REGIONAL SEMIFINAL PREVIEW: Breaking down the biggest Texas high school football playoff games

Lubbock Estacado (Photo by Paul Roberts)

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Katy (12-0) vs Galena Park North Shore (11-1), 4 p.m. Friday at Houston’s NRG Stadium: For the fourth time in two years and the sixth time in the past four years, Katy and North Shore meet up in the playoffs. North Shore has a 3-2 edge in the recent series, but Katy made a statement in the last meeting to open the season as it went to Galena Park and took down the Mustangs. That was then and this is now, though. Katy comes into this game banged up (most notably at running back), while North Shore comes in banged up as well. But the Mustangs have dealt with injuries all year and have had other playmakers emerge. Katy escaped with a hard fought 27-14 win over Cy-Fair last week as QB Bronson McClellan tossed a pair of touchdowns and a key Pick Six in the fourth quarter sealed the win. The running game struggled without Ronald Hoff, who sat out the game with an apparent ankle injury; his status for this week is unknown. North Shore had no trouble last week rolling past Pearland Dawson, 58-35, in a game that wasn’t near as close as the score indicates. GPNS led 38-7 at halftime and put things on cruise control in the second half. Zach Evans led the charge with 354 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns, while Dematrius Davis ran for 73 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 208 yards and a touchdown. In the last meeting, North Shore’s defense struggled to get off the field in the second half and Katy wore them down. Can Katy do that again? I’m not sure they do with all the injuries and this North Shore offense looks more like the dynamic attack we saw most of last season when they won a state title.

Stepp’s Pick: Galena Park North Shore by 6

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Converse Judson (11-1) vs Laredo United (10-2), 8 p.m. Friday at San Antonio's Alamodome: Laredo United will head north on I-35 and look to do what no team from Laredo has ever done: win a third-round playoff game. The task will be incredibly tall as the Longhorns have to deal with the Judson Rockets, who, without a doubt, will have a large and raucous crowd playing close to home. Last week, Judson got off to a slow start but turned on the jets in the final three quarters to roll past San Antonio Reagan, 49-20, after trailing early on 17-6. QB Mike Chandler II had another big night throwing for 199 yards and a touchdown, while running for 67 yards and three touchdowns. De’Anthony Lewis chipped in 224 yards on the ground and a pair of touchdowns. Laredo United knocked off San Benito for the second time this season, this time the Longhorns advanced with a 45-28 win. QB Wayo Huerta threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns to help United, who raced out to a 24-0 lead but then held off a furious San Benito rally that at one point cut the lead to three. United doesn’t match up well with Judson at any position. The Longhorns best hope to pull off the stunning upset will be to be efficient with the short passing game and keep Huerta upright, while the defense is going to need to find a way to force some turnovers. It’s a lot to ask and the Rockets are a big favorite, but as we’ve seen in the playoffs to this point, anything can happen.

Stepp’s Pick: Converse Judson by 28

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Arlington (9-3) vs Denton Guyer (11-1), 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Frisco’s Ford Center: Arlington raced out to a 17-0 lead on El Paso Americas last week and, despite a game effort by the Trailblazers to get back in it, AHS never lost control in a 34-14 win. The Colts will now look to advance to the regional finals for the first time since 2009, but they’ll have a tall task in taking out a Denton Guyer squad riding a wave of momentum after rallying for a 50-41 win over Cedar Hill last week. The Wildcats trailed 41-14 in the second half and looked dead in the water. But they recovered three onside kicks to score the final 36 points of the game to stun Cedar Hill. RB Kaedric Cobbs ran for 194 yards and three touchdowns in the win, while Texas A&M commit QB Eli Stowers chipped in 254 yards through the air and three touchdowns. Guyer’s defense has been suspect at times this year and Arlington has the playmakers with RB BJ Rogers and WR Charles Brown, so expect this game to be high-scoring. The difference in this one is Guyer’s defense who, although shaky at times, has the ability to get stops and get off the field. Arlington’s smallish defensive line could be in for a long afternoon against a massive Guyer offensive line.

Stepp’s Pick: Denton Guyer by 17

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Waco Midway (9-3) vs Spring Westfield (11-1), 2 p.m. Saturday at Bryan’s Green Stadium: Once again Midway has moved on to the third round of the playoffs after the Panthers knocked off McKinney, 38-27, a week ago. RB Will Nixon ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns, while WR Jaylon Gibson had 191 yards receiving and a pair of touchdown receptions. They’ll head down Highway 6 to battle against an outstanding Westfield squad that considers themselves a regional favorite. They’ve lived up to the billing thus far. Last week, they got a test from underrated Tomball Memorial and they passed it in a 36-26 win. RB’s Kendal Taylor and Jaden Tucker combined for 237 yards rushing and three touchdowns and the Mustangs defense came up big forcing three turnovers in the victory. Westfield’s speedy and physical defense is the key to their success and that unit will be big in this matchup against a solid, but not elite Waco Midway unit.

Stepp’s Pick: Spring Westfield by 12

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Abilene Cooper (11-1) vs Denton Ryan (12-0), 3 p.m. Friday at Denton’s Collins Athletic Complex: Abilene Cooper will look to do what no one in Region I has done the past three seasons and that’s play competitive with Denton Ryan. The Cougars got themselves a massive win last week as they knocked off Azle, 35-28. Again it was the Cougars defense that was the difference as they forced seven turnovers, five which came in their own territory to halt Azle scoring drives. The offense got enough from RB Noah Garcia, who ran for 256 yards and five touchdowns (while dealing with an asthma attack). They’ll need more of that defense this week to stand up to powerful Denton Ryan, who once again got off to a blazing start in last week’s 56-14 win over Lubbock Coronado. Ryan raced out to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter and put the game away by halftime as Emani Bailey ran for 160 yards and three touchdowns and Drew Sanders had 177 yards offense and three total touchdowns. Abilene Cooper is going to have their hands full on the road, but if they can find a way to stay in this game and make Denton Ryan play four full quarters maybe their defense can channel some late game magic. But that’s easier said than done. Denton Ryan gets pushed harder than they have all year but the Raiders are simply too much.

Stepp’s Pick: Denton Ryan by 21

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Frisco Lone Star (12-0) vs Highland Park (11-1), 3:30 p.m. Friday at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium: Way back in Week 3, Frisco Lone Star went into Highland Park and did what no Texas team had done in 20 years: beat the Scots at Highlander Stadium. If you think the three-time defending state champions have forgotten about that you just don’t know Randy Allen. The Scots will throw every trick in the book they have at Lone Star’s outstanding defense and with a QB like Chandler Morris triggering the attack, Coach Allen and his staff can get creative. In last week’s 63-28 win over Magnolia, Morris threw for 281 yards and five touchdowns and added 49 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Lone Star took down College Station down in Waco, 45-30, as Marvin Mims had nine receptions for 285 yards and three touchdowns. Mims is a matchup nightmare, especially when Lone Star puts him in the slot and gets him matched up with LB’s and safeties. Look for Highland Park to try and turn DE Prince Dorbah loose to get pressure on sophomore QB Garrett Rangel and roll plenty of exotic looks in coverage to try and confuse the Lone Star offense. Beating Highland Park once in a year is incredibly tough and doing it twice may be impossible.

Stepp’s Pick: Highland Park by 10

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Huntsville (9-3) vs Fort Bend Marshall (11-1), 2 p.m. Saturday at Shenandoah’s Woodforest Bank Stadium: It’s a playoff rematch as Huntsville and Fort Bend Marshall played an absolute classic a year ago, when Marshall won the game on a miraculous trick play. Huntsville graduated a lot from that squad, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but the Hornets are still a tough matchup. Last week, Huntsville got a monster game from QB Matthew Southern, who threw for 254 yards and four touchdowns, while also adding a touchdown on the ground in the win. Fort Bend Marshall got pushed last week but the Buffs showed their grit and toughness knocking off unbeaten A&M Consolidated, 32-27, as Devon Achane led the way on the ground withj 239 yards and four touchdowns. But it was the Marshall defense, which gets overlooked at times, that proved to be the difference in containing a lethal offense. Huntsville keeps this close for a half, but Marshall is simply too explosive this version of Huntsville.

Stepp’s Pick: Fort Bend Marshall by 16

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Boerne Champion (11-1) vs Mission Pioneer (11-1), 4 p.m. Saturday at San Antonio’s Alamodome: The Valley’s best hope of a fourth-round playoff run (and maybe beyond) are the Pioneer Diamondbacks, who showed some grit and toughness last week in a hard fought 28-21 win over Pflugerville Weiss. QB Eddie Marburger led the Pioneers throwing for 241 yards and four touchdowns and adding 121 yards on the ground to lead the way. Boerne Champion’s defense after a tough first half made some adjustments and slowed down the Slot-T offense in a 42-32 win. QB Luke Boyers had over 300 yards of offense and three touchdowns as Champion erased a three-point halftime deficit. Champion’s defense will have to change their focus from defending a Slot-T offense to a wide-open spread offense that’s put up huge numbers all year. Look for this one to be an absolute shootout, with Boerne Champion getting the slight edge.

Stepp’s Pick: Boerne Champion by 11

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Dumas (12-0) vs Decatur (12-0), 7 p.m. Friday at Lubbock’s Lowery Field: It’s a battle of unbeatens in a showdown of two teams that get things done in different ways. Decatur and its high-powered offense gets a test with a fantastic defense from Dumas. Decatur last week demolished Clint Mountain View, 69-0, as the Eagles put up 62 first half points and sat their starters in the second half of the win. Tulsa commit QB Roman Fuller tossed six touchdown passes to lead the Eagles. Dumas hasn’t had the prettiest wins in the playoffs, but the Demons have gotten the job done as last week they knocked off Seminole, 23-15. The Dumas defense allowed just 148 yards of offense in the win and only a single touchdown as one of Seminole’s scores came via a blocked punt return. No one has slowed Decatur’s offense down this year and Dumas hasn’t seen a group quite like Decatur. The Eagles dominated their meeting last year in the first round of the playoffs and expect them to pull away to advance to the regional finals.

Stepp’s Pick: Decatur by 13

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Argyle (12-0) vs Brownwood (11-1), 1:30 p.m. Friday at Waco’s McLane Stadium: Argyle remained unbeaten on the season as they emerged victorious in a 63-49 win over Stephenville last week. QB Bo Hogeboom had a career night for the Eagles throwing for 452 yards and eight touchdowns, five going to Cole Kirkpatrick. The Eagles defense again gave up a lot of points and yards, but in key moments in the fourth quarter, Argyle’s defense was able to rise to the occasion. Brownwood, whose head coach Sammy Burnett was hospitalized Monday and coached the game from the pressbox, jumped out to a 34-7 third quarter lead on Alvarado, but they allowed 28-straight points and needed a 34-yard field goal from Zach Strong to get a 37-35 win. Strong also had 101 yards receiving and a touchdown to lead the Lions’ offensive attack along with RB Reece Rogers, who ran for 149 yards and three touchdowns. Brownwood’s defense, which has been sensational all season, will need their best game of the year this week against that incredible Argyle offensive attack.

Stepp’s Pick: Argyle by 10

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Midland Greenwood (12-0) vs Lubbock Estacado (12-0), 7 p.m. Friday at Abilene’s Anthony Field: The much-anticipated showdown in West Texas between their two unbeaten 4A-Division II schools is finally here as Midland Greenwood and Lubbock Estacado meet up at Abilene Christian. Greenwood wasn’t as crisp as they’d have like to have been last week, but they overcame penalties and turnovers to get past Aubrey, 36-16. Trey Cross was the workhorse for the Rangers with 293 yards rushing and three touchdowns. QB Jaylon Dobbins, who normally doesn’t get much attention (unlike his brother Jeremiah Dobbins), had the game of his life last week in a 40-21 win over Graham throwing for 358 yards and five touchdowns, with TJ Steele being the recipient of four of those five touchdown passes. Graham loaded the box and dared Estacado to beat them with the pass and the Matadors got it done. That balance and their very tough defense could be the key in this one.

Stepp’s Pick: Lubbock Estacado by 2

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Sunnyvale (12-0) vs Texarkana Pleasant Grove (11-1), 7 p.m. Friday at Frisco’s Ford Center: Unbeaten Sunnyvale will most certainly see their biggest test of the season this week as they take on a Pleasant Grove squad that’s been favored by most to win the 4A-Division II state title. Sunnyvale has been pushed in both playoff wins, but the Raiders have shown plenty of grit in back to back weeks. Last week, they knocked off a strong Mexia team, 28-17, as QB Tripp McAda threw for 116 yards and three touchdowns and added 131 yards on the ground. Pleasant Grove cruised past Salado last week, 42-14, as KJ Hicks was the key for the Hawks with 110 yards rushing, 90 yards receiving, two touchdowns and an interception on defense. Pleasant Grove’s defense, led by their three FBS recruits in Landon Jackson, Marcus Burris and Nick Martin, is the key in this one. They’ll contain the explosive Sunnyvale offense and that Wing-T offense is just a nightmare to stop.

Stepp’s Pick: Texarkana Pleasant Grove by 15

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Wall (12-0) vs Pilot Point (11-1), 6 p.m. Friday at Graham’s Newton Field: Wall has been outstanding in the playoffs despite losing QB Mason Fuchs. Last week, Wall got pushed but passed the test in a 35-20 win over Shallowater. New QB Drew Morrison has picked up right where Fuchs left off with three rushing touchdowns, while Dominic Garicia added 91 yards on the ground and two touchdowns for the Hawks in the win. They’ll get a big test this week as they’ll take on a very athletic Pilot Point squad, who has dynamic skill players to test the tough Wall defense. QB Jacob Pitts led the Bearcats last week in a 51-0 rout of Slaton. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for another score, while Pilot Point’s defense added in a pick six and pitched a shutout in the win. These two met a year ago with Wall coming away a 20-0 victor in the bi-district round of the playoffs. This year’s meeting will be closer, but Wall and their tough defense still is what sets them apart in Region I.

Stepp’s Pick: Wall by 10

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Cameron Yoe (11-1) vs Grandview (11-1), 1p.m. Friday at Waco’s Waco ISD Stadium: Knock off an unbeaten team with maybe the best defensive line in the state last week and Cameron Yoe gets rewarded with a showdown against the defending state champions in Grandview. Yoe’s defense stole the show last week in an impressive 21-6 win over Diboll, as after allowing a touchdown on the opening drive Yoe pitched a shutout the rest of the way.  QB Braden Brashear led the offense with three touchdown passes. Since its loss to Whitney, Grandview has looked like a team on a mission and last week was no different as they knocked off East Chambers, 43-29. RB Tremayne Gullatte ran for 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while QB Dane Jentsch accounted for a pair of touchdowns rushing and passing and added in a fourth quarter interception to help preserve the victory. Grandview’s defense has shown some signs of weakness lately. They’ve got an absolute stud DE Dematrious Crownover and he’ll need a big game for the Zebras to move on against a tough Yoe squad. The edge, although slight, goes to Grandview as the Zebras seem to be a team that has the rare ability to take their game to the next level in big moments.

Stepp’s Pick: Grandview by 8

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Canadian (12-0) vs Cisco (11-1), 2 p.m. Friday at Vernon’s Lion Stadium: Canadian, which has cruised in the playoffs, will likely get their first true test of the post-season this week as they take on an outstanding Cisco bunch. Canadian last week knocked off feisty Coahoma, 49-14. Canadian led 28-14 in the fourth quarter, but they finally put the game to bed with three fourth quarter touchdowns. The leader for the Wildcats attack was RB Hayze Hufstedler, who ran for four touchdowns. Cisco is known for running the football as well and the Loboes did plenty of that in a 54-21 rout of Crane in San Angelo last week. Stanley Callahan led Cisco with 201 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns and Gibson Hearne added in 90 yards and two scores as well. Cisco did have to overcome 11 penalties and three turnovers last week and they might be able to do that against Crane, but against Canadian they’ll need a clean game to pull off what many would consider an upset. Cisco keeps this one close for three quarters, but much like last week, Canadian pulls away late.

Stepp’s Pick: Canadian by 14

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Comfort (10-2) vs East Bernard (12-0), 1:30 p.m. Friday at Bastrop’s Memorial Stadium: Upstart Comfort will be looking to shake up the Region IV bracket this week as the Bobcats take on unbeaten regional favorite East Bernard. Last week it was Comfort’s defense that made the key plays in big moments down the stretch of a 28-7 win over Stockdale. East Bernard’s speedy Wing-T offense will be a big test as the Brahmas rolled past Natalia, 41-7. EBHS was missing its leading rusher in Kobe Brown, though it didn’t matter as Kameron Matthews picked up the slack. Comfort’s passing game and dynamic weapons will be a test for East Bernard, but the Brahmas speed will be too much for Comfort in the end.

Stepp’s Pick: East Bernard by 20

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Stinnett West Texas (10-2) vs Post (12-0), 4 p.m. Friday at Dimmitt’s Wildcat Stadium: One of the most fascinating matchups of the weekend pits two opposites in scheme as high-flying Stinnett West Texas takes on a tough, physical, ground and pound (and unbeaten) Post squad. West Texas rolled past Seymour, 56-26, as WR Jaykob Hernandez overwhelmed Seymour DB’s with five receptions for 191 yards and four touchdowns. QB Avian Cruz threw for 255 yards and five touchdowns, while also running for 131 yards and a touchdown for the Comanches. Post hasn’t allowed a point in two playoff games and last week they were downright dominant in a 28-0 win over a really good Ozona team. The Antelopes were led on offense by Taytem Thetford, who had 79 yards receiving and two touchdowns; he added in 53 yards rushing and a touchdown as well. Ashton Jefferson didn’t find the end zone last week, but he did lead the ground game for Post with 161 yards. The key in this game is Post’s defense. They’ll be able to dominate up front and they’ve got the athletes to contain the speed West Texas High brings to the table.

Stepp’s Pick: Post by 12

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Shiner (12-0) vs Refugio (12-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday at Converse’s Rutledge Stadium: It’s the game of the year on the Texas coast, but they are playing it in San Antonio as Region IV’s two powers meet up in what should be a lively atmosphere. Both teams have been absolutely dominant all season. Shiner hasn’t been pushed yet this year. The Comanches closest game was a 24-point win over Vanderbilt Industrial, a 3A-Division I team still alive in these playoffs. Donyai Taylor ran for four touchdowns as the Comanches dominated Hearne last week, 55-0. It was the second straight season Shiner put up 55 points on Hearne in the playoffs. Refugio, to its credit, has been equally dominant this year, only seeing one real test in non-district against Mart. However, last week the Bobcats were pushed for a half in a 49-20 win over Thorndale. The game was tied at 20 at halftime, but Jason Herring’s squad dominated the final two quarters. Naaji Gasden led the Bobcats with 148 rushing yards and two touchdowns, but QB Austin Ochoa chipped in as well throwing for 182 yards and accounting for a touchdown on the ground and through the air. Refugio’s been in a couple of fourth quarter battled and Shiner simply hasn’t. This could come down to who is more battle-tested in these games and this Refugio team is just a bit more battle scarred.

Stepp’s Pick: Refugio by 2

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Mart (9-3) vs Grapeland (10-2), 2 p.m. Friday at Fairfield’s Eagle Stadium: A year ago, Mart was only really pushed in the playoffs twice and one of those games was in the third round against a tough Grapeland squad. Both teams graduated heavy from a year ago, but the youth on both sides has matured as the season has moved on. Mart rolled past Detroit 53-0. It was Mart’s fourth shutout of the season and it got plenty from its running game as Roddrell Freeman and Keishawn Clater both ran for three touchdowns. Grapeland knocked off Cumby, 54-22, as QB BJ Lamb had another monster game. That speed advantage will be negated against Mart though. The Panthers know how to win these late playoff games, while Grapeland, who has lost in this round in back to back years, has yet to find the formula.

Stepp’s Pick: Mart by 17

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Bremond (11-1) vs Flatonia (11-1), 7 p.m. Friday at Rockdale’s Tiger Stadium: Two of the top three teams in Region IV in 2A Division II meet up for the right to likely try to dethrone defending regional champion Falls City. Bremond rolled past Agua Dulce, 56-24, as QB Seth Kasowski threw for 311 yards and five touchdowns, while JT Anthony contributed over 100 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground to give the Tigers a balanced effort. Bremond rolled up 49 first-half points and cruised in the second half of the win. Flatonia got pushed last week, but the Bulldogs had the answers in a 35-24 win over La Pryor. The Bulldogs ran out to a 22-8 lead at halftime and held off a couple of late La Pryor challenges. Bremond will be the faster team across the board, but Flatonia has the guys up front to control things and they have an outstanding workhorse back in Dakory Willis.

Stepp’s Pick: Flatonia by 4

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