Sleepers to watch in the Texas high school football playoffs

Photo by Gordon DeLoach

The UIL Playoff brackets are now out and the race to Arlington is on across the state of Texas for one of the coveted spots at the UIL State Championships at AT&T Stadium December 19-22.

We all know who the favorites are to reach the title games, but who are the sleeper picks to make a little playoff noise and maybe steal a spot or two from the favorites? We take a look at a few teams you may need to keep an eye on as the playoffs get started as we’ll profile one team from each region that’s not picked to get to the regional final!

Class 6A Division I

Arlington Lamar: The Vikings had a sensational regular season and have the offense to rest just about any defense in Region I. Coach DeLay’s squad is playoff tested and long road trips out west won’t intimidate them.

The Woodlands: After a slow start to the season, the Highlanders fell off the statewide radar but in a region that most think Allen will dominate, The Woodlands is the one team who does have a win over Allen in the recent past.

Dickinson: It’s tough to call a 9-1 team a sleeper but the Gators are on a loaded half of the bracket that includes North Shore, Katy and Pearland. Dickinson has playmakers all over the field and Coach Snelson’s squad will be a tough out.

San Antonio Madison: The Mavericks are red hot down the stretch, they are one of the Alamo City’s most athletic teams and they have an ever improving defense. They could face powerhouse Lake Travis in the area playoffs with a chance to make a major statement.

Class 6A Division II

Midland Lee: The Rebels when healthy have the firepower to compete with just about anyone, the key for Clint Hartman’s squad will be keeping QB Felix Hinojosa healthy and being stout against the run. The key for Lee will be that potential second round matchup with the DFW area.

Klein Collins: The Tigers would not see Longview until the regional semi-final and with a stout defense and the best running back in the region, Adrian Mitchell’s squad will be in the mix. Collins would love another shot at Longview who pulled the upset over the Tigers in the third round last year.

Clear Lake: The Falcons made a surprise playoff run a year ago and in a wide open Class 6A Region III Division II, Clear Lake with their talent and playoff experience will be one to watch.

Brownsville Hanna: The Golden Eagles wouldn’t see Austin Westlake until the regional final and with typical Alamo City powers like Cibolo Steele showing vulnerability, Hanna with the confidence of a non-district win over Amarillo Tascosa could be a real tough out.

Class 5A Division I

El Paso Eastwood: The Troopers get a first round home game and they have an incredibly dynamic offensive attack. There’s not much depth, but the speed of the DFW teams won’t shock them after playing a non-district game at Plano.

Lancaster: Dismiss WEBO at your own risk, the Tigers are one of the state’s most athletic teams regardless of classification and their three losses are to Duncanville, South Grand Prairie and Highland Park. This is a battle hardened team that can play with anyone.

New Caney: The Eagles rolled to a district title, including a win over Port Arthur Memorial in the process. Much of the talk will center around Hutto and Alvin Shadow Creek, but New Caney is one of the state’s hottest teams.

Mission Veterans Memorial: The Patriots may be the Valley’s best hope for a deep playoff run, QB Landry Gilpin is one of the state’s most underrated players and Vets will avoid any Alamo City powers until the regional final.

Class 5A Division II

Wichita Falls Rider: After a slow start to the season, the Raiders have played tremendous football down the stretch. They have a favorable early draw and could easily wind up playing district rival Lubbock Cooper in a regional final.

Dallas South Oak Cliff: The Golden Bears could be a real test for state title contender Aledo in the third round, they’ve got plenty of playoff pedigree and playmakers to run with the Bearcats.

College Station A&M Consolidated: The Tigers have one of the state’s most explosive offensive units and if their talented defense can play up to their potential they could be a test for regional favorites Fort Bend Marshall and Manvel.

Mission Sharyland: After a slow start to the season, Ron Adame’s Rattlers have caught fire in district play and look to be a real contender with a wealth of playoff experience. Sharyland could face traditional powers Brenham and Corpus Christi Calallen in the second and third rounds, but both have shown vulnerability in 2018.

Class 4A Division I

Andrews: The Mustangs fell out of discussion after a Week 6 loss at Canyon, but on a neutral field AHS can play with just about anyone. They may get a second shot at the Eagles in the third round.

Paris: The Wildcats showed how good they are when they went to Argyle, turned the ball over seven times and still lost by a single score. Paris, if they can play clean is good enough to beat anyone in Region II, including Waco LaVega and Argyle.

Splendora: The Wildcats offense has been unstoppable down the stretch, this is a team used to battling in a tough Class 5A district, so the moment won’t be too big for them.

Needville: If running back Ashton Stredick gets healthy, the Blue Jays have one of the most powerful offensive attacks in Class 4A. Needville’s defense has shown improvement later in the season and that could be key in the early rounds if Stredick needs an extra week to recover.

Class 4A Division II

Midland Greenwood: The Rangers and their dynamic offensive attack have a favorable draw all the way to the third round of the playoffs where they’d run into Lubbock Estacado more than likely.

Pittsburg: The Pirates don’t have much depth, but their front line skill talent is as good as anyone. If they can stay healthy, especially in the trenches, Coach Brad Baca’s squad can be a real thorn in the side of a team like Lorena in round three.

Sweeny: The Bulldogs fell off the statewide map after a loss to rival Wharton in district play, but Sweeny’s got the defense to keep them in a game with just about anyone in Region III. They’d have a possible area round game with West Orange-Stark and a third round matchup with unbeaten Jasper.

Raymondville: The Bearkats have speed to burn and a veteran unit on both sides of the ball, the key will be potential second and third round matchups with teams who run the Slot-T with Geronimo Navarro and Rockport-Fulton.

Class 3A Division I

Whitesboro: Scout Sanders is a name to watch, the Bearcats QB is as dynamic a playmaker as you’ll find in Region I. WHS will be a real tough matchup for one of the regional favorites in undefeated Shallowater.

Malakoff: The Tigers are two years removed from a state semi-final run and they feel a bit disrespected as most of the talk in Region II has centered in deep East Texas. Malakoff is a dangerous team that could avoid a lot of the potential land mines and advance to a regional final.

Woodville: The Eagles would see regional favorite Franklin in the regional semi-finals,  however this is a team that pushed eventual state champion Rockdale in the playoffs a year ago and won’t be in awe of the physical style of Franklin.

Edna: The Cowboys own a win over Goliad and just a four point loss to Yoakum in district play. Head coach Jerry Long’s squad can shorten the game with their Wing-T offense and that will keep them in the game against just about anyone.

Class 3A Division II

Merkel: All the talk in Region I will be with the “3 C’s” Canadian, Childress and Cisco, but Merkel has the most dynamic player in the region in QB Jonah White. The Badgers will get the winner of Abernathy and Childress in the regional semi-finals, don’t be surprised if Merkel pushes a big favorite in the third round.

Buffalo: Unbeaten Buffalo is almost an afterthought in Region II with Gunter, Clifton and Lexington stealing headlines, overlook Brandon Houston’s squad at your own peril. This is a senior heavy squad who could really test Clifton in a potential third round game.

Cooper: The top side of this bracket is wide open (note: it’s the side opposite of Newton), and the Bulldogs have improved each and every week under first year head coach Rod Castorena. A third round game against Daingerfield could decide the right to try and pull the upset of the playoffs in the fourth round against Newton.

Odem: The Owls have quietly put together an outstanding regular season, but the loss of their most dynamic playmaker in Week 10 has certainly tempered hopes. However, this is a team that has an underrated defense and if they can reinvent the offense they’ll push in round three and possibly round four.

Class 2A Division I

Panhandle: Will much of the attention in Region I will be on the two Lubbock-area teams in New Deal and Sundown, Panhandle who made the regional finals a year ago could slide into the title race led by do it all QB Braden Durst.

DeLeon: QB Kevin Yeager is capable of putting the Bearcats on his back and leading them on a deep playoff run, a year ago he led DeLeon to the state semi-finals and he could easily do the same in his encore senior season.

Tenaha: The Tigers stumbled down the stretch, but make no mistake Tenaha is fully capable of playing with anyone in this region. They do struggle with big and physical ground based teams, but if the bracket breaks right they might not see a team like that until the regional finals.

Thorndale: The Bulldogs and their Slot-T offense will be a major matchup problem, especially if the Bulldogs defense can continue to play at a high level. Don’t be surprised if Thorndale gives Refugio a real test in the area playoffs.

Class 2A Division II

Farwell: The always tough Steers tend to get overlooked come playoff time, but after a sensational regular season they will head into a wide open Region I bracket with plenty of confidence.

Wheeler: Second year head coach Chris Evans has a squad that is senior heavy and playoff tested after making the area playoffs a year ago. Wheeler would avoid heavy regional favorite Wellington until the regional finals if they can take down Hamlin, who defeated the Mustangs in the playoffs last year.

Grapeland: It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Mart or Muenster winning this region, but if the Sandies could be a team to push the top two. Grapeland is battle tested and they’ve got the athletes to run with the likes of Mart, who they may see in the regional semi-finals.

Woodsboro: The Eagles are state ranked, but they’ll have to knock off perennial power Falls City in the third round in order to really make waves. If those two meet up, expect fireworks as both have top notch offensive units.

Six-man insider Leman Saunders offers his sleepers for Class 1A.

Class 1A Division I

Whitharral: Region I is there for the taking for seemingly anyone, most notably Follett, Motley County, Groom and Whitharral. The Panthers may be the most underrated undefeated team in Texas high school football, with their backfield of Kody Gonzalez and Chris Albus offering a good balance of power and speed (Albus can throw it a bit as well). The Panthers match up well with everyone in Region I.

Blanket: Another undefeated team that gets little love, the Tigers are overshadowed in Region IV by big-name programs like Richland Springs and Calvert. But those programs are on the other side of the region, leaving Blanket to face just one of them in a regional final. It's no easy road, but they're undefeated for a reason.

Class 1A Division II

Leakey: Sometimes, a transition from 11-man to 6-man gives teams a chance to excel immediately. Such is the case with Leakey, who finished 1-9 in 2A Division II last year but enter the postseason as District 16-1A DII champs this season at the six-man level. The road sets up well for the Eagles, whose toughest test may be a first-round matchup with back-to-back reigning state finalist Jonesboro. Watch out for RB Trace Lackey and QB/RB Hunter Williams, who form a dangerous pair in the Eagles backfield.

Coolidge: If the Yellowjackets can knock off Union Hill in the first round, watch out. Coolidge is battle-tested with wins over Oakwood and Calvert, and could be fresh after playing just eight regular season games. Add to that the addition of 2017 all-state RB Torrey Hoover, who missed the entire regular season but returns to the fold just in time for the playoffs. With him, Jordan Brown and Skyler Hayes, the sky's the limit.

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