#UILState, Ranked: What was the most memorable Texas high school state championship game in 2019?

Photo by Gary Sanderson

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It was an unforgettable long weekend of Texas high school football at the 2019 UIL Texas high school football state championship games at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. But what are the most remarkable games that we saw on the biggest stage this year? Dave Campbell’s Texas Football managing editor Greg Tepper ranks the 12 title games. Please note: these rankings are by the neutral observer’s enjoyment — if your favorite team won a title, you will obviously feel like it deserves to be higher!

12: Austin Westlake 24, Denton Guyer 0 — 6A Division II

The final game of the 2019 Texas high school football season sadly brings up the rear here, and it’s largely based on the fact that we were robbed of the showcase matchup we wanted. All week long, we were excited about the Guyer offense — led by RB Kaedric Cobbs and QB Eli Stowers — against the lights-out Westlake defense — anchored by Leo Lowin and Sage Luther. But minutes into the game, a brutal knee injury to Stowers cast a pall over the remainder of the game. Take nothing away from Westlake, who dazzled defensively in the first large-school title game shutout since 2015 and got an impressive effort from its own offense, but this game will leave us wondering “what if?”.

Moment To Remember: Westlake QB Kirkland Michaux’s sensational pirouette away from a defender to find Mason Mangum for a 33-yard touchdown strike.


11: Richland Springs 62, Motley County 16 — 1A Division II

Talk about methodical. Richland Springs entered the game looking for its record 9th state championship, and the Coyotes looked like a team on a mission. Richland Springs quickly took a 24-0 lead and never looked back, leaning on its traditionally terrific defense and a versatile offensive effort to soar to a mercy rule victory. If there weren’t a historical element involved, this would’ve been the snoozer of the weekend. But because the Coyotes etched their names in history as the first team to win nine state titles, Richland Springs’ rather unremarkable title game victory will be remembered forever.

Moment to Remember: Lane Shannon’s game-winning 31-yard touchdown run less then five minutes into the third quarter, which ended the game and gave us a moment in Texas high school football history.


10: Refugio 28, Post 7 — 2A Division I

For the first half, this was looking like a classic slugfest. Post threw the first punch, proving that the stage was far from too big for the Bold Gold on their first trip. But the remainder of the game belonged to two entities: the Refugio defense, which stifled Post’s physical style for the remainder of the contest; and Refugio QB Austin Ochoa, who grabbed reins of the Bobcats offense and guided to them to a hard-fought victory. When Refugio needed an offensive spark, they turned to their senior quarterback, who came through with tough yard after tough yard to bring coach Jason Herring and the Coastal Bend another championship.

Moment to Remember: Refugio’s drive to start the second half, wherein Ochoa carried the ball five consecutive plays before throwing a pair of passes to set up his own touchdown run, which push the Bobcats up 21-7 and set the tone for the remainder of the game.


9: Gunter 43, Paul Pewitt 22 — 3A Division II

Another game dictated by halftime. The first half was about as wild as you will ever see, with Gunter’s methodical option offense working a charm while Paul Pewitt managed to hit spectacular plays, whether it’s Kadrien Johnson’s sensational interception return for a touchdown or the literally-perfect surprise onside kick that led to a thrilling Johnson leap into the end zone. But like Novocain, Gunter’s methodical style soon seeped in after the halftime break, using a defense that never let Pewitt establish its base offense and riding a sensational game from RB Clayton Reed to another crown. The first half was thrilling; the second half had a feeling of inevitability.

Moment to Remember: Kadrien Johnson’s 75-yard interception return for a touchdown, breaking seemingly dozens of tackles and weaving his way through the entire town of Gunter, is arguably the play of the weekend.


8: Carthage 42, Waco La Vega 28 — 4A Division I

This was a game most Texas high school football fans had circled heading into the weekend, wanting to see the two heavyweights of Class 4A Division I take sledgehammers to one another. And while the game certainly lived up to the physical hype, it was the high-powered Carthage offense that stole the show, with receiver Kelvontay Dixon and running back Mason Courtney taking turns slicing through the fearsome La Vega defense. This was a coaching masterclass from Carthage’s Scott Surratt, who improves to an improbable 7-0 in title games and further cements himself as one of the greatest coaches in Texas high school football history.

Moment to Remember: It’s hard to pick just one, but Kelvontay Dixon’s 20-yard touchdown catch from Kai Horton with just three seconds before halftime — working back toward the ball and spinning away from defenders into the end zone — gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the game and set the tone for the remainder of the contest.


7: Pleasant Grove 35, Wimberley 21 — 4A Division II

If you extrapolated the first quarter of this game to the entire 48 minutes, you would’ve had a show-stealing thriller — both PG and Wimberley came out hot, with four of the first six possessions finishing in the end zone. But from there, the Pleasant Grove defense, anchored by linemen Marcus Burris and Landon Jackson and linebacker Gage Stivers, began to impose its will —Wimberley’s next seven drives ended in either a punt or a turnover on downs. Meanwhile, even with a hobbled quarterback Ben Harmon, the Pleasant Grove attack began to take hold, with the crowd erupting in ‘BRUUUUCE” chants for offensive MVP Bruce Garrett, who exploded for 254 yards and three touchdowns out of the Wing-T attack. A second title in three years is headed back to Texarkana, and with it, the statewide recognition that Josh Gibson has built something special.

Moment to Remember: It’s hard to top returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown, but that’s exactly what KJ Hicks did, taking the opening boot back 88 yards for an emphatic game-opening strike.


6: Mart 25, Hamlin 20 — 2A Division II

All of the talk heading into this game — much of it from Texas Football — was about the stark pedigree disparity in this matchup: Mart was playing in a title game for the 12th time, while Hamlin was making its first appearance. But any thought that the stage was too big for Hamlin went out the window in a blistering first quarter, wherein the Pied Pipers drove the field for a touchdown on the fearsome Mart defense in the opening possession, and followed it with a 69-yard Jevon Williams touchdown scamper to take a 14-6 lead. Mart settled in, though, behind the bruising running of Roddrell Freeman, who ran for 168 yards and three scores to pace the Panthers’ attack. And the defense came up big in the second half, forcing four turnovers including Klyderion Campbell’s sensational interception return for a touchdown that really turned the game. Hamlin had stomach for the fight, but the Panthers’ dynasty — and it is a dynasty, considering they’ll graduate just five seniors off this year’s squad — was just too much.

Moment to Remember: It was the play of the game as Klyderion Campbell stepped in front of a  Braydin Warner pass and returned it 33 yards for a game-changing score.

 

5: Aledo 45, Fort Bend Marshall 42 — 5A Division II

Last year, this was arguably the biggest snoozefest of the weekend — the Bearcats’ offensive and defensive front overmatched Marshall, who was clearly a bit off their game. The rematch was a lot more what we expected, with two high-powered offenses throwing haymakers at one another with their bevy of explosive weapons. There were 10 possessions in the first half — two ended in punts, one ended with halftime, and the other seven went for touchdowns. The difference came with Aledo’s edge in the little things: the Bearcats scored right before half on Jake Bishop’s touchdown plunge, then got the ball back immediately after halftime and scored again; the Bearcats went 7 for 11 on third downs, while Marshall went just 1 for 6; and Aledo hit a 29-yard field goal and recovered an onside kick in the final moments. Those little things — and, oh yeah, a tremendous game from Jase McClellan — helped the Bearcats bring home historic championship No. 9.

Moment to Remember: Let’s just take this honor and split it evenly between Devon Achane, Jase McClellan, Jake Bishop, Malik Hornsby and Money Parks, who gave us more highlights than we’ll have time to sort through.

 

4: Galena Park North Shore 31, Duncanville 17 — 6A Division I

It was the rematch the entire world wanted to see, running back one of the most iconic games in Texas high school football history. And though the game was largely defined by who wasn’t on the field — Duncanville quarterback Ja’Quinden Jackson was out with a knee injury suffered the week before; North Shore receiver Shadrach Banks missed most of the season with a foot injury; and North Shore star running back Zachary Evans was an unexpected late scratch — the game on the field had all the buzz we expected, with 48,717 fans packed into AT&T Stadium. Duncanville’s freshman quarterback Chris Parson made plays in the first half, but the Panthers were largely triggered by Roderick Daniels, whose ability to get to the edge gave North Shore all sort of fits. But North Shore’s physical defense figured out the wounded Duncanville’s gameplan, and from there, it was the Dematrius Davis show, who once again dazzled on the big stage en route to another state title. Roger Hagan filled in admirably for Zach Evans behind North Shore’s big offensive line, which got a lot more traction against Duncanville’s front than it did the year before, and Davis hit the dagger on a third-down 44-yard touchdown strike to Charles King to put the game on ice. It wasn’t the game we saw last year, but then again, that was an impossible bar.

Moment to Remember: Forget the play on the field for a moment. We’ll never forget the moments before kickoff — 48,000 fans screaming in anticipation for a game we’d waited an entire year for. That was the moment.  


3: Grandview 42, Pottsboro 35 — 3A Division I

Every year, there’s a game that comes out of nowhere and surprises us with a few twists and turns we didn’t see coming. That’s not to say that we didn’t think Pottsboro couldn’t hang with Grandview — but this felt like a low-scoring slugfest instead of a high-octane thrill ride. Boy, were we wrong! Pottsboro threw the first punch on an 11-play first-quarter drive, but Grandview seemed to take control on three Tremayne Gullatte touchdown runs (three of his five!) over the course of the next four minutes of game time. Over, right? Not even close! The fireworks show was just beginning, as the quarterbacks — Dane Jentsch for Grandview and Braden Plyler for Pottsboro — began lighting up the opposing defenses for the remainder of the game. The teams combined for 839 yards of total offense in a wild back-and-forth affair, but it was Grandview’s defense that guided the Zebras to a second consecutive title, and Jentsch to a second consecutive dual-MVP performance.

Moment to Remember: It’s hard to pick just one play, but the Dane Jentsch ending consecutive Pottsboro drives — one by knifing into the backfield to stop Plyler on 4th and goal from the 1, and another on a lunging interception — cemented him as the defensive MVP and the star of the show.


2: Blum 58, McLean 52 — 1A Division I

Before kickoff of the first game of the weekend — pitting defending 1A Division I state champ McLean against first-time finalist Blum — I spoke with a number of my friends in the six-man football world, and we all agreed: this game really needed to be good. You see, for the first time, Fox Sports Southwest was broadcasting the 1A state championship games live on TV (in past years, the games had been streamed online by FSSW), and so this would be a lot of people’s first exposure to six-man football. It just couldn’t be a blowout, or a game that ends at halftime, or anything like that…the future popularity of the sport really may have hinged on it. Luckily for us and the folks watching at home, we kicked off the weekend with one of the best games of the year. Not only did Blum spring one of the biggest upsets in six-man title game history — both DCTF and the venerable SixManFootball.com had the Bobcats as sizable underdogs ­— but the game showed six-man football at its best: high-powered offenses, spectacular defensive plays, critical schematic adjustments, and high-leverage moments of tension. Whether you wanted superstars (like McLean’s Ben Crockett) or breakout stars (like Blum’s Coltin Gonzales) or just plain fun, this game had it all, and it may have just fostered a new generation of six-man football fans.

Moment to Remember: Put the entire fourth quarter — McLean’s manic comeback on the back of Ben Crockett operating out of the spread, Coltin Gonzales’ go-ahead touchdown in the final minute, the drama of the missed extra point, Blum’s big defensive stop to seal the thrilling upset, the pandemonium celebration on the field after the final gun — in the Texas high school football hall of fame.


1: Alvin Shadow Creek 28, Denton Ryan 22 — 5A Division I

There’s a lot of pressure in being the final Friday night game of the year. Texas high school football operates on a relatively static schedule for the first 16 weeks of the season, with the big crescendo coming on Friday night, so when you get that timeslot on the biggest weekend of the year, you’d better come through. And when you consider that two of the last three Friday night state title games were Highland Park’s heart-stopping comeback win over Manvel (2017) and Aledo’s remarkable near-miss victory over Corpus Christi Calallen (2016), the onus was on Shadow Creek and Ryan to deliver. And boy, did they ever ­— and in various ways. As the score would indicate, the defenses were the dominant forces in this one, with Shadow Creek’s defensive team speed giving Ryan’s multi-threat attack all sorts of fits and putting quarterback Seth Henigan on the run for the majority of the game. There were spectacular plays in the special teams department for both teams, whether it was Ryan’s sensational “starburst” misdirection kickoff return that Tra Smith took 91 yards for a touchdown, or Randy Masters’ bizarre and brilliant punt return touchdown that instantly went viral. And there were offensive standouts, most notably quarterback Kyron Drones for Shadow Creek. But like most classics, this game came down to the final moments, when Ryan attempted to mount a comeback for the ages. After Henigan hit Ja’Tavion Sanders for a score to bring the score within 28-22 with just 74 seconds left, and after Ryan’s defense stood tall to get the ball back with 47 seconds left, you started to get that Friday night magic feeling one more time. And when Henigan heaved it to the end zone as zeros hit the clock, and Shadow Creek’s TJ Marshall tipped the ball just enough to keep Drew Sanders from hauling in a would-be game-winning touchdown, and the Sharks celebrated their remarkable first state championship, you got one last glimpse of that Friday night magic, until August.

Moment to Remember: The last play was remarkable, but Masters’ heads-up scoop-and-score punt return will live in Texas high school football lore.

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