Going into the third round of the Texas and Louisiana high school football playoffs, the Texas Longhorns still had seven commits whose teams had yet to turn in their equipment. Going into this weekend's fourth round, that number has been reduced to five.
Shane Buechele saw his decorated high school career come to an end, but his 2017 counterpart Sam Ehlinger was able to move his team one game closer to reaching the state championship, and he did it by scoring in three different ways. 2016 wide receiver commits Davion Curtis and Reggie Hemphill-Mapps will both be playing undefeated and very highly-ranked opponents in this round in what should be two very entertaining contests. Demarco Boyd and Gilmer will have to contend with a team that has caught fire in the playoffs and already ended the season of 2017 tight end commit Major Tennison. And in what might be the best game an AT&T Stadium crowd will see between now and the Cotton Bowl, Lagaryonn Carson and his Texarkana Liberty-Eylau squad will attempt to avenge its narrow 2014 playoff loss and prevent Argyle from reaching the state championship game for a third straight year.
And in the return of my non-UT recruiting sideline feature, I'll profile a senior athlete in the greater DFW area who has played in two different countries and two very different styles of football in the past year, and who is almost certainly nation's least-known 3,600-yard rusher.
QB Shane Buechele (Arlington Lamar)
Last week: Completed 29 of 43 pass attempts for 328 yards, 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, and rushed 15 times for -5 yards in a 34-29 loss to Mansfield in the regional semifinal round of the 6A Division II playoffs
Notes: Lamar trailed Mansfield for most of their third round playoff game, and despite a nearly non-existent running game and some badly-timed turnovers, Lamar was still in the game in its final seconds. Mansfield's star junior running back Kennedy Brooks opened the scoring with a 9-yard TD run with 7:15 left in the 1st quarter. Lamar responded with a 35-yard TD pass from Buechele to Taron Owens on their next drive, but a missed PAT kept them behind by a point, 7-6, and they would remain behind until early in the 4th quarter. Brooks would finish the game with 272 rushing yards and 4 TDs, and that performance put him over the 3,000-yard rushing mark for the 2015 season.
Brooks fumbled on Mansfield's second drive and Lamar got the ball on Mansfield's 46-yard line, but their drive stalled just outside the red zone and ended with a missed 42-yard field goal. Brooks scored his second TD five plays later to increase Mansfield's lead to 14-6. The teams traded scores for the rest of the half, and after a Lamar field goal in the closing seconds of the 2nd quarter, Mansfield went into halftime with a 21-16 lead.
Lamar's first three drives of the second half ended in a punt, interception, and turnover on downs at the Mansfield 37-yard line, but their defense held Mansfield in check for the 3rd quarter and kept the deficit from increasing. After intercepting a Mansfield pass on the final play of the 3rd quarter, Lamar scored on a 16-yard pass from Buechele to Draven Cantly with 10:22 left in the 4th quarter, and after an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt, they led 22-21. Mansfield responded with a 14-play drive that churned some six-and-a-half minutes of the game clock and resulted in Brooks's fourth TD of the game: a 10-yard run that put Mansfield back on top 28-22 with 3:45 left in the game. On Lamar's ensuing possession, Buechele was picked off and the interception was returned for a 39-yard TD to increase Mansfield's lead to 34-22 with 2:56 left.
Afterwards, Lamar got as far as the Mansfield 37-yard line but turned the ball over on downs when Buechele's pass on 4th-and-5 fell incomplete, and the game appeared to be all but over. Because Lamar still held all of its timeouts, Mansfield elected to give the ball to Brooks (who had 280 rushing yards at that point) rather than attempt to kneel out the clock, but on their first play Brooks rushed for -8 yards and fumbled the ball back to Lamar.
Buechele's fourth TD pass of the game cut the deficit to 34-29 with 0:40 left in the game, and when Lamar recovered the onside kick they found themselves just 42 yards away from the end zone with two timeouts left in a game they had trailed by 12 only a few seconds earlier. Two Buechele passes moved the ball up to the Mansfield 24-yard line, but three incompletions later they faced 4th-and-10, and running back Rashad Polk was tackled at the 17-yard line on the game's final play.
Lamar finished the 2015 season with an overall record of 11-2, advancing to the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 2003 in the process. Shane 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. This week, it was announced that the coaches of District 4-6A voted Buechele as the district's MVP.
In a little over two and a half seasons as Lamar's starting QB, he completed 64.4% of his passes (463 of 719) for 6,379 yards, 73 TDs and 14 INTs, and also rushed 270 times for 1,741 yards (6.4 yards/carry) and 19 TDs. His career yardage total makes him the third all-time leading passer in the history of Arlington ISD. He will graduate later this month and enroll at Texas in January.
WR Davion Curtis (Temple)
Last week: Caught 3 passes for 59 yards in a 27-7 win over Richmond Foster in the regional semifinal round of the 5A Division I playoffs
This week: Friday, December 4 at 7:30, vs. Richmond George Ranch (at Cypress's Berry Center)
Notes: Temple gained 469 yards, including 309 yards through the air against a Richmond Foster defense that included at least two FBS-caliber players in its secondary. Now standing in Temple's path to the state championship game is Foster's Lamar Consolidated ISD rival George Ranch, their opponent this week in the final of Region III of the 5A Division I bracket. In its final regular season rankings, Dave Campbell's Texas Football rated George Ranch 3rd and Temple 5th in Class 5A. George Ranch's secondary includes senior Jairon McVea, who had three picks in George Ranch's first three playoff games (and who visited UT in early November), senior Mikial Onu, a SMU commit, and junior Adam Beck, who has offers from Baylor, Texas Tech, and a handful of others.
WR Reggie Hemphill-Mapps (Manvel)
Last week: Caught 1 pass for a 41-yard touchdown in a 75-14 win over Houston Strake Jesuit in the regional semifinal round of the 6A Division II playoffs
This week: Friday, December 4 at 7:30, vs. Katy (Houston's NRG Stadium)
Notes: Hemphill-Mapps's TD catch came with 7:26 left in the 2nd quarter and extended what at the time was a 21-7 lead to 28-7. Manvel would score twice more to take a 41-14 lead at halftime. Manvel needed only 40 offensive plays to gain its 569 total yards in the game. For his part, senior running back D'Vaughn Pennamon, an Ole Miss commit, rushed for 223 yards and 3 TDs on just 8 carries. It was the sixth time this season that Manvel scored 70 or more points, and the third time in as many playoff games.
Reaching the 70-point mark in round four will be well nigh impossible, as their opponent in the Region III final of the 6A Division II bracket, Katy, has allowed 38 points all season. Katy's defense has pitched nine shutouts in thirteen games, and they've outscored their first three playoff opponents by a combined score of 202-20. Manvel may be the most loaded team in the state - if not the nation - in terms of sheer talent; with ten seniors committed to FBS level schools already (soon to be joined by senior four-star safety Deontay Anderson), it's a safe bet that over half of their current starters will be suiting up for D1 teams in a year or two.
Katy has its share of D1-level talent, to be sure, but its biggest strength is its championship pedigree and culture of winning. Katy reached the 5A/6A Division II state championship game in each of the past three seasons, they've won five state titles going back to 2000, and they have had double-digit win totals in nearly every season of their current seniors' lifetime. The Katy Tigers have not only reached the playoffs for twenty-five consecutive seasons, they've advanced to at least the second round in every season since 1994. The last time their football program had a losing season, Ronald Reagan was President.
In the final regular season poll for Class 6A, Katy was ranked 2nd behind Allen. In a weekend that will feature several high-caliber regional final matchups, Manvel vs. Katy may be the state's game of the week. Only one team has scored more than eight points against Katy in 2015. In Manvel's two losses they were held to 26 and 24 points by Spring Westfield and Pearland, respectively, but they scored no fewer than 43 points against every other opponent.
If Manvel is to score an upset win over what might be one of Katy's best teams ever, Hemphill-Mapps and the rest of their receiving corps will have to do their damage against an experienced Katy secondary that includes the senior trio of Houston commit Collin Wilder (a four-year letterman, which is no mean feat at a program like Katy's), Northwestern commit Travis Whillock, and JoVanni Stewart (who has reported offers from West Virginia, UTEP, and UTSA, among others). Katy's offensive attack is led by senior running back Kyle Porter, who has a Texas offer.
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 last week 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 to 49-12 Odessa Permian in the bi-district round of the 6A Division I playoffs.
He 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: Team lost to Bossier City Parkway 49-34 in the third round of the LHSSA Class 5A playoffs.
Notes: Destrehan went into the game undefeated and amassed an impressive 682 total yards on offense, but they were undone by seven turnovers. Despite that, they were still very much into the game until late in the 4th quarter.
Parkway led 21-14 at halftime, then extended their lead to 35-14 following two TDs early in the 3rd quarter (one of them aided by a Destrehan fumble). Destrehan then proceeded to reel off 20 unanswered points to cut the deficit to 35-34 in the 4th quarter. Parkway made it a two-possession game with a TD and two-point conversion with 4:33 remaining in the 4th quarter that gave them a 43-34 lead. Destrehan's ensuing drive ended with a pick-six, and made the score 49-34.
The loss was Destrehan's first since their 23-7 defeat to Acadiana in last year's Class 5A state final, and it also snapped a 24-game home winning streak.
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 6 carries for 13 yards and 2 TDs, caught 1 pass for 11 yards, scored on a two-point conversion run, and made 12 tackles in a 36-21 win over Center in the regional semifinal round of the 4A Division II playoffs
This week: Friday, December 4 at 7:30, vs. Atlanta (Longview's Pirate Stadium)
Notes: Boyd scored his first TD on a 3-yard run with 5:17 left in the 3rd quarter. Two minutes later he scored on a two-point conversion run following another Gilmer TD to put Gilmer ahead 29-7. Center reached the end zone twice in the first six minutes of the 4th quarter to cut the deficit to 29-21, and their defense held Gilmer to a three-and-out late in the game to take possession of the ball with a chance to tie the game with a TD and two-point conversion, but GIlmer's defense eventually forced a turnover on downs with 3:28 remaining, and Gilmer's offense then marched 61 yards down the field and scored on a two-yard run by Boyd to make the score 36-21 with 1:06 left in the game.
Gilmer will face Atlanta in the Region II final of the 4A Division II bracket. Atlanta opened the playoffs with a win over Major Tennison's Bullard team, and in my post previewing that matchup I called Atlanta "a team whose talent is probably better than their 6-4 record would indicate." Atlanta has some speedy skill position guys and some physical and athletic players on its front lines, and while they did have two decisive losses in the regular season, their other two losses were both by one point, and one of those was to state-ranked Texarkana Liberty-Eylau. Atlanta has been on its A-game since the playoffs began; after beating Bullard 44-22 in the first round, they proceeded to dispatch Coldspring-Oakhurst and Lorena (both of which had run the table against their district opponents, and who went into their playoff games with Atlanta with winning streaks of six and seven games, respectively) in the next two rounds by a combined score of 83-0.
Having beaten Bullard convincingly and lost to Liberty-Eylau by one point, Atlanta is 1-1 this season against teams of future Longhorns. Demarco Boyd will do his best to make sure Atlanta doesn't end another UT commit's season. Barring an upset, the winner of this game will play Celina (the 3rd ranked team in Class 4A in the AP's final regular season poll) in the state semifinal round next week.
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.
QB Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake)
Last week: Completed 11 of 18 passes for 196 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INT, rushed 11 times for 58 yards and 1 TD, and caught one pass for a 5-yard TD in a 56-7 win over North Mesquite in the regional quarterfinal round of the 6A Division I playoffs
This week: Saturday, December 5 at 3:00, vs. Humble Atascocita (Cypress's Berry Center)
Notes: North Mesquite had not won a playoff game in 15 years before they advanced into the third round to face Westlake, but Ehlinger and company put a decisive end to their dream season. Ehlinger threw for one TD and ran for another in the 1st quarter, as Westlake built an early 21-0 lead. In the 2nd quarter, Ehlinger added his first receiving TD of the season, catching a 5-yard scoring pass from senior wide receiver Reed Klubnik (who has offers from most of the Ivy League). Ehlinger passed for a second TD before the half, and added a third in the 3rd quarter, and Westlake led 49-0 going into the final frame. North Mesquite scored late in the 4th quarter to prevent a shutout.
Westlake's opponent in the Region II final of the 6A Division I bracket is 12-1 Humble Atascocita, whose only loss on the season was a 38-14 defeat at the hands of The Woodlands two months ago. Westlake defeated The Woodlands 28-3 in the area round of the playoffs. Atascocita is led on offense by senior running back Patrick Taylor, a Colorado commit (who did not play in their loss to The Woodlands), and junior quarterback Daveon Boyd, who has thrown for 43 TDs and has six 300-yard passing games on the year. Sam Ehlinger will be throwing against a defense that has recorded twenty interceptions in thirteen games, seven of them by junior cornerback.
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
DE Lagaryonn Carson (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau)
Last week: Team defeated Kaufman 38-22 in the regional semifinal round of the 4A Division I playoffs
This week: Friday, December 4 at 9:00, vs. Argyle (Arlington's AT&T Stadium)
Notes: Liberty-Eylau's senior quarterback Ke'Mon Freeman went into the third round having passed for over 3,000 yards for the season, but a cold, rainy, and windy night in Royse City kept the offenses for L-E and Kaufman firmly on the ground. The teams combined to complete just one pass, but rushed for 565 yards, with Freeman accounting for 213 yards and 4 TDs by himself. I haven't seen defensive stats reported for Carson but the Dallas Morning News's account said he was his usual menacing self on the defensive line.
Against Kaufman, L-E took a 20-0 lead midway through the 2nd quarter, then Freeman scored his third touchdown with 16 seconds left in the half to put L-E up 26-8. The teams each scored twice in both the 3rd and 4th quarters, but Kaufman never cut the deficit to less than 18 until a 73-yard TD run by senior Dru Prox plus a successful two-point converstion with 2:08 left in regulation, which ended up being the final points of the game.
(Dru Prox, by the way, is a legit athlete. He measured just under 6'1" and 188 pounds and ran a 4.54 forty in March at the Dallas Nike Combine, then a month later he won the 400 meters at his district track meet with an excellent time of 49.37. You can probably count on one hand with fingers left over the number of linebackers in the state who can run a sub-50 second quarter-mile. Prox mostly played defensive end as a junior and resembled a poor man's Eric Striker with his speed and pash-rushing ability, then as a senior he took over the starting running back role and had a great season. This week he was named the MVP of district 8-4A Division I. If he can get to 215-220 pounds while maintaining his speed, he could make a very good linebacker for a college somewhere.)
To reach the fifth round of the playoffs L-E will have to get past Argyle, a team that has advanced to the 3A/4A Division I state championship game in each of the past two years, and which won a state title in 2013. Argyle was ranked fifth in the AP's final regular season Class 4A poll, and last week they beat previously undefeated and fourth-ranked Kennedale 56-34. Before last week, no team had held Kennedale under 43 points in 2015, and aside from an eight-point win over Kaufman, they outscored all of their opponents by 21 or more points. Argyle hasn't blown out everyone they've played but they're battle-tested from having played several schools that have been tough in recent years, and their only loss for the season was a ten-point defeat to third-ranked Celina in September. Notably, three of Argyle's last four games have been victories over schools that finished with ten or more wins.
Argyle defeated Liberty-Eylau 45-42 in the same round of last year's playoffs, and like this year, they had beaten Kennedale the week before. Whoever wins the re-match won't have to go through top-ranked Navasota to win the state title, as they were beaten last week by Carthage in the region III semis.
Mekhi Hyman's journey from Canada to Texas six-man football
In northern Somervell County about 5 miles from Glen Rose is a school that's home to perhaps the state's least well-known 3,000-yard rusher. There are caveats galore in this particular situation, but the player's background is as unusual as his statistics are eye-popping.
Mekhi Hyman is a senior at North Central Texas Academy, a private Christian boarding school located between Granbury and Glen Rose. Prior to this fall, he attended Chaminade College School, an all-boys Catholic school in Toronto, Ontario.
Hyman, a running back who stands 6 feet and 215 pounds, played football for the Metro Toronto Wildcats club team for a few years and dreamed of playing college football in the U.S., and came to Texas in hopes of improving his chances of reaching that level.
The differences in academic systems often make it difficult for Canadian high schoolers to qualify immediately for Terry Ayeni (who Texas offered in late 2013), and Georgia State defensive tackle Julien Laurent, to name three examples. Student-athletes that transition easiest tend to be the ones who attend an American high school for at least their senior year, such as Andrew Wiggins, or any of the Canadian Longhorn basketball players in the past few years (Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson, Myck Kabongo).collegiate athletics after graduation, and many end up having to spend a year or two at the junior college level before being able to enroll at a four-year American school, as was the case with Longhorn tight end Blake Whitely, Iowa State defensive end
Along with being a boarding school for local students, North Central Texas Academy has also had a number of international students. In looking for schools in the U.S. that might be a good fit, Hyman and his mother learned of NCTA and made some inquiries about it. According to Kirby Rasco, NCTA's Athletic Director and Head Boys Coach, Hyman's mother "loved the setting we're in and the Christian values, and thought our academics are what he needs."
Along with moving to a different country and school far from home, he also found he had to elude half as many defenders on the football field as before. In Canadian football, the field is ten yards wider and longer and has wider end zones than an American football field, and each team has twelve men on the field at a time. NCTA, by contrast, plays six-man football at the TAPPS Division III level, in other words, pretty much the lowest competition level for football in the state. Six-man football, by definition, is played with six men on the field for each team, the field is 80 yards long, each quarter runs for ten minutes, and the games are ended by a mercy rule if one team is ahead by 45 points at halftime or goes ahead by 45 or more points at any time in the second half.
To recap, Mekhi Hyman's football experience up to now has been mostly spent with teams that played wildly diverging styles that have significant differences with NCAA-rules eleven-man football. Canadian club football and six-man private school football are essentially a world away from competetive 5A or 6A Texas high school football, let alone Division I college football, and feel free to adjust your expectations accordingly, but the kid can play.
Try to imagine Jerome Bettis running over and around a handful of cardboard cutouts on a basketball court, and that's about what Hyman looks like with the ball in his hands on a six-man football field and only a 150-pound linebacker or two between him and the end zone. This season he averaged over 300 rushing yards per game, scored 73 touchdowns, and had one game in which he wasn't tackled a single time and reached the end zone on each and every carry. In a playoff win over Wichita Falls Christian two weeks ago, he produced 417 yards and 8 touchdowns on only 11 carries. In a 68-45 loss to Wichita Falls Notre Dame that ended their season last week, Hyman ran for 286 yards and 6 TDs on 13 carries, and all of his scoring runs covered at least 28 yards.
Wichita Christian coach Joshua Johnson called Hyman, "the most complete running back that I have seen at the six-man level in my 10 years of coaching." Coach Rasco says Hyman is "by far the best football player I've ever coached", and calls him "a special dude". The Granbury-based Hood County News has called him, "the best player ever to put on a uniform for the North Central Texas Academy (formerly Happy Hill) Pioneers." To be sure, this isn't praise on the level of being labeled the best quarterback to play for Southlake Carroll, or the best kicker produced by Arlington Martin, but needing only one season to be called the best football player to ever take the field for a school that has existed since the Gerald Ford administration is certainly worth something.
Rasco believes Hyman has the talent to play football in college and puts him on the same athletic level as Stefan Rosic, a former basketball star at NCTA who earned a scholarship to Division I program Utah State in 2014 (in the end, he was forced to go to Juco Arizona Western instead when Utah State unexpectedly came up one scholarship short of being able to add him).
Despite playing against such a low level of six-man competition and having a highlight reel that is consequently not easy to evaluate (see below), Hyman and his gaudy stats have attracted the notice of a few college programs, though he has yet to receive his first offer. Coach Rasco tells me Arizona, Nevada, and Rutgers have all shown at least some interest at one time, as have a number of Division II programs, such as Angelo State.
One more data point worth mentioning is the fact that Hyman started school at a young age, and though he's classified as a high school senior he actually won't turn 17 until later this month, meaning he is younger than a lot of juniors and even a few sophomores. He already appears to be pretty well built (his frame appears similar to - though not nearly as strong as - that of fellow Canadian running back Jonathan Femi-Cole, who is currently a freshman at Minnesota) and has "outstanding vision" and 4.6 forty speed, according to Coach Rasco. Considering that he's the age of a high school junior, he likely has a good bit of physical upside and development in his future. This week I sent his film to a coach I know who has worked with a lot of talented athletes and doesn't hand out praise lightly. His immediate impression of Hyman (and this was without knowing he was still 16-years-old): "He's interesting. Not a bad player at all. A lot of upside."
It remains to be seen if he'll get the chance to prove himself against legitimate competition in an 11-man setting, but this writer hopes he gets to put on a helmet and pads for a college team at some level a year from now. Below, you can watch Hyman's 2014 highlights for the Metro Toronto Wildcats (remember, he was 15 at the time, and probably playing above 230 pounds), and his 2015 six-man highlights for North Central Texas Academy (which show him at a considerably slimmed-down 215 or so pounds).