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Texas Longhorns commits: Playoff Round Three Preview

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In Round Two, Sam Ehlinger returned, Damion Miller had an impact in three phases, and Montrell Estell made two big plays. Will any UT commits make it to Round Four?

Sam Ehlinger warms up before Westlake’s area round playoff game last week against Converse Judson.
Justin Wells (Inside Texas)

On the same weekend in which the Texas Longhorns offense pulled a disappearing act in an embarrassing loss to Kansas (in football!), prized 2017 UT commit Sam Ehlinger surprised outside observers by returning from a thumb injury and re-appearing on the field to lead his team to an overtime win in their second round playoff game. The former result seemingly all but sealed the fate of Charlie Strong as UT’s head coach; the latter result gave Austin Westlake’s state championship hopes renewed life, and added another chapter in the storied high school career of the future Longhorn signal-caller Ehlinger.

Ehlinger’s exploits in his 2015 All-State season featured prominently in last year’s series of weekly recruit recaps, but he’s been largely absent from this year’s posts due to injuries that have kept him off the field for most of the season. But Sam is back, folks! I repeat, Sam is back!

Elsewhere, Damion Miller had another solid playoff performance in which he made plays in more than just one phase of the game and showed up in the box score in multiple ways. His team will play in this week’s third round, as will Temple’s Taquon Graham, another player who missed time to injury earlier in the season, but has been a big part of some strong defensive games in recent weeks.

In this post I’ll update you on where UT’s commits will be playing this weekend, then talk about a couple of previously featured Unheralded athletes who committed to the same Big 12 school this week, before finishing with some scores from the first two rounds of the playoffs that are much more commonly seen in basketball than football.

Whether you spent your Thursday eating turkey or ham, pumpkin pie or pecan pie, breakfast biscuits with grape jelly or kiwi jelly (I had the latter for the first time ever); whether you spent your afternoon and evening watching the Dallas Cowboys move to 10-1, or Texas A&M losing for the fourth time in six games, or perhaps finishing the second season of the Amazon Prime series “Red Oaks”, I hope you and your family had a Happy Thanksgiving. And hopefully you won’t be in too much of a turkey coma to finish the rest of this post.

2017 commits

QB Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake)

Last week: Completed 13 of 24 passes for 171 yards, 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, and rushed 27 times for 67 yards and 2 TDs in a 24-21 overtime win over Converse Judson in the area round of the 6A Division I playoffs.

This week: Friday, November 25 at 3:00, vs. Laredo United (at San Antonio’s Heroes Stadium) in the regional semifinal round of the 6A Division I playoffs

Notes: Well, that made the playoffs a bit more interesting. (Hopefully it makes these posts a bit more interesting for at least another week or two.) Sam Ehlinger, who was widely believed to be lost for the year after injuring the thumb on this throwing hand early in a October 7 loss to Lake Travis, returned to the field for last week’s tightly-contested area round playoff between Austin Westlake and Converse Judson. Local writers began tweeting reports on Friday morning that Ehlinger would start in that night’s game, and those reports turned out to be accurate.

Postgame reports described Ehlinger as “rusty”, which shouldn’t be surprising given that he’d played less than five full quarters of football in the 2016 season going into that game. He threw two interceptions and fumbled once (though Westlake recovered it), did not have a touchdown pass, and rushed for less than three yards per carry, but his team still got the win, with a huge assist from its defense.

Ehlinger scored his first TD on a 14-yard run with 19 seconds left in the 2nd quarter, and it tied up the game at 14 going into halftime. He scored the game’s next six points on a seven-yard run in the 4th quarter, but Judson eventually tied the game at 21 on a TD run with just 1:19 left in regulation.

Westlake settled for a field goal on the first possession in overtime, and when Judson quarterback Julon Williams broke for a 20-yard run to get the Rockets to the three-yard line in their possession of overtime, they seemed on the verge of scoring a TD to end the game. But on the next play Westlake’s senior linebacker Levi Jones (a four-star prospect who has long held a Texas offer) his Judson running back Mi’kel Jackson in the backfield and forced a fumble (which Judson’s coaches and fans disputed) that was recovered by Westlake to end the game. You can watch the play here, and from the angle it’s not clear if Jackson was down before or after he lost the ball. It wasn’t Jones’s only big defensive play of the game. With eight minutes left in the 2nd quarter and the game tied at 7, Judson went for it on 4th-and-6 from the Westlake 35-yard line, and Jones tackled the ball-carrier a yard short of the marker to end that drive.

With their All-State QB back in uniform and on the field - even if not quite 100% healthy - Westlake moves on to take on a 9-3 Laredo United team that advanced to the playoffs as the fourth-place team out of District 29-6A and which won its first two playoff games over fellow south Texas teams McAllen Memorial and Harlingen.

Not to look too far ahead, but a win over United would likely set Westlake up for a re-match with Lake Travis in the 6A Division I Region IV final next week.

WR Damion Miller (Tyler John Tyler)

Last week: Caught 2 passes for 52 yards, had one carry for 14 yards, intercepted a pass, made five tackles, and returned a kickoff for 40 yards in a 69-21 win over Dallas Jesuit in the area round of the 6A Division II playoffs.

This week: Saturday, November 26 at 2:00, vs. Klein Collins (at Waco’s McLane Stadium) in the regional semifinal round of the 6A Division II playoffs.

Notes: Damion Miller didn’t score a touchdown in last week’s area round win over Dallas Jesuit, the champions of District 9-6A, but he made plays in all three phases of the game, getting touches on two receptions, a run, a kickoff return, and an interception.

John Tyler scored the game’s first points with a touchdown just 1:18 into the game and never trailed. Jesuit tied the game at 7 with a TD of their own with 8:07 left in the 1st quarter, but John Tyler put 48 more points on the board before Jesuit scored again. Tyler led 42-7 at halftime and 55-7 mid-way through the 3rd quarter. Two Jesuit scores cut the lead to 55-21 by the end of the 3rd quarter, but Tyler outscored them 14-0 in the game’s final frame. Tyler QB and Houston commit Bryson Smith accounted for 404 total yards and six TDs (four rushing/two passing).

Long playoff runs have been a regularity for Tyler in recent years. They advanced five rounds deep in 2011, 2012, and 2014 (losing to the eventual state champions in the latter two seasons), and lost in the fourth round in 2009 and 2010.

To advance beyond the third round this year they’ll have to knock off a 11-1 Klein Collins team that last week won 40-34 in overtime over previously unbeaten and state-ranked Round Rock Cedar Ridge. Collins led Cedar Ridge 27-6 with 8:50 left in the 4th quarter, but Cedar Ridge staged a furious comeback and scored 28 points to tie the game at 34 and send it to overtime. Cedar Ridge lost a fumble on its possession in overtime, then Collins won the game with a short TD run on their turn.

Collins’s only loss this season was a 50-49 double-overtime defeat at the hands of defending 6A Division II state champion Katy in Week Two. Outside of Katy and Cedar Ridge, only one other team in 2016 has scored more than nine points against Collins, who ran the table on their seven District 15-6A opponents by a combined score of 332-31. Collins, which played its first varsity season in 2002, has never made it further than the third round of the playoffs. Collins’s senior class includes Tulsa commit Dante Bivens on the offensive line and Harvard commit Bryson Powers at quarterback.

DE LaGaryonn Carson (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau)

Notes: Carson was suspended from his team in late September and did not play again. Liberty-Eylau’s season ended when it lost in the first round of the 4A Division I playoffs.

DE Taquon Graham (Temple)

Last week: Made six tackles and one sack in a 17-14 win over Pflugerville Connally in the area round of the 5A Division I playoffs.

This week: Saturday, November 26 at 1:00, vs. Port Arthur Memorial (at Cypress’ Cy-Fair FCU Stadium) in the regional semifinal round of the 5A Division I playoffs

Notes: Temple won last week’s area round contest over Connally after hitting a 22-yard field goal with just seven seconds left in the 4th quarter. Connally had won its first round game on a last-minute Hail Mary TD pass to a linebacker who had not caught a pass all season.

In the regional semifinal round they’ll face a Port Arthur Memorial team that has reached the third round of the playoffs after missing the postseason in the previous two seasons. Memorial’s first two games of the season were shortened by weather and an electrical outage, and their only official loss of the season was a 31-21 defeat against Vidor on November 4 in their regular season finale. They rebounded to beat their first two playoff foes by a combined 87-17. Memorial’s roster includes LSU cornerback commit Kary Vincent and Louisiana-Lafayette QB commit Kadon Harrison.

The winner of the Temple-Memorial game will play in the 5A Division I Region III final next week versus the winner of Saturday afternoon’s showdown between Cedar Park and Manvel, the teams ranked 2nd and 3rd in the AP’s final regular season poll for Class 5A.

CB Kobe Boyce (Lake Dallas)

Notes: Boyce’s season is over. Lake Dallas did not reach the playoffs.

CB Josh Thompson (Nacogdoches)

Notes: Nacogdoches did not reach the playoffs. Since all four playoff teams from District 17-5A have been eliminated, its All-District team has been publicly announced. Thompson was a double honoree, earning 1st Team honors as a utility offensive player and as a safety, the latter as a unanimous selection. He finished his senior season with 71 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and 4 fumble recoveries; and 15 receptions for 210 yards and 4 touchdowns.

S Montrell Estell (Hooks)

Last week: Had 3 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown, and caught 2 passes for 80 yards in a 45-13 loss to Gunter in the area round of the 3A Division II playoffs.

Notes: Hooks saw its season come to an end last week at the hands of unbeaten Gunter. The game was close early in the 3rd quarter before Gunter ran away with it over the remainder of the second half.

Estell scored the game’s first points on a 61-yard TD run less than two minutes into the 1st quarter. Hooks trailed 8-7 at the half and fell behind 16-7 after a Gunter TD and two-point conversion with 9:24 left in the 3rd quarter, but Hooks answered with a TD of their own less than a minute later, a one-yard run set up by a 72-yard reception by Estell. After blocking Hooks’s PAT attempt, Gunter led 16-13, and they returned the ensuing kickoff 79 yards for a touchdown to widen their lead to 23-13, and they would finish the game by scoring 29 unanswered points to pull away.

Facing an undefeated team and having very little margin for error, Hooks hurt their cause greatly by committing four turnovers, and they also had a 26-yard field goal attempt blocked late in the 1st quarter, which would have given them the lead had it been successful. Hooks rushed for 115 yards as a team in the first half, but gained just seven yards on the ground in the second half, according to the Texarkana Gazette’s recap.

Hooks finished the 2016 season with an overall record of 6-6. They had more wins in the previous two seasons (they went 9-2 and 8-3 in 2015 and 2014, respectively), but this year they reached the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2006, back when the current senior class was in 2nd grade.

Does Mike Gundy read BON?

No, I highly doubt the Oklahoma State head coach has spent much, if any, time reading our humble site, but in the past week he has received commitments from two under-the-radar players previously mentioned in this space.

On Tuesday, Sunnyvale running back/defensive back Trey Sterling, who was the featured Unheralded 2017 Athlete of the Week in my Week Seven preview post, announced his commitment to the Cowboys.

The next day, Kyle Lehman athlete Tyler Henderson, who was featured in my Week Five preview, also committed to Oklahoma State, less than a week after decommitting from Navy, to whom he’d been pledged since late June.

Sterling’s commitment came just five weeks after he had finally received his first offer. He earned all-state honors as a junior for his play at safety, then this fall, in his first season as his team’s starting RB, he accumulated just under 2,300 yards from scrimmage and scored 36 offensive touchdowns and led his team to an undefeated regular season and a state ranking in Class 3A. The coaches of District 6-3A Division I voted him as the district’s MVP. Sunnyvale’s season ended last week in a 45-35 area round loss to Farmersville, which was led, incidentally, by another former Unheralded Athlete of the Week: RB/WR Caleb Twyford, who was featured in my Week Two preview. Twyford, a Texas State wide receiver commit, had 205 total yards and three touchdowns on 25 offensive touches in Farmersville’s win over Sunnyvale. Farmersville will play Pottsboro on Saturday night at Allen’s Eagle Stadium.

Tyler Henderson’s senior season did not go as well. After helping his Lehman team to a 2-2 start, which matched the program’s win total from the previous two seasons combined, Lehman lost its next five games all by 20 or more points, and the Lobos were already eliminated from the playoffs before they finished their 2016 season with a 23-21 win over Leander.

Henderson spent time at running back, receiver, and defensive end, and finished the 2016 season with 76 carries for 474 yards and 7 TDs, and 18 receptions for 151 yards and 3 TDs. Navy recruited him as a wide receiver, and for several months they were his only offer. After committing to Navy in June, he didn’t receive another offer until three months later, when Stephen F. Austin extended one. Oklahoma State, which recruited him as a tight end, offered him a month later in late October, and Texas State followed a week later. On Wednesday, he announced he would be spending his college years in Stillwater. I’ll wish good luck to both him and Trey Sterling in the coming years, except when they’re playing UT, of course.

Did these schools start basketball season early?

The playoffs are a time in which the competition becomes tougher and the games are more competitive, but with four teams from each district reaching the postseason, there are bound to be some teams in the tournament that will only serve as first-round fodder for a neighboring district’s first or second seeds, and lopsided scores are commonplace in the early rounds of the playoffs. But sometimes there are ridiculously high-scoring games that jump off the page when you see them in a list of game results, ones that make you wonder if you’ve been reading basketball results by mistake.

In 6A Division I, Midland and its high-powered offense won its bi-district game 73-52 over El Paso El Dorado. They lost in the area round to Arlington Bowie by a much less basketball-like score of 37-30.

In the 5A Division I bracket, Dallas Samuell won its bi-district game 60-7 over Dallas Molina. Then, facing last year’s 5A Division I runner-up Mansfield Lake Ridge in the area round, Samuell finished on the short end of a 87-58 score. Yes, that was a football score.

In the 4A Division I bracket, District 1-4A DI champion Levelland scored 63 points in its bi-district playoff game and won by 51, then scored 82 points in its area round playoff game and won by just nine. Their victim in the latter game, Decatur, had scored 49 points in its bi-district win over Stephenville, but left the field as the losing team in the area round despite scoring 73! Levelland’s opponent in the third round this week: Andrews, which scored 73 and 59 points in its two playoff wins.

The Andrews-Levelland game (which will kick off at 7:30 tonight in Lubbock) will be a rematch of a September 9 game that Andrews won 77-76 in overtime. That one had just one overtime period, in case you were wondering. The teams combined for 1,440 total yards that night. Levelland’s senior QB Nick Gerber passed for 563 yards and 9 TDs and rushed for 109 yards and another score. For the team that lost! This was an 11-man football score, not a six-man score or a basketball score.

In the 4A Division II bracket, Robinson won its first round game 77-59 over Caldwell, then lost in the second round 47-14 to the defending 4A Division II champions from West Orange-Stark, a result Robinson shouldn’t hang its head about too much, since WO-S had allowed just 30 total points to its previous eleven opponents. As it happens, the last time WO-S lost to a team in its own classification was in the 4A Division II state championship game on December 19, 2014. They lost 35-25 that day to Gilmer in Jeff Traylor’s last game as that school’s head coach before Charlie Strong hired him as UT’s tight ends coach.

Brock was known as a basketball school for many years before it began its football program just a few years ago, and long before it won last year’s 3A Division I state title. So seeing 63 points on a scoreboard, which is how many the Brock Eagles put up in last week’s area round win over Amarillo River Road, is nothing new for fans following that school’s teams, though their basketball teams probably haven’t held any opponents to seven points, which was River Road’s total.

In the coming months, the basketball teams at some of these schools will probably wish they could put so many points on the board as their football teams recently did against playoff opponents.