SLEEPERS: Under-the-radar teams in the Texas high school football playoffs
Looking for teams that may shock the Texas football world? We've got one for every region in every classification. Hope you've got a comfy seat, this may take a while.
What do we consider a sleeper? A team outside the top 3 or 4 teams in the region that’s not getting picked to win a state title, and probably isn’t even getting picked by many to win the region, but has the intangibles and/or resumé to prove everyone wrong. So without further ado, let’s get to know your bracket busters, from 6A down to Six-Man.
Class 6A DI
Region I: Odessa Permian
For a few weeks, it looked like Permian might emerge as the gem of the Little Southwest Conference. San Angelo Central took the crown, but MOJO proved its mettle, and is built to disrupt. On their day, they’re capable of knocking just about anyone off.
Region II: Cedar Ridge
In their short history, the Raiders have been overshadowed by area powers Lake Travis, Westlake and Cedar Park. Some of that’s fair, as Cedar Ridge hasn’t climbed to similar heights, but its sustained run of success is extremely noteworthy. It also allows the Raiders to fly a bit under the radar, which might just catch favored teams off guard.
Region III: Clear Springs
Put simply, this is the region of doom. Whoever wins it will likely play at least two semifinal- or title-caliber games. No one truly gets to be the underdog in a region of doom, but Clear Springs might have a case. They made a late climb up our computer rankings, which placed them within the Top 25 in all of 6A in the final two weeks of the season, and that was before the season finale win over a surging Clear Lake squad.
Region IV: San Benito
If you’ve ever gotten your hopes up for a Valley team making a deep playoff run, this might be your year to push the chips to the center of the table. Dan Gomez’s group has been outstanding and only getting better, and lined up a very favorable draw. The Greyhounds would have to knock off a team like O’Connor or Schertz Clemens to reach a regional final, but we’ve seen crazier things than that.
Class 6A DII
Region I: Keller Fossil Ridge
The Panthers enter the playoffs unbeaten, and while the schedule hasn’t been as stiff as what first-round counterpart Arlington has faced, there’s every reason to believe that if Fossil Ridge passes that test, a run to the region semifinals is well within grasp. Anything beyond that would require a monumental upset of a team like DeSoto, but worry about that bridge when you get to it.
Region II: Lufkin
Our Jerry Forrest’s computer rankings LOVE Lufkin, considering the Panthers a Top 20 squad heading into the last week of the season. Their two losses came at the hands Longview and The Woodlands, the latter of which might be one of the best teams in DI. A favorable draw also means Lufkin should have more than a puncher’s chance all the way up to the regional semifinals, where they’d have a better shot than many might give them.
Region III: Clear Lake
The Falcons haven’t had the most consistent season, but they have big wins against Dickinson and Friendswood and know how to bow their necks in close games. A Week 11 loss to Clear Springs was almost shocking considering the run Clear Lake had gone in the final weeks, and their regional draw plays to their strengths.
Region IV: San Antonio Johnson
Their draw put them on the opposite side of the region as Westlake, but they’ll have their work cut out for them with an opener against Vandegrift and a likely area round clash with Steele. Get through that one-two punch, though, and a regional final suddenly seems reachable.
Class 5A DI
Region I: Lubbock Coronado
They’ve got the best quarterback in the region in Qua Gray, but few will favor them to emerge from a crowd that includes Colleyville Heritage and Denton Ryan. It may seem like fait accompli that those two teams will meet in the regional final, but there may be no other more dangerous team in the region than the Mustangs.
Region II: Mesquite Poteet
Last year, everyone completely overlooked the Pirates. It turned out to be a mistake as they fought all the way to the state semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Aledo. They finished the year with a hard-fought win over West Mesquite, led by x-factor running back Seth McGowan, and that might be the fuel they need to start another improbable run.
Region III: Port Arthur Memorial
The Titans have been a consistent Top 35 team in our computer rankings, and the only team ahead of them in their region is Temple. If both teams wound up meeting, and the Titans could spring the upset, Memorial would wind up one of the most out-of-nowhere state quarterfinalists in recent memory.
Region IV: Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial
If you’re looking for one of the best stories of the regular season, it’s Veterans Memorial. The brand new program did more than hold its own week-in and week-out, and put up a solid fight against Calallen before the Wildcats pulled way in the district finale and de-facto title game. They’d have to spring at least one major upset to reach the state quarterfinals, but what a banner start that would be for the program if it happened.
Class 5A DII
Region I: Dumas
It seems like a solid bet that this region is headed for an Aledo vs. Boswell rematch, but don’t sleep on the Demons, who haven’t lost since September and generally speaking, haven’t been challenged much. You could argue that means they aren’t battle tested, but for the purposes of sleeper theory, let’s assume it means they know how to get things clicking. And things have been clicking for weeks.
Region II: Waxahachie
Jon Kitna’s bunch finally broke through. At times over the last few seasons, it was starting to feel like Waxahachie was cursed, consistently putting together high-flying offenses that would be derailed by injury or weird tiebreakers. Now the Indians have a chance to make up for lost time, so expect them to come out swinging every week.
Region III: Port Neches-Groves
PNG might have the best quarterback in the region, and that’s saying something in a group that includes Jabari James (FB Marshall), Chase Griffin (Hutto), Caden Fedora (A&M Consolidated) and Marquez Perez (College Station), to name a few. It also means the region is absolutely brutal to navigate, but it’s hard to bet against a team that could catch lightning in a bottle with their main man in the middle of it all.
Region IV: Alice
If you’ve ever attended an Alice playoff game, you know the Coyotes travel and bring the noise. Alice played Calallen as close as just about anyone this year, losing 21-0, and while the goose egg there is dismaying, scoring hasn’t been an issue against anyone else, and the Coyotes’ draw is certainly favorable. They’d have to spring an upset in the third round to reach the regional final, but their fans just might carry them from there if they need it. Seriously, they’re that good (and loud).
Class 4A DI
Region I: Andrews
Just about everyone will pick Argyle or Abilene Wylie to emerge from this region, but do not sleep on Andrews, which might actually be the best team of the three as we roll into Week 12. With Argyle’s Jon Copeland out for the rest of the year, Jace Keesee might be the best QB in the region, and the Mustangs have some of the best numbers in the state for a team no one talks about much.
Region II: Kaufman
Look, the Lions have answered the bell all year, and closed out district play with a huge 43-35 win over Van. Their lone loss is to Bishop Lynch, which doesn’t offer much insight since it’s a private school. They’ve beaten Mineola, Terrell and Lindale, all programs that either have pedigree or a size advantage on Kaufman. There are higher profile teams in Region II, and a juggernaut in Kennedale lurking on the other side of the bracket, but if Kaufman keeps answering the bell, they’ll be a tough out.
Region III: Henderson
Yes, the Lions finished third in District 9-4A DI, but it’s the toughest district in its classification and we’ll hear no counter. Carthage is the state’s best team until proven otherwise, Kilgore should be favored in every game it plays until a state quarterfinal, and you’d be a fool to be surprised if Henderson wound up there instead. The teams from that district are battle tested, wildly talented and capable of destroying anyone’s playoff dreams.
Region IV: Liberty Hill
OK, OK, we lied a second ago. District 13-4A DI has every bit as much of a case as the best district in the classification and then some. The song remains the same for Liberty Hill, too. Sure, the Panthers finished second in the district, and Waco La Vega is the prohibitive region favorite, but it’s hard to argue that those two and China Spring aren’t the three best teams in the region. Furthermore, Jeff Walker has Liberty Hill looking as dangerous as Jerry Vance did. That’s bad news for everyone else.
Class 4A DII
Region I: Glen Rose
Everyone will understandably focus on Seminole, Graham, Monahans and Sweetwater, but Glen Rose might be one of the most intriguing teams in any field. A season-opening loss to Grandview has aged pretty well, as the Zebras have emerged as one of the best teams in 3A DI. Quarterback Cameron Griffin threw 3 interceptions in that first game, but has only thrown 4 since while racking up over 2,000 yards of passing. The Tigers are flying under the radar, and could be season wreckers.
Region II: Melissa
More than a couple people at Dave Campbell’s Texas Football headquarters think Melissa could be a state quarterfinalist, and don’t be surprised if they storm their way to a state semifinal. Seriously. The Cardinals are remarkably balanced on offense, and win games by an average margin of 21 points.
Region III: Madisonville
Rusty Nail is back, baby. The former Mart head coach has made short work of turning around the Mustangs, and the real work starts now. If you want impressive resumes, Madisonville has one of the best among state sleepers. Nail’s crew has beaten Teague, Woodville, Crockett and Bellville. A lone loss came by three points to Rusk. The Mustangs are very, very good.
Region IV: Sweeny
Sweeny is 6-3 on the season, but we can’t overstate how much our numbers love them, pegging the Bulldogs as the 9th-best team in 4A DII. Their three losses? Bay City, Cuero and Edna. Pretty salty. The one silver lining of losing to Cuero in district play is that Sweeny ends up on the other side of the bracket, where they could be a wrecking ball.
Class 3A DI
Region I: Shallowater
The Mustangs took the state by storm with an emphatic win on Texas Football Days to kick off the season, but injury troubles have been a literal pain for Bryan Wood’s team. Still, Shallowater’s season has been impressive despite the obstacles. The road won’t be easy, as the Mustangs could potentially meet Brock in an area round game and Wall in a regional semifinal. But you can bet both of those teams won’t be looking forward to dealing with them, either.
Region II: Jefferson
Antwain Jimmerson has done an outstanding job turning the Bulldogs around in the last two seasons, and they boast wins over Waskom (which has aged very well), Elysian Fields and Hughes Springs. They also boast a ridiculous group of playmakers led by T.Q. Jackson, Tybo Williams and Dee Black. They’ll need all that skill in one of the toughest regions in any classification.
Region III: Hitchcock
Head coach Craig Smith had to take a sudden medical leave just before the season started, but Cody Carney took the reins with ease and the Bulldogs have been formidable all year. They lost tough pre-district contests to East Bernard, Concordia Lutheran and Shiner, but reeled off five straight wins to clinch the district title. They’re playing well at the right time.
Region IV: Goliad
The Tigers are a personal 2017 favorite of DCTF Managing Editor Greg Tepper, and it’s easy to see why. Their one loss was by a touchdown to Refugio, and they have not been remotely challenged since that game, winning by an average margin of 43 points. Opponents in the last eight games are averaging just 8 points.
Class 3A DII
Region I: Cisco
Yes, Cisco is a weird program to pick as a sleeper. The Loboes expect to be playing deep into the playoffs every year, and often pull it off. Perhaps that’s what makes them so dangerous this year, especially when you consider their schedule. The Loboes beat Breckenridge (which looks really good now), and lost to Wall and Albany, two of the best teams in their respective classifications. They handled their district with ease, and know how to win in the postseason. Don’t sleep on them.
Region II: New Diana
If you haven’t seen the numbers Jackson Sampson has put up this season, you’re missing out. The Eagles QB is one of the top passers in 3A, and head coach Robbie Coplin’s Up Tempo offense has really taken hold in his second year at the helm. Gunter is the big, bad wolf in Region II and the defending state champion, but New Diana could give just about anyone else fits.
Region III: Waskom
Hey, remember them? The Wildcats won back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015, and then needed a reset year after losing some extremely talented seniors. Whitney Keeling’s bunch plays one of the toughest schedules you’ll find in that part of the state, and it showed in district play when they collected wins against Elysian Fields and Arp. They definitely have the look of a team that’s getting better as the year goes on.
Region IV: Tidehaven
The Tidehaven faithful have been screaming for us to give them some love for their run this season, so it’s time to pay the bill. The Tigers are undefeated; did you know that? There aren’t many teams left who can say that. They’ve also got some nice notches in their belt with wins over East Bernard and Boling. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill undefeated team with a weak schedule. They’ve had some tough tests, and passed them with flying colors.
Class 2A DI
Region I: Stamford
According to our magazine, Stamford was supposed to finish dead last in 4-2A DI. Instead, they won the whole thing. We get a lot of things right around here, and it’s a point of pride, but we were dead wrong about the Bulldogs. It’s also not like they’ve just squeaked by, either. Their two losses were to Brock, two classes bigger, and Hamlin, which they took to overtime. Stamford’s playing with house money at this point; watch out.
Region II: Hico
A first round draw of Bosqueville is not exactly the start you want as a sleeper, but if the Tigers weather that storm, it could get interesting from there. Two of their three losses on the year came at the hands of DeLeon and Crawford, two of the three best teams in the region. Mercifully, DeLeon and Mart are on the other side of the region, and a rematch with Crawford wouldn’t come until the third round.
Region III: Alto
On the one hand, we’re used to Alto making noise late in the playoffs. On the other, the Yellowjackets enter the playoffs with a 4-6 record. Call us crazy, but we’re still believers. A path to the regional final includes an opener against Lovelady, and could be followed by Rivercrest and potentially Joaquin. Those aren’t slam dunks, but they’re winnable games for a program that is comfortable playing in the postseason. Alto fits that mark.
Region IV: Holland
The Hornets threw up a dud against Thrall early in district play and it cost them the district title, but don’t be dismayed. Holland beat Burton to open the season, and the Panthers look like a region favorite in 2A DII. They’ve shown they can win a tough game against a quality opponent or two. The bad news is that getting past the regional semifinals is nearly impossible for anyone else in a region that has Refugio and Mason on each side, but getting that far would still be something to hang your hat on.
Class 2A DII
Region I: Roscoe
The Plowboys have four losses on the year to Albany, Anson, Seagraves and Hamlin. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, but if you’re going to drop four losses, take them from teams like those. Not a single one is worth hanging your head over, and it’s just prepared Roscoe for the grind. Plus, they’ve got a workhorse back in Francisco Garcia to lean on.
Region II: Menard
We think two of the best teams in 2A DII play in Region II in Muenster and Albany, and the gap between them and everyone else is pretty steep. But at the front of that pack might be Menard. Early losses to Cross Plains and Roscoe are the only blemishes, but the Yellowjackets have finished on a hot streak that includes a huge 27-21 win over 2016 state finalist Iraan. The odds of emerging from the region are steep, but you can’t say Menard is afraid to go toe-to-toe with the best.
Region III: Iola
The Bulldogs sit at 6-4, but have recorded some immensely intriguing results, like a 17-6 loss to Bremond. Their other losses are nothing to scoff at, most notably Burton and Milano. Despite the four losses, our numbers peg them as a Top 20 team in 2A DII, and anytime you make that top tier, you’re a threat to ruin someone else’s playoff plans.
Region IV: La Pryor
It would be a shock if Burton, Milano or Falls City didn’t win this region, but La Pryor’s placement in the bracket means the Bulldogs wouldn’t have to play any of them until a potential clash with Burton in the regional semifinals. It’s the perfect draw for a team looking to build momentum before a big clash, and La Pryor’s won six straight to finish the regular season.
(Due to smaller playoff fields in six-man, we’ll just pick two sleepers from each field.)
Class 1A DI
Losses to May and Crowell, both Top 10 programs, respectively in 1A DI and 1A DII, are no reason to bet against the Greyhounds. If anything, the tough tests should prepare them for winnable first and second round games, and a Region I final clash against presumptive favorite Happy isn’t some pipe dream.
The Cougars lost to Coolidge in district play by a measly 10 points, their only other loss this season came against Milford, perhaps the best team in 1A DII. The loss to Coolidge may have done the Cougars a favor, too, by putting them on the opposite side of the Region IV bracket from both Coolidge and the extremely dangerous Union Hill.
Class 1A DII
A first round draw with Amherst will be tough, but winnable, followed by the winner of Follett and Groom. Again, tough, but winnable for the Buffaloes. A Region I final against Turkey Valley isn’t exactly the kind of matchup anyone wants to earn a state semifinal berth, but if you get that far, you may as well let the chips ride.
The Dragons’ playoff gift was getting placed on the opposite side of the Region IV bracket from Richland Springs and Milford. A second round victory over Calvert would be an upset, but not one that seems completely out of reach. Make it past there to a date with either of the two aforementioned juggernauts, and it might be the story of the postseason if you sneak by.