If you're reading this and you haven't taken the chance to watch one of the Texas Longhorns' football commits in person this season, you may only have two more shots at it. A month ago when the playoffs began, all of them save Denzel Okafor (who wasn't even a commit yet) were in the postseason. Five took the field with their teams last week in the fourth round. Now, with one round left to determine the participants in this year's state championship games, only two future Longhorns (that we now know of) are still playing.
Demarco Boyd (Gilmer) and Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake) both go to schools that have state championship trophies in their cases, but for their schools to add more state hardware they'll have to beat even more tradition-rich programs, as the schools standing between them and a championship berth - Celina and Allen - have won a combined eight state football titles in the 2000s.
As much as these fingers tire from voluntarily pounding out 3,500-4,000 word posts of this nature every week, I hope next week's recap of round 5 isn't my last one of the season.
Since only five commits played in round four the recaps this week are small in number, but for several commits whose seasons have already been over for two weeks or more, I posted a link to their season highlights, if they were available, and have noted those I'm aware of who earned all-district honors or superlative awards. The Texas Associated Press Sports Editors typically releases its all-state teams in the days leading up to the state championship games, so those should be out starting early next week, and I expect a good number of UT commits will be included.
After the recaps, I take a look at some of the new schools that are among the state finalists in their classification, and I have
too much a bit to say about Allen High School and some of the envy and ire it has drawn due to its gargantuan enrollment and, more relevantly, its state-record winning streak.
QB Shane Buechele (Arlington Lamar)
Last week: Did not play, team lost 34-29 to Mansfield in the regional semifinal round of the 6A Division II playoffs
Buechele finished his senior season having completed just under 65% of his passes for 2,498 yards, 29 TDs and 6 interceptions, while also rushing 114 times for 817 yards and 10 TDs. He was named the MVP of District 4-6A. He will graduate later this month and enroll at Texas in January.
WR Davion Curtis (Temple)
Last week: Caught 1 pass for 3 yards in a 59-46 loss to Richmond George Ranch in the regional final round of the 5A Division I playoffs
Notes: None of the recaps of this game that I've read say anything about Curtis being injured, so it's unclear why his production was so low, though George Ranch having at least three D1-caliber players in its secondary probably played a role. A year ago Temple beat George Ranch 28-14 in the same round of the playoffs, but this time things went wrong for Temple right from the start.
Temple trailed 7-0 fifteen seconds into the game after they fumbled away the opening kickoff and Missouri committook a 13-yard run to the end zone on George Ranch's first play. Temple tied the game with a TD scored about six minutes later, but George Ranch scored the game's next three TDs to go up 28-7 with 4:49 left in the first half.
Temple scored in the final minute of the first half, then scored on a pick-six less than four minutes into the 3rd quarter to cut the deficit to 28-21, but that was as close as they got. Temple trailed 38-27 after a George Ranch field goal on the first play of the 4th quarter, and on their ensuing drive SMU commit Mikial Onu returned an interception 37 yards for a TD to extend George Ranch's lead to 45-27.
Temple got as close as 52-40 following a 1-yard TD run with 2:42 remaining, and attempted an onside kick afterwards, but the kick traveled barely five yards, and when the entire Temple kickoff coverage unit overran the ball, George Ranch senior Josh Scruggs picked it up and ran 45 yards to the end zone to put the game away.
George Ranch, now in just its fourth season of varsity football, will move on to the fifth (state semifinal) round after losing in the fourth (regional final) round in both of the past two seasons. Some high schools have never in their history sniffed the fourth round of the playoffs, and here's a program that has reached that round in 75% of its varsity seasons! Amazing.
Temple, one year after narrowly losing to Aledo in the 5A Division I state championship game, finished its 2015 season 12-2, with its only losses coming at the hands of undefeated and 3rd ranked George Ranch, and Sam Ehlinger's Austin Westlake team. Davion Curtis earned first team all-district honors for District 17-5A at wide receiver, while his teammate Taquan Graham, a junior defensive end who holds a Texas offer, was named the district's MVP. Graham was credited with 11.5 sacks and 23 tackles for loss during the regular season.
WR Reggie Hemphill-Mapps (Manvel)
Last week: Caught 6 passes for 50 yards in a 35-17 loss to Katy in the regional final round of the 6A Division II playoffs
Notes: Hemphill-Mapps's receptions all came in the first half. Reports from the game indicated that he suffered an injury in the first half and sat out the rest of the game.
This game was the Kyle Porter show, as the senior running back - who holds a Texas offer - rushed for 212 yards on 30 carries and scored all five of Katy's touchdowns. The first three all came in the game's first eight minutes, as Katy built a quick 21-0 lead. A late 1st quarter TD by Ole Miss commit D'Vaughn Pennamon and a 2nd quarter field goal cut the lead to 21-10, but Porter's fourth TD lengthened Katy's lead to 28-10 with 38 seconds remaining in the first half. An 80-yard TD pass from TCU commit D'Eriq King got Manvel as close as 28-17 with 7:00 left in the 3rd quarter, but those were Manvel's last points of the night, and Porter all but closed the book on the game with a 58-yard scoring run with 2:05 left in the 4th.
This marked the third consecutive year that Manvel has lost to Katy in the regional finals. Hemphill-Mapps missing the second half didn't help Manvel's cause, but they were already trailing by multiple possessions when he left the game, and Manvel was done in by four turnovers and a blocked field goal, things you can't have happen and expect to win a playoff game against a team that came in having allowed only 38 points in 13 games.
Manvel finished the 2015 season with a 11-3 overall record, while Katy moves on to face Cibolo Steele in the state semifinal round.
WR(Valley Christian - San Jose, CA)
Notes: Johnson suffered a shoulder injury in his team's Week 3 game and missed the rest of the season. Valley Christian advanced as far as the second round of the CIF Central Coast Section Playoffs before losing 42-23 to San Jose Oak Grove to end their season.
TE Peyton Aucoin (Brother Martin - New Orleans, LA)
Last week: Did not play. Team lost to Catholic-B.R. 49-48 in the second round of the LHSAA Division I playoffs.
OL Tope Imade (Arlington Bowie)
Last week: Did not play. Team lost 49-12 to Odessa Permian in the bi-district round of the 6A Division I playoffs.
Imade was voted a first team all-district offensive guard for District 4-6A.
OL Denzel Okafor (Lewisville)
Last week: Did not play; team did not qualify for the 6A playoffs.
DT Gerald Wilbon (Destrehan, LA)
Last week: Did not play. Team lost 49-34 to Bossier City Parkway in the third round of the LHSSA Class 5A playoffs.
DE Andrew Fitzgerald (Flower Mound Marcus)
Last week: Did not play. Team lost 48-21 to Mansfield in the area round of the 6A Division II playoffs.
DE Malcolm Roach (Madison Prep Academy - Baton Rouge, LA)
Last week: Did not play. Team lost 13-12 to LaPlace St. Charles Catholic in the second round of the LHSAA Division III playoff bracket.
LB DeMarco Boyd (Gilmer)
Last week: Had 10 carries for 72 yards and 2 TDs, 2 receptions for 16 yards, and made 6 tackles (4 tackles for loss) and 2 sacks in a 24-15 win over Atlanta in the regional final round of the 4A Division II playoffs.
This week: Friday, December 11 at 7:30, vs. Celina (Mesquite's Memorial Stadium)
Notes: Gilmer struggled to get its offense going for the first two and a half quarters. They led Atlanta 10-7 at the half, and got nothing out of their first two possessions of the 3rd quarter, then they finally gave Boyd his first carries of the game and he responded by gaining 30 yards over four consecutive carries, the last one a three-yard TD to put Gilmer ahead by a 17-7 score with 3:58 left in the 3rd.
Atlanta cut Gilmer's lead to 17-15 with a TD and two-point conversion in the first minute of the 4th quarter, but Gilmer responded with a nearly five-minute drive that ended with Boyd's second TD of the game, a 3-yard run with 6:33 left in regulation that gave Gilmer a 24-15 lead. During that drive Boyd had at least eight touches, running the ball on five straight plays early on, and later grabbing both his receptions on the night, which went for first down gains on 4th-and-5 and 4th-and-4 plays, respectively.
After Gilmer's defense kept Atlanta from scoring points on its next drive, Boyd did more work at running back and helped Gilmer milk the rest of the game clock. Gilmer, which was ranked 2nd in the AP's final regular season Class 4A poll, will face 3rd ranked Celina (Jake Raulerson's alma mater) in the state semifinal round. The two teams met in the same round of last year's playoffs, and Gilmer sent Celina home with a 67-14 shellacking a week before winning the 4A Division Ii state title with a 35-25 win over West Orange-Stark.
Three of the four 4A Division II state finalists from 2014 are back in that round this year, and somebody's water tower will need some fresh paint soon, as the four semifinalists - Celina, Gilmer, West Orange-Stark, and Cuero - have all won at least two state titles in football, and together they have 15 state championship wins! The Gilmer-Celina semifinal will be a battle of two of the state's most successful programs in recent memory, as the two schools have won a combined ten state championships, all in the past 20 years.
DB Obi Eboh (Southlake Carroll)
Last week: Did not play. Team lost to Denton Guyer 48-35 in the area round of the 6A Division II playoffs.
Eboh was named a first team cornerback on District 7-6A's all-district team.
QB Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake)
Last week: Completed 15 of 24 passes for 258 yards, 5 TDs and 1 INT, and rushed 27 times for 169 yards and 2 TDs in a 49-28 win over Humble Atascocita in the regional final round of the 6A Division I playoffs
This week: Friday, December 11 at 7:30, vs. Allen (Waco ISD Stadium) [This game was originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon at Baylor's McLane Stadium but was moved up to tonight because of thunderstorms in the weather forecast for Saturday.]
Notes: Ehlinger had a hand in all seven of Westlake's touchdowns in the win over Atascocita last Saturday. His two TD runs both came in the 2nd quarter, and after the second one Westlake led 21-7. Atascocita matched Westlake score for score for the rest of the quarter, and at halftime Westlake led 28-21. Two Ehlinger TD passes in the 3rd quarter extended the lead to 42-21, before Atascocita answered with a TD to cut the lead to 42-28 with 1:09 remaining in that frame, but it would be their last points of the game. A 47-yard TD pass from Ehlinger to North Texas commit Chase Cokley with 7:36 left in the 4th quarter provided the game's final score.
Fun stat: Westlake has scored 23 offensive touchdowns in their four playoff games, and Sam Ehlinger was either the passer (13), rusher (7), or receiver (1) on 21 of those 23 scoring plays. Ehlinger broke Westlake's school record for career passing touchdowns a few weeks ago, and during the win over Atascocita he became the school's career passing yardage leader, putting his name on a record previously held by some guys named Nick Foles and Drew Brees. And he's still got his senior year left to play. In 14 games this season he has produced over 4,500 total yards and 64 touchdowns, while often getting pulled early from games with lopsided scores.
Westlake is now in the fifth round of the playoffs for the fourth time in ten seasons. They've established a recent pattern of reaching the fifth round every three years but always falling short of a state title. In 2012, Westlake lost 31-28 in the state semifinal round to eventual 5A Division II runner-up Cedar Hill. In 2009, Westlake went 7-3 in the regular season but won its first five playoff games to reach the 5A Division I state championship game, where they lost to Euless Trinity 41-38. And in 2006, they were defeated by Southlake Carroll (led by star quarterback Riley Dodge) by a score of 43-29 in the 5A Division I state championship game, which was Todd Dodge's last game as Southlake Carroll's head coach before he began his ill-fated run at the helm of North Texas. Todd Dodge is now Westlake's head coach.
That 2006 Carroll team went into the state championship game versus Westlake riding a 47-game winning streak, and the streak would reach 49 games before they lost 29-21 to Miami powerhouse Northwestern in their second game of the 2007 season. (Northwestern would go on to win Florida's 6A state title and be named by at least two media outlets as the country's top high school team of 2007.) Carroll eliminated Allen from the playoffs in each of Dodge's last four seasons there, so he has some history in preparing for and defeating Allen, but that was before Allen became the nationally elite program that they've been in the past few years.
Allen, Westlake's opponent in the state semifinal round, has won three consecutive state championships and is riding a 57-game winning streak. In those 57 wins Allen has had a margin of victory of ten points or fewer only six times, and most of their wins have been quite lopsided. Ehlinger will have to have a hand in several touchdowns once again for Westlake to have a chance at the upset.
WR Damion Miller (Tyler John Tyler)
Last week: Did not play. Team lost 77-51 to Mansfield Lake Ridge in the area round of the 5A Division I playoffs.
Miller finished his junior season with 41 receptions for 912 yards and 9 TDs, and was named a first team wide receiver when district 16-5A announced its All-District honors.
TE Major Tennison (Bullard)
Last week: Did not play. Team lost 44-22 to Atlanta in the bi-district round of the 4A Division II playoffs.
Tennison, who committed to Texas almost two months ago, was offered by Nebraska earlier this week. They're the second Big Ten team to offer him (after Michigan in early November) since he committed to the Longhorns, and represent his sixth offer overall.
DE Lagaryonn Carson (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau)
Last week:Team lost 32-29 to Argyle in the regional final round of the 4A Division I playoffs.
Notes: Liberty-Eylau's offense outgained Argyle by over 100 yards in the opening half, while its defense forced three turnovers. L-E led 14-12 at halftime, then scored in the first minute of the 3rd quarter to go ahead 21-12, but the rest of the quarter went disastrously for them, and several miscues allowed Argyle to score 20 straight points and take a lead they would not relinquish.
After forcing Argyle to punt on its first series of the second half, L-E fumbled the punt away, and Argyle scored on a 12-yard run to pull within 21-19. L-E again fumbled the ball away on their next possession, and an Argyle field goal gave them a 22-21 lead with 3:51 left in the 3rd quarter. L-E got nothing out of its next two possessions, while Argyle added another TD and a 41-yard field goal, extending their lead to 32-21 with 7:36 remaining in the game.
L-E responded with a TD with 6:03 left to get within three points (32-29), but Argyle's offense managed to churn what was left of the game clock, clinching the win when they converted on a 4th-and-9 play from the L-E 23-yard line that gave them a first down at the 4-yard line with L-E out of timeouts.
This was L-E's second straight three-point loss to Argyle in the fourth round of the playoffs, while Argyle advanced to the fifth round for the third straight year. Argyle won the 3A Division II state title in 2013, and lost in overtime to Navasota a year ago in the 4A Division I championship game. Argyle has had a remarkable level of success in the past decade and has established itself as one of the state's premier football programs, finishing with double-digit win totals in seven consecutive seasons and reaching at least the third round of the playoffs in ten of the last twelve seasons.
Liberty-Eylau won a state title in 2006, then went seven seasons without a playoff win before reaching the fourth round in 2014 and 2015. Reaching those heights again in 2016 will require some re-loading. They'll return Lagaryonn Carson for his senior year but will graduate 31 seniors from this year's team, most significantly senior quarterback Ke'Mon Freeman, who finished the 2015 season with over 3,300 yards passing and well over 1,800 yards rushing.
on the Block in the Final Four
A few weeks ago I noted that several teams ranked in the top ten or top twenty-five in some 6A and 5A polls represented relatively new schools, some of which only opened within the past four or five years. As the Texas playoffs reach the state semifinal round, there are a few schools very early in their school's history.that are one game away from playing for a state championship.
Cibolo Steele isn't really a new school, but since it has already won a state title (2010), played for another (2011), and posted at least 12 wins in six consecutive seasons, it's easy to forget that the school is in only its tenth season of varsity football. Steele faces Katy on Saturday afternoon in one of the 6A Division II semifinal games.
Similarly, new kid Mansfield Lake Ridge faces established powerhouse Aledo (the defending 5A Division I state champion) in one of the 5A Division I semifinals. Lake Ridge is 14-0 in its fourth season of varsity football, and just three years removed from an inaugural 0-10 campaign. There's a very real possibility that the 5A Division I state championship game could feature two schools in just their fourth varsity seasons, as the other semifinal game features fourth-year program Richmond George Ranch and Cedar Park Vista Ridge, which itself has only been playing varsity football since 2004.
Fort Bend Ridge Point and Frisco Lone Star, two of the four 5A Division II semifinalists, both opened in 2010.
And though not a new school, 3A Division I semifinalist Brock is in just its second year of playing a UIL varsity football schedule after being a longtime renowned basketball power but not fielding a football team for most of its history.
A bit about Allen and its enrollment
As usual, the Allen Eagles and their huge student body (big enough that it could be split into five 5A schools) and their battalion-sized marching band (as numerous by itself as the student body of a 4A school) are steamrolling their way through the playoffs toward another state championship, and right on cue there are high school football fans and analysts intoning on message boards and even TV broadcasts about the fairness or unfairness of Allen being a one-high school town with such a large enrollment while numerous much smaller cities long ago split their high school students off to two or three campuses, if not more. In considering Allen's size, some in districts like Mansfield ISD - which sent four of its five teams to the playoffs and has two teams, Mansfield High and Lake Ridge, still alive in the fifth round - wonder how talented their teams might be if they had just two or three mega-schools instead of spreading it's 10,000 high schoolers across five campuses.
Allen, with nearly 6,000 students, is by far the largest high school in the state (according to the UIL's 2014 figures), and there are certainly advantages with having such a large pool of students from which to draw out the best varsity-level athletic talent, but outside of its recent football dominance Allen hasn't exactly been a state contender year after year in the other UIL sports, except for wrestling and girls' golf. The three Plano schools all have 5,300 or more students, but they haven't had anything like Allen's recent record of gridiron success, which is probably why far less noise is made about their size. Also drawing far less concern over their size are the state's second and third largest single-high school districts: Deer Park and Duncanville, both of which have high school enrollments above 4,100, but have a combined three playoff wins over the past ten football seasons.
A 3,000-word post could be written while exploring this "controversy", if it can be called that, but that's more than I care to type right now. The one sentence version would be that strong community/parental support, good coaching, and a consistent program-wide work ethic do more to create a winning culture than a gargantuan enrollment alone.
Sure, the UIL's system for dividing the playoff teams in classes 6A and 5A into Divisions I and II is an imperfect one. It can't not be called that when it creates a 6A Division I bracket (the large school bracket, in theory) that leads to games in which the state's largest school (5,900+ students) is matched up with two different schools with less than 2,400 students (Trophy Club Byron Nelson and Denton Ryan) and gets a semifinal round date with a school of barely 2,600 students (Westlake), all of which got put in the 6A Division I playoffs by virtue of having one of the two largest enrollments out of their district's four playoff qualifiers. The playoff teams from the eight-school District 5-6A ended up being the four smallest ones, and both of its Division I representatives ended up facing Allen. In many if not most other districts, those schools, if they made the playoffs at all, would have definitely been in Division II.
There's not an easy solution to that issue though. The UIL could create a true "big school" classification (7A?) for, say, the state's 100 or so largest schools (those with roughly 2,800 or more students). The largest schools tend to be concentrated in the major metropolitan areas, and districts for the biggest DFW, Houston, and San Antonio schools could be carved out relatively easily. But a hypothetical Class 7A would also likely force the more isolated large schools to travel unforgivably long distances to face most of their closest opponents. El Paso El Dorado and El Paso Franklin (that city's two largest schools) surely wouldn't want their teams traveling 300 miles for a district contest in Midland, or 400 miles for one at San Angelo Central. Likewise in such a scenario, Harlingen, Los Fresnos, and San Benito - the three largest schools in far south Texas - would all be about 200 miles from their next closest district foes in Laredo.
It's not Westlake's fault that it's among the smallest schools in the 6A Division I playoffs. In only five 6A districts would its enrollment be the highest or second highest, and in almost every greater Houston, San Antonio, or DFW district it would be in the middle of the pack or near the bottom, and thus a pretty sure bet for the Division II bracket come postseason time. But the pronounced enrollment disparity between Westlake and Allen is something Westlake's players won't spend much time thinking about if head coach Todd Dodge has anything to say about it. As he told the Dallas Morning News, "The things that we can control against Allen are the things that we are going to focus on."
Though Westlake is very much in the middle of the Class 6A pack when it comes to enrollments in that classification, it is one of the largest high schools compared with others from school districts represented by only one. In this era it is vanishingly rare for a school district to keep all of its high school students on one campus once their enrollment in grades 9-12 approaches 2,500 or more students. Westlake, which actually serves Eanes ISD and not Austin ISD, is one of the 15 largest schools from single-high school districts in Texas.
Anyway, at the risk of this post going even more off the rails than Michael Douglas's doomed novel in Wonder Boys, I'll close here by saying good luck to Messrs. Boyd and Ehlinger tonight, as they have become two of my favorite players among the Longhorns' current commits. Those two can't get to Austin fast enough.