well, they do. The win over Hallettsville last week was a testament to their versatility: when you’ve got defensive leaders like Somari Wright and offensive weapons like QB Jason Kopriva and the newly emerged Traion Smith, if one thing isn’t working, another facet of the team can pick up the slack. White Oak has to find a way to disrupt Yoe on multiple fronts – hitting big plays and playing great defense – to take down the champs. WO is the underdog here, but that’s a role they’re used to at this point. But the emergence of the Yoe RB Smith has changed the team’s complexion, and that could provide the necessary spark. When in doubt – and this game is a coin-flip, in our opinion – the champs get the benefit of the doubt.
Tepper’s pick: Cameron Yoe 36, White Oak 28
Class 2A Division II
Cisco (14-0) vs. Leonard (11-3)
4 p.m. Saturday at Chisholm Trail
Last night, Refugio punched the first of 20 tickets to AT&T Stadium next weekend, walloping previously unbeaten Waskom, 69-33. Who will they face next week? If you believe in momentum, it absolutely has to be with Leonard, a team that appears to have forgotten how to lose. You could make a legitimate argument that they’ve been underdogs in three of their four playoff games, yet here they are, churning away thanks to a never-say-die offense fueled by RB Solomon Thomas and QB Justin Bennett. How long can the defense keep it up? They’ll need to be ready for the biggest test of the year when Cisco rolls in. The Loboes are elite in every way, rolling up more than 475 yards per game thanks to QB Colton Kent and stifling folks defensively with LB (and RB) Mason Reed and DE Vernon Owings. Leonard’s been a fantastic story, and perhaps there’s an even more exciting chapter to write. But “momentum” can only carry you so far, and Cisco looks like the better side in this one.
Tepper’s pick: Cisco 44, Leonard 24
Class 1A Division I
Stamford (12-1) vs. Hico (13-1)
3 p.m. Saturday at San Angelo Stadium
Hico’s defense has not received enough statewide love, so as the high school football publication of record, allow us to say: Hico’s defense is tremendous. DL Jon Hargraves, DB Tyler Turner and DE Lane Turner lead a unit that has really hit its stride of late, leading the Tigers to solid wins over Quinlan Boles, Collinsville and Goldthwaite. Stamford, the defending DI champs, survived a scare last week but, well, they’re still the champs. They still have WR/DB James Washington, and they still have a defense that has passed every test put in front of it thanks to LB Ty McLemore and DB Michael Gonzales. Neither offense played up to snuff in the cold conditions last week, but overall, Stamford simply has more weapons – especially QB Bo Wimberley – than Hico. If Tigers’ RB Duane Hyles can find some consistent success early, that could open up things for Hico. But the champs are the champs for a reason, and they look like they’re headed for third consecutive title game appearance.
Tepper’s pick: Stamford 28, Hico 21
Mart (10-3) vs. Shiner (10-3)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Round Rock's Kelly Athletic Complex
Forget talent for a second; is there a hotter offense right now than Mart? Since their bye week on October 11, here are the Panthers’ point totals by game: 59, 43, 58, 53, 71, 50 and 58. And that includes two wins over Bosqueville, a 50-spot on previously unbeaten West Sabine, and 71 on a defense-first San Augustine team. QB De’Nerian Thomas is simply absurd these days (see: his 400 total yards and 7 TDs last week) and WR Walker Love has been there every step of the way. Of course, it helps when your defense, led by LB Collin Nail, plays lights-out, but the offense has been sensational. Shiner…well, they don’t play that way. If Mart is a techno-beat dance jam, Shiner is a Willie Nelson singing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”: deliberately slower, old-school and beautiful. It’s RB/LB Jacob Stafford that is the heartbeat for the Comanches, and it’s up to him to make the plays on both sides of the ball to win this one. Shiner absolutely, positively must keep the score low – like, 24 points and below low – to win this one. Problem is, nobody’s held Mart under 30 since Week 1. I’m just not sure Shiner has the firepower to match the Panthers. Come to think of it, I’m not sure anyone does.
Tepper’s pick: Mart 31, Shiner 14
Class 1A Division II
Wellington (12-0) vs. Albany (13-0)
2 p.m. Saturday at Lubbock's Lowery Field
We don’t always get battles of unbeaten squads when we reach the state semifinals, but there’s something pure and awesome about two teams that literally do not know how to lose fighting for a trip to AT&T Stadium. That’s the case here, and statistically, these teams are extremely similar, outscoring foes by an average of around 45-9 in every game. But statistics can be a bit deceiving. For example: three of Albany’s last four games have been decided by 7 or fewer points. By contrast, the closest game that Wellington has played this year was a 16-point win at Childress in Week 0. Since then, it’s been domination from Skyrockets: QB Klark Ashmore has been terrific, and RB Terry Gilbreath continues to be the best running back on a team with an all-state caliber quarterback. Paired with the defense of LB Edgar Tellez, Wellington is a juggernaut. Albany’s more than capable of springing the upset here, especially if RB Caleb Masters can help control the pace of the game, but it’ll have to be the Lions’ defense – guys like DL Javier Rocha and LB Justin Jones – that does it for them. The biggest advantage for Albany: they know how to win close games. Will the game be close enough for that to matter?
Tepper’s pick: Wellington 35, Albany 25
Tenaha (11-1) vs. Falls City (13-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday at Waco ISD Stadium
On a personal note: I’m pretty fired up to be heading to this game. There are some solid game on Friday night in the DFW metroplex, but this is worth the 90-minute jaunt down I-35 to see two of the best teams in 1A duke it out. We expected Tenaha here; as soon as the final gun on their state championship game loss to Munday sounded, the hype began for this Tenaha team. Why? An embarrassment of riches in returning experience – 10 on each side of the ball, to be exact. And they’ve lived up to the considerable hype: RB Chavis Gregory has been excellent, as has QB J.R. Hill, while WR/DB Keontas Davis has proven to be an X-factor on both sides of the ball. Falls City – the 2010 DII champs – have looked like one of the very best teams in the state all year, obliterating opponents by an average of 44 points per game. Their defense has been especially absurd, allowing 56 points all year, and double-digit points just twice. RB Justin Twine and QB Dean Gaskamp are having their way with every opponent, and LB Eric Wiatrek leads the sensational defense. Now, the question: is that a product of a relatively weak Region IV? There’s no doubting Tenaha’s mettle – taking down teams like Alto, Chilton and Bremond in their campaign so far. But there’s no doubting that Region IV hasn’t been as good as the other regions of late. The numbers are absolutely in Falls City’s favor – they’ve scored the most points in 1A DII, and they’ve allowed the fewest points in 1A DII. Now, it’s time for the Beavers to prove they’re not just hollow numbers.
Tepper’s pick: Falls City 34, Tenaha 24