The 2015 Texas high school football season came to a close following the U.I.L. state championship games last weekend. 2017 quarterback commit Sam Ehlinger led his Austin Westlake team to the Class 6A Division I final, despite its roster being nowhere near to being one of the state's ten most talented, but they couldn't quite pull out a win (more on that in a bit).
I have endeavored to chronicle the 2015 season performances of UT's commits in this weekly series of posts that began with a preview of week one, and went on to recap the eleven-week regular season and first five rounds of the playoffs, and now it ends with a recap of the one state championship (round six) game involving a UT commit. If you've followed this saga starting with the week one preview (prologue) and going through last week's playoff round five recap, you've already read seventeen posts with a combined word count in excess of 54,000, which in book form would be longer than Slaughterhouse-Five, The Red Badge of Courage, The Great Gatsby, and Fahrenheit 451. Add this post (the final chapter and epilogue?) to the book and you might as well have read A Separate Peace or As I Lay Dying. I don't know if that's supposed to make you feel better or worse about the required readings from your high school or college literature classes (A Separate Peace is actually the only one of those six titles I ever had assigned for a class).
Below I'll have a recap of Ehlinger's state championship performance, some notes on Longhorn commits and targets who earned All-State honors for the 2015 season, and a bit about the long streak of Texas high school football seasons in which at least one future Longhorn played for a team that won a state championship, and how that streak could be in jeopardy.
2017 QB Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake)
Last week: Completed 14 of 28 passes for 219 yards, and rushed 29 times for 82 yards with one lost fumble in a 21-14 overtime loss to Galena Park North Shore in the Class 6A Division I state championship game.
Notes: Ehlinger had a lot going against him in last week's 6A Division I state final. He was missing one of his top two receivers, 6'3" senior Reed Klubnik, who had been injured the week before. He lost a fumble that led to the single biggest momentum shift in the game. He faced a constant pass rush from a North Shore front line he later said was the best his team had faced all season. And he got no help from his team's running game, as no running back could be found to help take some of the pressure off Ehlinger or keep the opposing secondary from focusing entirely on Westlake's receivers. No offense to Westlake's starting running back, but he might not have been good enough to start on any of the other state finalists, in any classification. There's a reason that Ehlinger - who is a good runner to be sure, but that isn't one of his elite traits - accounted for 51% of Westlake's total rushing yardage for the season, as well as two-thirds of their rushing touchdowns.
Despite all that, Westlake was in the game until the very end and had chances to seize the momentum and win it. Their defense shut out North Shore until the final seconds of the first half, and did not allow any more points until overtime. In Klubnik's absence, Westlake got some big plays from senior receivers Chase Cokley (a North Texas commit) and Kylen Granson, the latter of whom scored Westlake's only offensive TD of the game. But in the end their bid for a state title was spoiled by a very tough North Shore defense combined with untimely turnovers, a blocked kick, and questionable play-calling.
Westlake's first two possessions ended with a turnover on downs and a fumble, and they had trouble throughout the game putting together sustained drives, as most either ended in a punt or unsuccessful attempts to convert on 4th downs near midfield or a short distance into North Shore territory. Westlake's only offensive TD, a 16-yard run by Granson in the 2nd quarter, was set up by a North Shore field goal attempt that was blocked by junior linebacker Levi Jones (younger brother of former Longhorn turned Arizona Wildcats receiver Cayleb Jones) and gave Westlake possession of the ball in North Shore territory. North Shore tied the game at 7 with a one-yard TD run with just seconds left in the first half.
Westlake drove into the North Shore red zone in the 3rd quarter and had a chance to take the lead, but Ehlinger fumbled at the end of a run and the ball was picked up and returned for a 95-yard touchdown with 5:06 left in the 3rd, giving North Shore its first lead of the game (14-7) and Westlake its first deficit of the entire playoffs. Just under five minutes later, Westlake again scored following a blocked kick by its special teams, this time on a 45-yard return of a blocked punt. That tied the game at 14 with 0:21 left in the 3rd.
The game remained tied at 14 at the end of regulation, though both teams had chances to take the lead in the 4th. North Shore drove as far as the Westlake 21-yard line but missed a field goal with 2:08 left, and Westlake responded with perhaps their best drive of the game. Ehlinger made several great throws to move the chains, while taking some hard hits in the process. After calling their last timeout, Westlake faced 3rd-and-10 from the North Shore 37-yard line, and Ehlinger hit Granson for a 27-yard gain that gave them a first down at the 10. They hurried to the line and spiked the ball with 16 seconds left. Rather than gamble on an attempt at scoring or moving the ball closer to the end zone with no timeouts left, Westlake sent in kicker Ryan Rees (who also played DB and had intercepted a North Shore pass in the red zone earlier in the 4th) to kick a would-be game-winning field goal from 27 yards out. The kick became a 32-yarder when Westlake was flagged for a delay of game. The kick was a low one and was blocked, and North Shore took a knee to send the game to overtime.
North Shore scored on its possession to go ahead 21-14. Ehlinger was sacked on the first play of Westlake's possession, but he found Granson for another big play on the next snap, giving Westlake a 1st-and-goal. They got as far as the 3-yard line and faced 4th-and-goal. On a play questioned by virtually everyone who saw it, Westlake sent Grayson in motion from left to right and Ehlinger gave him the ball on a jet sweep that appeared to be designed as a wide receiver pass, but North Shore swarmed him before he had a chance to find an open receiver and throw the ball, and that was the game.
At several points in the game, Cokely and Granson were on the receiving end of some long pass plays, but on all 4th downs and almost every 3rd down, they either couldn't get open or Ehlinger just didn't have time to throw before having to leave the pocket and run for whatever yards he could pick up. And the game-ending play was actually the second time in the game that Westlake had used some kind of wide receiver reverse action in an unsuccessful attempt to convert on 4th down.
Perhaps you've followed along these posts and seen Ehlinger's frequently high totals of rushing attempts and wondered why he was being asked to carry the ball and absorb hits so many times. If the state championship is any indication, most of Ehlinger's runs were not by design, but the result of him having to make a play and move the ball forward due to his offensive line being overwhelmed.
Westlake finished the season with an overall record of 14-2, and has now lost in its last five state championship appearances. Bringing back the 6A Offensive Player of the Year is a great first step in trying to get back to the state final in 2016, but they'll have to find a good running back and rely on a mostly unproven receiving corps. Ehlinger's performance in 2015 should quiet the trolls who claimed two months before the season had even started that Texas had already missed out on the state's top quarterbacks for the 2017 class. He appears to have a very bright future and will be on everyone's preseason all-state lists next year, but if he is to have similar success in 2016 he'll have to have some new receivers step up for him. Twelve Westlake players caught at least one pass in 2015 (including Ehlinger, who caught a five-yard TD pass from Reed Klubnik in a playoff game), and eight of them are graduating, meaning Westlake will have to replace 80% of its receiving yardage from this past season.
QB Shane Buechele (Arlington Lamar)
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, and last week he was named an all-state second team quarterback on the Texas APSE Class 6A All-State team He will enroll at Texas in January.
WR Davion Curtis (Temple)
Team lost 59-46 to Richmond George Ranch in the regional final round of the 5A Division I playoffs.
Curtis earned first team all-district honors for District 17-5A at wide receiver
WR Reggie Hemphill-Mapps (Manvel)
Team lost 35-17 to Katy in the regional final round of the 6A Division II playoffs. Katy went on to defeat Lake Travis 34-7 in the Class 6A Division II championship. Riding what head coach Gary Joseph called the best defense Katy has had in his three-plus decades at the school, the Tigers went 16-0 while allowing just 62 points all season, and MaxPreps ranked them as the top high school team in the nation.
Hemphill-Mapps was one of eight (eight!) wide receivers named to District 22-6A's all-district first team.
WR Collin Johnson (Valley Christian - San Jose, CA)
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)
Team lost to Catholic-B.R. 49-48 in the second round of the LHSAA Division I playoffs. Catholic-B.R. went on to win the Division I state championship.
OL Tope Imade (Arlington Bowie)
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, and also earned honorable mention all-state honors for Class 6A from the AP.
OL Denzel Okafor (Lewisville)
Lewisville did not qualify for the 6A playoffs.
Okafor was a unanimous first team all-district selection on the offensive line for District 6-6A, and he also earned honorable mention all-state honors for Class 6A from the AP.
DT Gerald Wilbon (Destrehan, LA)
Team lost 49-34 to Bossier City Parkway in the quarterfinal round of the LHSSA Class 5A playoffs.
DE Andrew Fitzgerald (Flower Mound Marcus)
Team lost 48-21 to Mansfield in the area round of the 6A Division II playoffs.
He was a unanimous first team all-district defensive end selection for District 6-6A, and also earned honorable mention all-state honors for 6A from the AP as a defensive lineman.
DE Malcolm Roach (Madison Prep Academy - Baton Rouge, LA)
Team lost 13-12 to LaPlace St. Charles Catholic in the second round of the LHSAA Division III playoff bracket.
Roach was named a Class 2A all-state first team linebacker by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. In the LSWA's press release he was credited with 128 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, and 5 forced fumbles for the season.
LB Demarco Boyd (Gilmer)
Team lost 49-44 to Celina in the semifinal round of the 4A Division II playoffs. Celina went on to lose 22-3 to West Orange-Stark in the 4A Division II state championship game, though it should be noted that Celina's starting quarterback was injured on their first series and sat out the rest of the game.
Boyd was named the MVP of District 5-4A Division II at the end of Gilmer's season.
DB Obi Eboh (Southlake Carroll)
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, and he also earned second team all-state honors as a defensive back on the AP's 6A All-State team.
Other 2017 commits
WR Damion Miller (Tyler John Tyler)
Team lost 77-51 to Mansfield Lake Ridge in the area round of the 5A Division I playoffs. Lake Ridge eventually advanced to the 5A Division I state championship game, where it lost 56-0 to Richmond George Ranch, though it should be noted that Lake Ridge was playing with far less than a full deck by the time it reached the final round, as star running back Duke Carter (a Louisiana-Monroe commit) barely played due to a high ankle sprain suffered the week before, and quarterback Jett Duffey (a Texas Tech commit and the AP's Offensive Player of the Year for Class 5A) was also banged up and played horribly.
Miller finished his junior season with 41 receptions for 912 yards and 9 TDs, and was voted a first team wide receiver on District 16-5A's all-district team.
TE Major Tennison (Bullard)
Team lost 44-22 to Atlanta in the bi-district round of the 4A Division II playoffs.
Tennison finished the season with 27 catches for 603 yards and 8 touchdowns, and was named a first team tight end on District 5-4A Division II's all-district team.
DE Lagaryonn Carson (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau)
Team lost 32-29 to Argyle in the regional final round of the 4A Division I playoffs. Argyle went on to lose 33-31 to Waco La Vega in the 4A Division I state championship game.
Last week, Carson was named the Class 4A Defensive Player of the Year when the Texas Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) announced its 4A All-State team. In the regular season he compiled 125 tackles, 12 sacks, 25 tackles for loss, 2 blocked kicks, and 2 pass break-ups.
Longhorn commits and targets earn All-State honors
The Texas Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) annually rolls out its football All-State teams during the week of the U.I.L. football state championship games, beginning with the announcement of the All-State teams for the lowest classifications on Sunday or Monday, and ending with the highest classification (now 6A) a few days later. The APSE is one of the two primary media groups in the state to vote on an annual all-state football team, the other being the Texas Sports Writers Association (TSWA), which typically releases its All-State football teams in early February.
Voting for the APSE's All-State team is based on the players' regular season stats and performance and not on their collegiate upside or recruiting rankings. Its all-state teams are made up of offensive linemen (without distinguishing between tackles, guards, or centers), quarterbacks, running backs, receivers/ends, and kickers on offense (tight ends rarely appear on the APSE's teams), and defensive linemen (without distinguishing between tackles and ends), linebackers, defensive backs, and punters on defense. The TSWA's all-state teams are both more inclusive and more specific, as it actually honors its offensive line picks specifically at tackle, guard, and center, and its teams also are known to honor fullbacks, tight ends, kick returners, and "all-purpose" players (for example, current Longhorn freshman Ryan Newsome was a 5A All-State first team honoree as an all-purpose offensive player by the TSWA a year ago).
As you've already seen if you've read this far, there were several Texas Longhorn football commits featured prominently on last week's announced APSE All-State teams, including two who earned superlative honors for their respective classifications.
2017 Longhorn quarterback commit Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake) was honored as the Offensive Player of the Year for Class 6A, following a regular season performance in which he produced just under 3,200 total yards and 48 touchdowns while throwing no interceptions and sometimes playing in barely more than half or three quarters of his team's games.
Earning a spot on the all-6A second team was UT's other quarterback commit, senior Shane Buechele (Arlington Lamar), as well as 2016 defensive back commit Obi Eboh (Southlake Carroll). Earning honorable mention all-state honors for 6A were 2016 offensive line commits Tope Imade (Arlington Bowie) and Denzel Okafor (Lewisville), 2016 preferred walk-on kicker commit Max Allan (Colleyville Heritage), and 2016 defensive end commit Andrew Fitzgerald (Flower Mound Marcus).
Class 4A's Defensive Player of the Year was 2017 defensive line commit Lagaryonn Carson (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau), who was credited in APSE press releases with having 125 tackles, 12 sacks, 25 tackles for loss, 2 blocked kicks, and 2 passes broken up in the regular season. That young man is going to be a handful for Big 12 offensive lines in a few years.
Also announced beginning last week were the all-state teams for Louisiana, as voted on by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association (LSWA). 2016 defensive end commit Malcolm Roach (Madison Prep - Baton Rouge, LA) was one of four players named as a first team all-state linebacker for Class 2A.
Several other familiar names who are now or may soon be UT recruiting targets also added APSE all-state honors to their resumé.
2016 offensive lineman Zach Shackelford (Belton), a Kansas State commit since July, was one of five O-linemen named to the all-state first team for 6A. Rivals lists Shackelford as having an official visit to UT scheduled for mid-January, but he's supposed to be an early enrollee so that would seem to be pretty late in the game for a December grad to be taking an OV.
2017 running back Kennedy Brooks (Mansfield), who already holds offers from Michigan, Washington, SMU, and Texas Tech, was one of three running backs to make the 6A first team.
2017 defensive end K'Lavon Chaisson (Galena Park North Shore), who Sam Ehlinger spent much of last Saturday's 6A Division I state championship game fleeing from, was one of four 6A first team defensive linemen.
2016 athlete Lil'Jordan Humphrey, who will take an official visit to UT in January along with his Southlake Carroll teammate Obi Eboh, was named a 6A second team running back. Uncommitted 2016 offensive lineman Jean Delance (North Mesquite), one of UT's top remaining targets in the current senior class, joined Imade and Okafor on the list of 6A honorable mention offensive linemen, while 6A's honorable mention running backs included senior Kyle Porter (Katy), senior Brandon Stephens (Plano), and junior Abram Smith (Abilene). Porter and Stephens (a Stanford commit) were both offered by Texas months ago, while Smith appears to be one of the state's best running backs for the 2017 class and could become a Longhorn target.
Eno Benjamin (Wylie East), another probable 2017 running back target, was named a first team running back for Class 5A. 2017 defensive end Taquon Graham (Temple), who is a teammate of Davion Curtis and was offered by Texas in November, was one of four players named as Class 5A first team defensive linemen.
J.K. Dobbins (La Grange), a 2017 running back who Texas offered in June, was one of three running backs to make the first team for Class 4A. 2017 linebacker Baron Browning (Kennedale), who committed to Baylor five months ago and holds offers from Texas and pretty much everybody else, was a first team linebacker for 4A. Senior safety DeMarkus Acy (Wilmer-Hutchins), who committed to Missouri in October but has reportedly remained in contact with Texas, was a 4A first team defensive back. And senior offensive lineman Patrick Hudson (Silsbee), who committed to Baylor the summer before his junior year and may be the highest-rated player UT still has even a decent chance to flip before Signing Day, was a 4A honorable mention offensive lineman.
Will UT land any players from the 2015 state champions?
As of now there were no future Texas Longhorns who won championship medals last week. This could change retroactively if a player from one of the 2015 state champion teams commits to and signs with Texas in the future. This could be a current or potential recruiting target such as Katy running back Kyle Porter (2016), George Ranch running back (2016) or defensive back Adam Beck (2017), North Shore defensive end K'Lavon Chaisson or defensive back Kieston Roach (both 2017s), Waco La Vega defensive back Parrish Cobb (2016 Oklahoma commit) or tight end Kedrick James (2017 Baylor commit), or anyone else who suited up for one of the state champion teams but isn't yet known as a UT-level recruit.
There's still a year or two for the situation to change, but if Texas were to end up landing not a single player who took the field for a 2015 state champion team, it would be the first time in nearly two decades (at least) for this to occur. Perhaps there hasn't always been at least one player who was a Texas commit at the time his team won state, but taking a retroactive look, it appears that every season since at least 1998 saw at least one future Longhorn go home with a state championship medal. Here's a (probably incomplete) list of the teams and their eventual Longhorns in that time.
2014: Gilmer (Kris Boyd and Demarco Boyd) and Aledo (Ryan Newsome)
2013: Denton Guyer (Jerrod Heard) and Aledo (Ryan Newsome)
2012: Denton Guyer (Jerrod Heard)
2011: Aledo (Johnathan Gray)
2010: Daingerfield (Steve Edmond), Carthage (Kendall Thompson), Aledo (Johnathan Gray), and Cibolo Steele (Malcolm Brown and Erik Huhn)
2009: Cayuga (Traylon Shead), Daingerfield (Steve Edmond and Chris Jones), Carthage (Kendall Thompson), and Aledo (Johnathan Gray)
2008: Daingerfield (Steve Edmond and Chris Jones), Carthage (Kendall Thompson), Sulphur Springs (Bryant Jackson), and Lake Travis (Garrett Gilbert and Paden Kelly)
2007: Lake Travis (Garrett Gilbert and Paden Kelly), and Euless Trinity (Eryon Barnett)
2006: La Marque (Aundre McGaskey), Cedar Hill (Thomas Ashcraft and Jarvis Humphrey), and Southlake Carroll (Tre Newton)
2005: Wimberley (Buck Burnette) and Southlake Carroll (Tre Newton)
2004: Kilgore (Michael Huey, Eddie Jones, and Britt Mitchell) and Southlake Carroll (Tre Newton)
2003: La Marque (Rashad Bobino) and Galena Park North Shore (Chykie Brown)
2002: Corrigan-Camden (Eric Foreman), Denton Ryan (Derek Lokey), Texarkana Texas (Nathan Jones and Chris Brown), and Southlake Carroll (Adam Ulatoski)
2001: Mesquite (Marco Martin)
2000: Midland Lee (Cedric Benson)
1999: Mart (Quan Cosby) and Midland Lee (Cedric Benson)
1998: Midland Lee (Cedric Benson)
That's as far as I care to go with my research or writing for this post. That's the level of thought and work I put into these things for you good BON readers. So if you've read this far down (especially if you're reading this on Christmas Day), I want to thank you for following along, for being a Longhorn fan who loves your team enough to read verbose weekly updates on high school student-athletes who won't play meaningful snaps while wearing burnt orange for at least a year or two, and I hope you're having an enjoyable Christmas weekend (or whatever it is you may or may not celebrate this time of year). Until next August...