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Texas Longhorns commits: Playoff Round Two Preview

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The 3 Texas commits in the playoffs will try to extend their high school careers for at least one more week.

2017 commit Josh Thompson (Nacogdoches) watching fellow commit Damion Miller at Tyler John Tyler’s bi-district playoff game last week.
Justin Wells (Inside Texas)

Three Texas Longhorn commits suited up and played last weekend in the first round of the Texas high school football playoffs. All three won their first game and will play at least one more game in their senior season. The games will only get tougher from here, though.

Here I’ll have the round two schedule for all three of them, and give a breakdown of their round one results from last week. Then I’ll re-visit some “Unheralded” senior recruits mentioned in previous posts and let you know where five of them will be playing this week. And we’ll finish off with a look at several formerly great high school programs that either won state titles or came close to doing so years ago, but fell on hard times and became largely irrelevant for several years afterward.

2017 commits

QB Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake)

Last week: Did not play in a 48-3 win over San Antonio Reagan in the bi-district round of the 6A Division I playoffs

This week: Friday, November 18 at 7:30, vs. Converse Judson (at Austin’s Chaparral Stadium) in the area round of the 6A Division I playoffs

Notes: Ehlinger has not played since suffering a thumb injury early in Westlake’s October 7 loss to Lake Travis, and he is not expected to play again this season except perhaps if Westlake reaches the state championship round. Westlake isn’t nearly as good without a healthy Ehlinger in the lineup, but they haven’t exactly suffered in his absence; since their loss to Lake Travis (which entered the playoffs as Class 6A’s 3rd-ranked team), Westlake has beaten its four subsequent opponents by a combined score of 188-9.

In last week’s round one laugher over San Antonio Reagan, Westlake’s quarterbacks (primarily two sophomores) combined to complete 16 of 23 passes for 254 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions, and Westlake’s defense allowed just three points to a team that had averaged just under 32 points during the regular season.

Tonight’s area round game will present a much tougher matchup in San Antonio-area power Converse Judson. The only team to beat Lake Travis this season? That would be Judson, who surprised them (and the rest of the state) with a 35-28 win in Week One. Judson was state-ranked in the early weeks of the season, but suffered losses to Cibolo Steele (Class 6A’s 5th-ranked team) in Week Five and Smithson Valley in Week Ten, and finished the regular season 8-2 overall. Last week, Judson’s defense intercepted three passes in a 36-24 win over San Antonio O’Connor, whose only previous loss of the season was to Cibolo Steele. Westlake gets to host the game, so at least they’ll get to play in front of their fans at home one more time.

Friday morning update: Austin American-Statesman high school sports reporter Thomas Jones tweeted early this morning that a “reliable source” had indicated Ehlinger will attempt to play in tonight’s playoff game. We’ll see tonight if that turns out to be accurate, but it would make the playoffs (and these posts) a lot more interesting if true.

WR Damion Miller (Tyler John Tyler)

Last week: Caught 8 passes for 159 yards and one TD, made 8 tackles, and returned four kickoffs for 89 yards in a 50-49 win over Lufkin in the bi-district round of the 6A Division II playoffs.

This week: Saturday, November 19 at 2:00, vs. Dallas Jesuit (at Mesquite Memorial Stadium) in the area round of the 6A Division II playoffs.

Notes: Miller’s TD came on a 86-yard reception with 6:50 left in the 1st quarter, less than a minute after Lufkin had opened the scoring to take a 7-0 lead. John Tyler twice failed to convert on two-point attempts in the first half, but appeared set to go into halftime leading 22-14 after scoring a TD with 0:55 left in the 2nd quarter, but Lufkin returned the ensuing kickoff for a TD to pull within 22-21.

The teams each scored 28 points in the second half, and a game that featured 99 points and 1,146 total yards eventually came down to a late two-point conversion attempt by Lufkin that was intercepted in the end zone by Tyler senior Javontavius Mosley, a UTSA commit.

Tyler led 43-28 going into the 4th quarter, but Lufkin scored twice in the first half of the quarter to tie the game at 43 with 6:22 left in regulation. Tyler regained the lead on a 37-yard TD pass from Houston commit Bryson Smith with 4:32 left, and went ahead 50-43. Lufkin answered with a drive that culminated in a 13-yard TD run by QB Kordell Rodgers (a Texas State commit) with 1:21 on the clock. They went for two and the lead but Rodgers’s pass attempt was intercepted. Tyler recovered the onside kick and managed to run out the rest of the clock, crucially converting on a 4th-and-three from the Lufkin 40-yard line to ice the game.

Tyler’s senior QB Bryson Smith had a hand in 619 of his team’s 674 total yards, and he became the all-time leading rusher at a school that produced Earl Campbell and Kordell Hunter, among other talented ball-carriers.

Their second round opponent is the champion of District 9-6A, Dallas Jesuit. Jesuit began its season with three nondistrict losses to DeSoto, Plano East, and Lake Travis, a trio that went a combined 25-5 during the regular season, but they rebounded to run the table on their district foes. Jesuit doesn’t appear to have any seniors who are FBS recruits, but they spread their offensive production around, with two players having over 900 rushing yards and three receivers having 500 or more yards. Senior RB/WR John Wunderlick was merely the team’s fourth-leading receiver as a junior, but has emerged as arguably their top offensive threat as a senior, rushing for 973 yards and 12 TDs (both second on the team) and catching a team-high 47 passes for 586 yards and 2 TDs.

The John Tyler-Jesuit game will be in Mesquite this Saturday, and will take place at roughly the same time Texas is playing Kansas. The winner of the game will move on to face the winner of an area round game between unbeaten Round Rock Cedar Ridge (Class 6A’s 9th-ranked team) and 10-1 Klein Collins (the champion of District 15-6A).

DE LaGaryonn Carson (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau)

Last week: Did not play in a 20-14 loss to Kaufman in the bi-district round of the 4A Division I playoffs.

Notes: Carson was suspended from his team in late September and as far as I know did not play in another game. Recruiting reporters I’ve read the most (particularly those at Inside Texas) aren’t at all confident that Carson will make it to Austin, at least not next summer after his senior year ends. Hopefully things turn around for him in the next few months. His Twitter page is still all-Texas, though.

DE Taquon Graham (Temple)

Last week: Was credited with five total tackles and four sacks in a 34-10 win over Corsicana in the bi-district round of the 5A Division I playoffs.

This week: Friday, November 18 at 7:30, vs. Pflugerville Connally (at Pflugerville’s Cougar Stadium) in the area round of the 5A Division I playoffs.

Notes: Temple’s defense limited Corsicana to 198 total yards and recorded nine sacks. Temple led 20-3 going into the 4th quarter and Corsicana cut the lead to 20-10 in the first minute of the last frame, but Temple put the game out of reach with two unanswered TDs later in the quarter. The game could have been more lopsided than it was, as Corsicana twice intercepted Temple passes inside the ten-yard line.

Temple improved its season record to 8-3. Its three losses came against teams that finished the regular season a combined 28-2, including two district champions from Class 6A (Waco Midway and Round Rock Cedar Ridge). Their opponent this week in the area round, Pflugerville Connally, won its first round game 34-33 last week over Magnolia West on what was described as “a 46-yard Hail Mary pass” pass to junior linebacker Kamerone Stewart (who had not caught a pass all season) with just three seconds left in regulation.

Connally won its first seven games of the regular season before dropping two of its last three, including a 49-0 drubbing four weeks ago at the hands of Class 5A’s 2nd-ranked team, Cedar Park. Connally’s offense hasn’t been especially prolific; they’ve averaged 335 total yards, and outside of the loss to Cedar Park they outscored their other ten opponents by 14 points per game. Their offense revolves around senior quarterback Robert Patterson, who has accounted for over 2,800 offensive yards and 38 total TDs (24 passing/14 rushing) this season while tossing just six interceptions.

The winner of Temple-Connally will face the winner of Saturday afternoon’s game between Port Arthur Memorial and Fort Bend Elkins.

CB Kobe Boyce (Lake Dallas)

Last week: Did not play, his team did not qualify for the playoffs

CB Josh Thompson (Nacogdoches)

Last week: Did not play, his team did not qualify of the playoffs.

Notes: Though Thompson’s senior season is over, he took the time last Friday to travel to Tyler and watch future teammate Damion Miller’s Tyler John Tyler team in its aforementioned playoff win over Lufkin last week.

As has become a theme of these recent posts, Thompson continues to garner offers in the wake of UT’s struggles on the field and weeks of rumors regarding the job security of head coach Charlie Strong. Thompson went months without receiving any new offers after he committed to Texas over the summer, but a handful of schools have thrown their had into the ring over the past few weeks, with Arizona State offering him last week and Ole Miss on Tuesday.

S Montrell Estell (Hooks)

Last week: Team defeated Lone Oak 41-26 in the bi-district round of the 3A Division II playoffs.

This week: Friday, November 18 at 7:30, vs. Gunter (at Royce City ISD Stadium) in the area round of the 3A Division II playoffs.

Notes: I don’t have any info to share on Estell’s performance in Hooks’s round one win last week. He wasn’t mentioned in any game recap I read and his Hudl page hasn’t added any highlights from the game. This season marks the first time that Hooks has reached the playoffs in three consecutive seasons since 1996-1999, and with last week’s win they moved beyond the first round for the first time since 2006.

To extend their season to the third round, Hooks will have to become the first team to beat Gunter this season. Gunter is 11-0 on the year and TexasFootball.com ranked them 3rd in Class 3A Division II in its final regular season rankings. Gunter had some relatively close finishes in its four non-district games to start the season, then rolled through its six district opponents by an average margin of 40 points. Gunter won their first round game 57-14 last week over Jacksboro, a team that had not allowed more than 31 points in a game all season, and against whom only one team scored more than 21 prior to Gunter.

Unheralded guys in the playoffs this week

Five of the players previously featured in this space as the “Unheralded 2017 Athlete of the Week” have yet to end their season, and two of them will actually face each other in the playoffs this week.

  • One of the area round matchups in the 3A Division I bracket will be between 10-1 Farmersville and 11-0 Sunnyvale, who will play tonight in Rockwall. Farmersville RB/WR Caleb Twyford, who was featured in my Week Two preview, leads his team’s offense with nearly 2,100 yards from scrimmage and has scored 30 total TDs this season. He’s coming off a round one performance in which he rushed for 277 yards and 4 TDs on just 15 carries in a 43-22 win over Redwater. Twyford has been committed to Texas State since late September.

Leading Sunnyvale’s offense is RB Trey Sterling, who was featured in my Week Seven preview. In his first year as his team’s starting running back after primarily playing defensive back as a junior, he has compiled 2,161 yards from scrimmage and 33 offensive TDs, much of that in blowout wins in which he barely played in the second half. He had no offers when I first wrote about him, but in the past month he has received offers from Navy, Arkansas State, Army, Colorado State, Dartmouth, and Texas State.

  • Electra DE/TE Xavier Waggoner, who was featured in my Week Three preview, also leads a 10-1 team, and tonight in Graham they will take on 10-1 Albany, the champion of district 6-2A Division II. Waggoner has been a monster this season, making 134 tackles and 7.5 sacks on defense and leading his team with 20 receptions for 403 yards and 6 TDs as a receiver and tight end on offense. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t earn all-state honors on the defensive line for a second straight year. He still has no offers but tells me he’s received some interest from D2 programs Texas A&M-Commerce, Midwestern State, and Central Oklahoma.
  • Offensive lineman Luke McCleery (Grapevine Faith Christian), a Tulane commit who was featured in the Week Eight preview, also has at least one game left in his high school career. His team won its TAPPS Division II first round game last week over Tyler T.K. Gorman 64-26, and at 5:00 on Saturday at Kincaide Stadium in Dallas they’ll face undefeated Dallas Christian. Faith Christian is 9-2 on the year, with their only two defeats being a six-point loss to the state’s top-ranked Class 3A team, Brock, and a 12-point road loss to Midland Christian, who they would have a rematch with next week should both teams win their 2nd round games.
  • The featured athlete in Week Eleven’s preview, Melissa tight end/H-back Gunnar Murphy, was held without a catch in his team’s 36-14 first round win over Dallas Lincoln last week, a relatively offensively-challenged game in which the teams combined for a mere 462 total yards of offense, and Melissa was held over 200 yards below their season average of 490 yards per game. Melissa will have to be much more potent on offense in round two, as they face 10-1 Gilmer, who ended the regular season as Class 4A’s seventh-ranked team. That game will be tonight in Mesquite.

Remembering Some Once-Great Teams

Not every high school football program that is now a powerhouse was always considered one, and some of them had little historic success before the most recent two or three decades.. Younger followers of the high school football scene might not believe this, but before they won multiple state championships in the 1990s and led coach Art Briles on a path that eventually took him to Baylor, Stephenville once went 37 years without reaching the playoffs. Southlake Carroll, a school that took home eight state championship trophies in the span of 24 seasons (1988-2011), won just one playoff game in its first 19 seasons. Katy, as prolific a powerhouse the state has seen in recent decades (the Tigers have now won at least one playoff game in 23 straight seasons and have reached a state title game 13 times in the past 22 seasons), once went 25 years without winning a playoff game. Aledo has won six state titles since 1998 and reached the playoffs in 21 consecutive seasons, but in the 18 seasons prior to 1996 they reached the postseason just three times.

Likewise, fans who have only experienced or read about Texas high school football during the last 15-20 years or so might be shocked to learn that some teams that are seen as doormats or also-rans today were among the state’s best teams a generation or two ago.

At the end of last week’s post I wrote at length about my alma mater, Granbury High School, as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the greatest season in the history of the school’s football program. The 1966 Granbury Pirates made up for having one of the very smallest enrollments in Class 2A at that time by putting together a lineup featuring some of the best players to ever suit up for the school, including five who earned all-state honors during their high school career.

They won their first 14 games to reach the 2A state championship game, where injuries and their lack of depth caught up to them as they were overwhelmed in a 29-7 loss to a deep and athletic Sweeny team that featured five all-state players, including future NFL wide receiver Elmo Wright (uncle of future Texas Longhorn defensive tackle Rodrique Wright). Granbury reached the second round of the playoffs a year later in 1967, before losing on penetrations when that game ended in a 0-0 tie, and they have not won a playoff game in the 49 years since. In 1977, they lost in the first round of the playoffs by two points to the eventual 2A state champions from Wylie, and then didn’t reach the playoffs again until 2010. In the past 33 seasons they’ve finished with two or fewer wins 13 times while reaching the playoffs just four times.

Preparing that part of the post made me think about other schools whose football teams have had a similar experience, where they either climbed to the top of their classification or came one win short of a state title, perhaps multiple times in a relatively short period, but then descended into football irrelevance soon afterwards, and playoff success - if not the postseason altogether - mostly eluded them in the years after their program reached its peak.

Here are a few such examples that I found from scanning the records posted at Texashighschoolfootballhistory.com.

  • In the 1980s and 1990s, the four Aldine ISD high schools open at the time all made at least one deep playoff run, and some made several, and while some still make regular postseason appearances, none are the state-ranked powers they once were.

Aldine High lost in the 5A state championship in 1989 (to Odessa Permian in the season following their year documented in Friday Night Lights), then won the 5A title the following year. The school won at least one playoff game in 13 seasons between 1979 and 2000, but have just one playoff win since.

Aldine Eisenhower had one of the state’s top programs in the 1990s. They lost to Cedric Benson’s Midland Lee team in the 1999 5A Division I state championship, and reached the state semifinal round five other times between 1992 and 2000. The school still makes almost annual trips to the postseason (they missed the playoffs this year for the first time since 2006), but they have just three playoff wins and no runs beyond the 2nd round since 2003.

Aldine MacArthur made it as far as the fourth round of the playoffs in 1986 and 1987, and lost in the 5A Division II state championship in 1993, but in the 23 years since then they have zero playoff wins and just four playoff appearances, the most recent in 2007.

Aldine Nimitz never quite reached the heights of those three rivals but they advanced as far as the fourth round in 2003 before being blown out by eventual 5A Division II state champion Katy, and they have not won another playoff game since.

This season, those four schools combined for seven wins and finished in the bottom half of an eight-team district and all missed the playoffs.

  • Alief Hastings lost to Flower Mound Marcus in 1997’s 5A Division II state championship, then advanced at least three rounds into the playoffs in four consecutive years (1999-2002), but they have reached the playoffs just three times since 2002 and haven’t won a game in any of them.
  • Austin High School won the 2A state championship in 1942, lost the 2A state title game to Wichita Falls in 1949 and 1950, and has not won a playoff game since 1957.
  • Bandera won the 3A Division II state championship in double-overtime over Midland Greenwood in 2002, then followed it up by missing the playoffs in the next three seasons. They last reached the playoffs in 2009 and have just one playoff win in the 14 years since their state title.
  • You wouldn’t know it from looking at their recent season records, but Bay City (the Black Cats, not the Rollers) had two extended runs as a state power. They advanced three rounds or further into the playoffs eight times between 1978 and 1991, won state titles in 1983 and 2000 (the latter under future SMU head coach Chad Morris), and lost state championship games in 1979, 1998, 2001, and 2003. Since losing to North Crowley in the 2003 4A Division I title game, they have not won a playoff game, and haven’t even reached the postseason since 2006.
  • Speaking of North Crowley, their Panthers haven’t come close to sniffing the playoffs in most of the seasons following their surprising 2003 state championship run. They moved up to Class 5A starting in 2004 and have remained in the highest classification ever since, usually competing in districts full of schools with much higher enrollments. They had first-round exits in the playoffs in 2004 and 2005, but haven’t reached the postseason since then.
  • Baytown Sterling lost to Odessa Permian in the 1972 4A state championship game, reached the third round of the playoffs in each of the next two seasons, and has won just two playoff games since 1974, the most recent one in 1985. They’ve reached the playoffs just once since 1985.
  • Burkeville made deep playoff runs almost annually in the mid-to-late 90s, and was one of the state’s best small school programs for a decade and a half. They won the 1A state title in 1986, and reached at least the third round of the playoffs eight times between 1986 and 2001. They reached the state semifinals in 1994 and 1996, lost in the 1A state championship game in 2000, then won the 1A state crown a year later. But since that state title they’ve won just one playoff game.
  • Celeste reached the state semifinals in 1997 and lost the Class 1A championship game in consecutive seasons, 2001 (to Burkeville) and 2002. In the 14 years since then they haven’t won a single playoff game and have finished with more than five wins in a season only twice.
  • Galena Park lost in the 4A state championship games in 1961 and 1964. In 1969 they reached the 2nd round, and have not won a playoff game since, and didn’t even reach the playoffs again until 2004.
  • Hemphill reached the state semifinals in 2001, lost by one point in the 2nd round the following year to eventual 1A state champion Blanco, and have not won a playoff game since. Since 2007 they have had one playoff appearance (this season) and four seasons with one or fewer wins.
  • Hillsboro lost in the 2A state championship game in 1955, lost 14-7 in the 2nd round the following season to eventual state finalist Brady, and have won just one playoff game in the 60 years since then (in 2001).
  • Hurst L.D. Bell lost in the 5A state championship game in 1982, lost 28-21 in the state semifinals in 1986 to eventual 5A state champion Plano, and have won just one playoff game since then (in 1989). The 1982 L.D. Bell Blue Raiders are prominently featured in the “Thank God for Kids” segment that Dale Hansen (longtime sports director at WFAA-8, Dallas’s ABC affiliate) does every year on the Sunday before Christmas.
  • Kingsville lost in the 3A state championship game in 1958. After a first round exit in 1959, they didn’t reach the playoffs again until 1997, and didn’t win a playoff game again until 2012.
  • Palacios reached the state semifinals in 1959 and won the 2A state championship in 1964. In the 52 years since then they have reached the playoffs just once, in 2007.
  • Pasadena lost in the 1958 4A state championship, the only time its team has ever advanced beyond the 2nd round of the playoffs. Since 1958 they have reached the playoffs just five times, most recently in 1996, and they haven’t won a playoff game since 1964.
  • Ranger won the Class 1A state championship in 1953, but hasn’t won a playoff game since 1968, and has reached the postseason only four times since then.
  • San Antonio Brackenridge won the 2A state title in 1947, and added a 4A state crown in 1962. In the 54 years since their last state title, they’ve won just three playoff games, and at one point went 23 years between playoff appearances (1967-1990). They’ve now missed the playoffs just once since 2007, but their postseason trips almost never extend beyond the first round.
  • San Antonio Holmes reached the state semifinal round four times in the span of 20 seasons (1980-1999), but they have not reached the playoffs at all since 2000.
  • San Antonio Lee was one of the state’s top teams for a decade in the 60s and 70s. They lost in the 4A state championship game in 1965 and 1969, won the 4A title in 1971, and reached the state semifinal round in 1972, 1975, and 1977. But in the 39 seasons since 1977, the school has reached the playoffs just three times, most recently in 1993.
  • San Marcos lost in the 1964 3A state championship game, then reached the state semifinal round in each of the next two seasons, but after that they had to wait 31 years for their next postseason appearance.
  • Wharton won the 1A state championship in 1950, then waited 52 years for its next playoff win. They’ve made several playoff appearances and had some postseason wins in more recent years, but 2011 remains the program’s only trip beyond the 2nd round of the playoffs since their state championship 66 years ago.