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Texas Longhorns commits: Playoff Round One Preview

Three future Longhorns will begin what will hopefully be long postseason runs tonight

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2017 wide receiver commit Damion Miller of Tyler John Tyler
Justin Wells/Inside Texas

It’s playoff time for Texas high school football, and out of the seven current commits, five will see their teams playing in round one this week, though only three will actually be playing.

Last season, multiple Longhorn commits were still playing as the playoffs went into the third, fourth, and fifth round or further. With so few total commits at this time, and so few of them playing in the postseason, the likelihood that any of their teams will make a serious run for a state championship is much smaller than a year ago. In this post I’ll preview tonight’s playoff opponents for each commit, and give a bit of analysis on what teams lie in their path to state.

Afterwards, I’ll profile a south Texas receiver in the Unheralded 2017 Athlete of the Week feature, then pay tribute to the best team my high school ever produced, a team that was beginning a postseason run to the state championship game at about this time 50 years ago.

2017 commits

QB Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake)

Last week: Did not play in a 54-0 win over Cedar Park Vista Ridge

This week: Friday, November 11 at 7:30, vs. San Antonio Reagan (at San Antonio’s Heroes Stadium) in the bi-district round of the 6A Division I playoffs

Notes: Ehlinger is injured and will not be playing this week. Westlake is in Region IV of the Class 6A Division I playoff bracket, and in the bi-district (read: first) round they will take on a 9-1 San Antonio Reagan team that won the championship of District 26-6A. If they win they will face the winner of Converse Judson-San Antonio O’Connor, two teams with three losses between them.

After their lopsided Week Seven loss to Lake Travis - in which Ehlinger suffered a thumb injury and was lost for the rest of the season - Westlake closed the regular season by beating their last three opponents by a combined 140-6. In the regular season finale versus Vista Ridge last week, the two sophomores who’ve taken over QB duties from the injured Ehlinger combined to complete 12 of 16 passes for 318 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.

WR Damion Miller (Tyler John Tyler)

Last week: Caught 3 passes for 40 yards while playing only one half in a 49-28 win over Tyler Lee

This week: Friday, November 11 at 7:30, vs. Lufkin (at Tyler’s Rose Stadium) in the bi-district round of the 6A Division II playoffs

Notes: John Tyler had a harder-than-expected time putting away cross-town rival Tyler Lee in their regular season finale last week. Lee came into the game on a seven-game losing streak and had been eliminated from playoff contention, but they scored the game’s first points with a TD late in the 1st quarter, matched John Tyler score for score in the first half, and the teams were tied 21-21 at the half. John Tyler took its first lead of the game just over a minute and a half into the 3rd quarter, and after Lee tied the score at 28 on a TD with 5:00 left in the quarter, John Tyler scored the game’s last 21 points to regain the lead and pull away in the 4th quarter.

The ETSN recap of the game said that Damion Miller sat out the first half due to a “coach’s decision”, and though he didn’t score a TD in his limited snaps, he had a 24-yard reception very early in the 4th quarter that got John Tyler one yard away from the end zone and set up a TD run one play later. That Miller catch came one play after UTSA commit Javontavius Mosley intercepted a Lee pass on the first snap of the 4th quarter, with John Tyler holding a 35-28 lead at the time. After the TD run following Miller’s long reception, Tyler led 42-28 and wasn’t seriously threatened on defense again.

John Tyler is in Region II of the 6A Division II playoff bracket and will play Lufkin in the first round this week. Lufkin was the 3rd place team from District 12-6A. Region II is not a very deep one this year, but Tyler could potentially face undefeated Round Rock Cedar Ridge (the 8th-ranked Class 6A team in the AP’s final poll) in round three.

DE LaGaryonn Carson (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau)

Last week: Did not play in a 60-22 win over Quinlan Ford

This week: Friday, November 11 at 7:30, vs. Kaufman (at Longview’s Lobo Stadium) in the bi-district round of the 4A Division I playoffs.

Notes: Carson has been suspended from the team since September and almost certainly won’t be suiting up for Liberty-Eylau again. Though a look at his Twitter account shows he’s all Texas Longhorns and was watching last week’s win over Texas Tech very closely. He’d be a great addition to the 2017 class, but most prognosticators who have followed him and his situation closely think the reigning Class 4A Defensive Player of the Year is unlikely to make it to Austin.

Liberty-Eylau was 1-5 at this time a month ago, but they finished the regular season with four straight wins, beating those opponents by an average of 28 points. L-E faces 7-3 Kaufman in the first round of the playoffs. Kaufman had a six-game winning streak snapped in their final regular season game two weeks ago: a 33-14 loss to a Van team that was undefeated and state-ranked before a 19-14 loss to Terrell last week in its own regular season finale. L-E beat Kaufman in the third round of last year’s playoffs, and also lost to them in the first round of the 2013 playoffs, so these two teams have some postseason history.

DE Taquon Graham (Temple)

Last week: Was credited with four tackles (including one for loss) in a 37-34 win over Bryan

This week: Friday, November 11 at 7:30, vs. Corsicana (at Waco’s McLane Stadium) in the bi-district round of the 5A Division I playoffs.

Notes: Temple sewed up the runner-up spot in District 18-5A with their narrow win last week over Bryan, and thus received the district’s top seed in the 5A Division I bracket (district champion College Station is in the Division II bracket). For their first round matchup, the Wildcats get Corsicana, the runner-up of District 17-5A. Corsicana is 6-4 overall, with their wins all being close ones and their losses mostly being blowouts. Their six wins were by a combined margin of 27 points, while their four losses were by an average margin of over 28 points. So, Corsicana has been blown away by nearly every quality team on their schedule.

If Temple advances they will next play the winner of Pflugerville Connally and Magnolia West. The Region III group in the 5A Division I bracket isn’t overloaded with power teams, but to win the region Temple - supposing they win their next three games - will likely have to beat 2nd-ranked Cedar Park or 3rd-ranked Manvel in the regional championship in three weeks.

CB Kobe Boyce (Lake Dallas)

Last week: Caught one pass for 24 yards, made 8 tackles (including one for loss) and intercepted a pass in a 28-24 win over Prosper

This week: No game, team did not advance to the playoffs

Notes: Boyce made plays all over the field in his final high school game. Lake Dallas, having already been eliminated from playoff contention after their Week Ten loss to Little Elm, pulled off an unlikely upset of district champion Prosper in their season finale. It didn’t look good early on, as Prosper scored on a 65-yard pass on the game’s first offensive play, while Lake Dallas’s first half possessions ended thus: interception, interception, touchdown pass, interception, interception (resulting in a pick-six), punt, and interception. Prosper failed to take full advantage of Lake Dallas’s frequent attempts to give the game away, as they punted twice, turned the ball over on downs twice, and missed a field goal before halftime, and led only 21-7 at the mid-way point, though it could easily have been much worse.

After receiving the 3rd quarter kickoff and starting a drive on Prosper’s side of the field, Lake Dallas ran eight plays and... killed another drive with an interception. But Kobe Boyce returned the favor and picked off a Prosper pass intended for a receiver inside the Lake Dallas 10-yard line five plays later, and Lake Dallas scored on their ensuing possession to pull within 21-14. After recovering a Prosper fumble late in the 3rd quarter, they tied the score on a short TD run.

Prosper responded with a 13-play drive that ate about six minutes of clock time and resulted in a field goal that gave them a 24-21 lead with 6:42 left in regulation. Lake Dallas took back the lead with a 19-yard TD run two minutes later, making the score 28-24. Prosper used almost all of the remaining clock time on a 10-play drive that took them from their own 30-yard line to the Lake Dallas 1-yard line, but Lake Dallas’s defense kept them out of the end zone on a 4th-and-goal run, and Lake Dallas needed to run just one play to end the game. You can watch Boyce’s highlights from the game below, and you might find yourself asking, “Can he just enroll at Texas today and suit up on Saturday?”

The upset win didn’t get Lake Dallas into the postseason but it evened their season record at 5-5 and prevented them from finishing with less than five wins for the first time since 2002. Lake Dallas has now missed the playoffs just three times since the 1999 season.

CB Josh Thompson (Nacogdoches)

Last week: Team lost to Jacksonville 46-45

This week: No game, team did not advance to the playoffs

Notes: Nacogdoches needed to beat Jacksonvile by seven points to ensure a spot in the playoffs, and they led by that amount following a 47-yard field goal made with 1:29 left in regulation. But Jacksonville, trailing 45-38, responded with a dramatic drive that culminated in a 30-yard TD pass with just four seconds left, and they converted on a two-point attempt to take the lead and win the game.

Because Whitehouse beat Lindale, Jacksonville only had to avoid losing by seven points or more to make the playoffs. Had Lindale beaten Whitehouse, the Jacksonville-Nacogdoches game would have become a win-or-go-home match.

The two teams combined for 1,082 offensive yards, but also committed seven turnovers. Nacogdoches’s miscues were particularly costly, as they had an interception returned for a TD less than four minutes into the 2nd quarter, which turned a 17-13 deficit into a 24-13 hole. Nac also lost two fumbles in the game, both while in the red zone.

Now that Josh Thompson’s season is over, he may start to pick up more offers from schools looking to sway him from his Texas pledge. UCLA and Penn State have both offered him within the last few weeks. You can watch his full senior year highlights below.

S Montrell Estell (Hooks)

Last week: Idle

This week: Friday, November 11 at 7:30, vs. Lone Oak (at Mineola’s Meredith Memorial Stadium) in the bi-district round of the 3A Division II playoffs.

Notes: Hooks had their bye week during the final week of the regular season, so they got to sit back and watch how the rest of their district finished before they learned their eventual playoff opponent.

They will open their postseason versus 5-5 Lone Oak on Friday. The Region II group from Class 3A Division II has only one team that finished the regular season with more than eight wins: 10-0 Gunter, who Hooks will likely face next if they win this week. Of the ten teams in the AP’s final poll for Class 3A, five of them are in 3A Division II, but since none are in Region II the soonest Hooks would run into any of them would be in the state semifinal round in four weeks. Both Montrell Estell and his brother Malik have shown the ability to take over games, but Hooks’s results seem so inconsistent from week to week that they could go five rounds into the playoffs or lose in round one and neither result would really surprise me.

As I wrote at some length in last week’s post, because of some odd results in district play, Hooks was guaranteed to finish 2nd in District 7-3A DII, regardless of the Week Eleven outcomes, while district foe Ore City (who had upset Hooks earlier in the season) was in the strange position of potentially winning the district with a Week Eleven victory over Daingerfield, or losing and finishing in a tie for third or fourth place and missing out on a playoff spot due to tiebreakers. Daingerfield beat Ore City 48-28 to win the district, and Ore City lost a tiebreaker for the 4th and final playoff spot. The district was spared from having four teams tied for third place when Omaha Paul Pewitt beat New Diana by a Six-Man score of 89-61.

Unheralded 2017 Athlete of the Week: Brandon Perez (La Feria)

We’ve covered a decent amount of ground geographically with this feature, as previous players mentioned have come from greater Dallas, south of Austin, central Texas, east Texas, and north central Texas, and this week we head down to far south Texas, where Brandon Perez is one of the region’s top offensive weapons.

Perez is a senior wide receiver at La Feria, a Class 4A Division I school located in a town about 8 miles west of Harlingen and roughly the same distance north of the Rio Grande River.

As a junior he had 32 receptions for 585 yards and 12 touchdowns, as his team won its district and reached the second round of the playoffs, finishing with a 9-3 overall record. He was named District 16-4A DI’s offensive MVP after that season, and this August he was one of three receivers named to the preseason 1st Team All-Valley Offense by 956Sports.com, an outlet that covers sports in the Rio Grande Valley.

As a senior he has lived up to that billing and helped lead his team to a runner-up finish in its district, and in nine games played he caught 36 passes for 620 yards and 12 TDs, carried the ball 21 times for 173 yards (8.2 yards/carry) and 3 TDs, and added another score on a kickoff return. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that a guy is a playmaker if he reaches the end zone on roughly 13 of his catches over a two-year period.

Online rosters list Perez at 5’11” and 185 pounds. According to results from last winter’s power lifting season, he weighed 165 as recently as 10 months ago, but in his senior non-district highlights he looks like he’s added some weight to that figure. Playing for a 4A school in south Texas means he doesn’t face a high level of competition from week to week, so it’s not easy to evaluate his skills and what level they might translate to in college, but a south Texas source tells me “he runs good routes and has nice hands”, and describes him as a player defenses have to game plan to stop. And he’s fast.

He may not have 4.38 forty-yard dash speed, as some profiles have suggested, but he’s plenty fast, and often looks like he’s just on another level with his speed and quickness, compared with the defenders attempting to contain him. Last spring during track season, he ran a leg on each of La Feria’s relay teams, all three of which placed first at the 32-4A District meet, and their 4x400 relay team (which Perez ran the 2nd leg on) reached the state meet for Class 4A and finished 6th.

None of the major recruiting sites have a profile for him. I have found no stories that report him having received interest from college coaches, and from what I can tell the only college coach following him on Twitter is from a NCAA Division II school in Oklahoma. I’m sure he’d play and have success at that level but I think he could be a good slot receiver and special teams player at a higher level as well.

Tonight in Rockport, his La Feria team will play a bi-district playoff game against Rockport-Fulton, and if his team can come away with a victory he’ll have a chance to show his skills in the area round against defending 4A Division I state champion Waco La Vega (assuming they beat 4-6 Fredericksburg on Thursday). Below you can watch highlights from some of Perez’s games from early this season.

Ode to the 1966 Granbury Pirates

Fifty years ago this month, the football team from my alma mater, Granbury High School, began what would be the best playoff run in the school’s history. After dominating its regular season with little challenge, the Granbury Pirates advanced through four rounds of the Class 2A playoffs to reach the state championship game, where they faced a deep and athletic Sweeny team. That season happened 16 years before I was born, but I heard a number of first- and second-hand stories about that year and the state championship game when I was a kid, and they have fascinated me for a long time. (If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll forgive the indulgence that is the next 1,600 words, as I very seldom have occasion to write about my old school in these posts.)

The 1966 Class 2A state championship game between Granbury and Sweeny wasn’t terribly remarkable as far as state championship games go. The game didn’t end in dramatic fashion, didn’t feature any players whose names are immediately recognizable today to a football layman, and neither team is ever mentioned among the best in the state’s history, or really even from their own era. But when looking at the background of the two schools and the path that led them to that year’s title game, it sort of resembles a game of Hoosiers vs. Remember the Titans.

Granbury (which is about 30 miles southwest of Fort Worth) today has one of the larger schools in Class 5A, but in 1966 it was a much smaller town, as Lake Granbury and all of the neighborhoods surrounding it didn’t exist yet and wouldn’t for a few more years. Granbury High School at that time was one of the two or three smallest schools in Class 2A (the highest classification then was 4A), and its football numbers were thin enough that nine or ten players routinely started on both sides of the ball. Their offseason conditioning program more-or-less amounted to players working on local farms hauling bales of hay during the summer.

Fortunately, the Granbury Pirate rosters in the mid-60s featured some of the best players ever to suit up for the school. They won their district in 1965 but lost in the first round of the playoffs. In that era only one team from each district went to the playoffs. With many of the top players from that squad returning in 1966, they ran roughshod over most of their regular season opponents, going a perfect 10-0 before winning their first four playoff games.

Their offense featured a dominant rushing attack led by all-state senior tailback James Hodges (who led the state in rushing touchdowns that year), all-state senior quarterback Jimmy Tidwell, and junior wingback George Rains, who would lead the state in rushing touchdowns the following year and, pound-for-pound, might have been the best player in the program’s history.

That trio ran behind an offensive line that contemporary reports described as huge; at least two of the line’s starters weighed less than 200 pounds, but all of them were very strong. Offensive line starters had to be able to bench press 300 pounds, as Jarrell Bolton (a junior end on the team who went on to play four years at Texas, earning letters in 1970-71) told the Hood County News in a retrospective on the team many years later. The biggest and strongest of the bunch was all-state tackle Harold Ames, who, at 6’3” and 228 pounds, was gigantic for a high school lineman of that time, especially for Class 2A. The Texas Longhorns football roster from 1966 listed only two players with weights north of 228.

Granbury’s lack of overall depth wasn’t an issue early on, as they beat most of their opponents by sufficiently lopsided scores that they could send in their reserves in the later parts of games. But by the time the Pirates reached the state final, a number of their top players were hobbled and trying to play through injury, and Sweeny’s depth would end up punishing them.

Like most school districts in the state that had not already done so by that time, Sweeny (which is about 60 miles south of Houston in Brazoria County) began the process of desegregating its schools in the 1965-66 school year. Among the newly-enrolled African-American students at Sweeny High School in the 1966-67 school year were a number of football players who had helped local George Washington Carver School win the Prairie View Interscholastic League’s Class A state championship in 1965. That infusion of talent combined with an already salty bunch of returning players and helped Sweeny go from a 4-4-2 record in 1965, to a state championship berth in 1966.

The most notable of the newcomers from Carver was Elmo Wright, who went on to earn All-America honors as a wide receiver at Houston, played five seasons in the NFL, and is widely credited with inventing the touchdown dance. (Over three decades after the end of Wright’s college career, his nephew Rodrique Wright was an All-American defensive tackle for the Texas Longhorns.) While at Sweeny, Wright caught passes from quarterback Jim Lindsey, who went on to blow away existing passing records at Abilene Christian (he is still ACU’s third all-time leader in career passing yards), then played five years in the CFL. In addition to Wright and Lindsey, the team featured three other players who earned all-state honors.

The 2A state championship in 1966 was played in Austin in what - according to accounts I’ve read over the years - were unusually humid conditions for late December. Both teams scored once in the first half, but Granbury blocked Sweeny’s PAT attempt following their touchdown, and thus led 7-6 at halftime. Though they were up by a point going into the 3rd quarter, the players were exhausted, and several of them were far from 100% and playing through injuries that would have surely kept them out of a less-important game. Two were playing with broken or cracked ribs.

Virtually every account I’ve heard/read from people who were there said that Sweeny came out in the 3rd quarter with a fresh unit of players wearing clean jerseys, and they were able to sub players in and out without a noticeable drop-off. In that second half they overwhelmed Granbury to win the game 29-7.

That Granbury team had five players that earned All-State honors during their high school career, and some who earned football scholarships to Texas, TCU, Texas Tech, and UT-Arlington, among other schools. None of those Pirates ended up making a big impact at the college football level, but they went on to long careers as car dealership owners, bank presidents, police chiefs, small town mayors, welders, and turfgrass company operators, among other professions.

Though their names don’t live on as more than footnotes college football history, they live on locally through the memories of longtime residents who saw them play 50 years ago, and through postseason awards given out to modern day Pirate gridders. A dozen or so awards are handed out at Granbury football banquets following the end of each season, each named after a former Pirate star (e.g. the Jerrell Bolton Defensive MVP award), and at least seven of those awards are named after players who were on that 1966 team.

After the 1966 season, Granbury graduated three All-State players, but they still returned some very talented athletes in 1967 (most notably Rains and Bolton) and had high hopes for a return to state. They again won their district, then beat Brady 31-8 in the first round of the playoffs, but their postseason run died heartbreakingly in the next round. Their defense held their opponent, Crane, to 84 total yards, but their offense couldn’t crack the end zone, and when the game ended in a 0-0 tie, it was Crane that advanced by virtue of its 2-0 advantage on penetrations (there was no overtime period at the time, and ties in the playoffs were decided by the number of penetrations teams had inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, then by first downs or total yardage if the penetrations were equal). Crane lost 21-13 in the next round to Phillips, who in turn lost 15-13 in the state semifinal round to Plano, who won the Class 2A state title with a 27-8 win over San Antonio Randolph. I don’t doubt that the players and coaches on that 1967 team read those scores and fully believed it could have been them playing for a state championship had they managed to put any points on the board against Crane.

As it turned out, that was effectively the end of Granbury’s very brief run as a football powerhouse. They have not won a football playoff game since that 1967 bi-district victory over Brady. They won their district for a fourth straight year in 1968 but were eliminated in the first round. In 1970, they went 8-1 and finished in a three-way tie for first place in their district, but lost on a coin flip to determine the district winner and were shut out of the postseason. A year later the team finished 1-9 and scored just 76 points all the season.

In 1977, another talented group of Pirates featuring multiple all-state players had hopes of making a long run into the playoffs, but that team lost in the first round in a hard-fought 16-14 contest to Wylie, who would go on to win that year’s Class 2A state title. It would be 32 years before Granbury reached the playoffs again (2009), and for most of my lifetime the Pirates have been somewhere between mediocre and cover-your-eyes bad. Over the past 35 seasons they have finished with one win or fewer eleven times, and with six wins or more in a season just four times in that same span.

As the playoffs begin this week, Granbury is, as usual, staying home, as they finished with just two wins, and their record over the past three seasons is now 4-26.. One day the Pirates may have another group of generational talents that lead them to a deep playoff run and give the town hope of winning a state championship, but not for nearly 40 years has that seemed like a realistic possibility.

Granbury is far from the only school in the state to know what it’s like to ascend the heights of the state football mountain and either reach the summit or come just short of it, multiple times in a short span, then see its beloved team fall into football irrelevance in less than a generation. Next week, I’ll write about some other schools that have experienced that.