The high school football regular season comes to an end this weekend. With it will come the end of the season for many of the state’s schools, and the vast majority of current seniors will be playing in a competitive football game for the last time in their lives.
Of the Texas Longhorns’ seven football commits, three will be suiting up when the playoffs begin next week, and one more could be joining them. There’s even a chance that we could have a bi-district round game featuring UT commits on opposite sidelines. More on that later.
The vaunted and injured Sam Ehlinger will be cheering on his teammates but won’t be playing football any more this year, due to a thumb injury. The vaunted and suspended LaGaryonn Carson also won’t be playing football any more this year, but for different reasons. One of the team’s five defensive commits saw his team eliminated from postseason contention last week, and another will need his team to win this week to avoid the same fate.
It’s been a fun high school season, not as fun as last year, to be sure, but a good one to follow nonetheless. These recaps will start to get a lot shorter in the next week or two, and I expect I’ll be writing the last one much sooner than last season, when multiple UT commits were still playing four rounds into the playoffs and one led his team to a state championship berth.
After this week’s previews I’ll profile a tight end from north of Dallas who has had a breakout senior season after never having caught a pass in his career before this year.
2017 Longhorn commits
QB Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake)
Last week: Did not play in a 41-0 win over Leander
This week: Friday, November 4 at 7:30, vs. Cedar Park Vista Ridge
Notes: In case you haven’t read one of these posts in the past few weeks or managed to stay far from the Texas Longhorns football recruiting grapevine, Ehlinger was injured four weeks ago early in Westlake’s loss to Lake Travis and will almost certainly miss the rest of the season. In his absence last week, QB duties were fulfilled by sophomores Taylor Anderson and Sam Saxton, who combined to complete 19 of 24 passes for 314 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions, and Westlake’s defense limited Leander to just 46 total offensive yards.
Friday night’s game vs. Vista Ridge will be Westlake’s last home game of the season so the seniors - including Ehlinger - will likely be recognized before the game. Westlake is 4-1 in district play and will clinch 2nd place with a win Friday and/or an Austin Vandegrift loss to Lake Travis. Westlake is in the playoffs either way, while their opponent, Vista Ridge, is 2-3 in district and can reach the postseason with an upset win, while a loss to Westlake would drop them to 2-4 and potentially set up a three-way tie for fourth place in District 25-6A between Vista Ridge, Buda Hays, and Leander, in which case I believe Leander would get the 4th place spot on point differentials.
Westlake will be in the 6A Division I playoff bracket, and TexasFootball.com projects that they will face San Antonio Reagan in the first round.
WR Damion Miller (Tyler John Tyler)
Last week: Caught 2 passes for 97 yards and a TD, returned an interception for a TD, and made 4 tackles in a 69-22 win over Mesquite Horn.
This week: Friday, November 4 at 7:30, at Tyler Lee
Notes: In a reversal of their future collegiate roles, the four-star wide receiver recruit Damion Miller returned an interception 40 yards for a TD while playing defensive back, and Javonta Moseley, a UTSA commit projected to play defensive back at the next level, was John Tyler’s leading receiver last week, catching 3 passes for 102 yards and two scores.
John Tyler rolled up 590 total yards of offense against Mesquite Horn last Friday as they built an early 21-0 lead and never looked back. Horn scored all 22 of its points in the 2nd quarter, as it attempted to claw its way back into the game after falling behind 21-0 and 28-8 in the first half. John Tyler led 34-22 at halftime, then dominated the second half, keeping Horn off the scoreboard while putting up 35 unanswered points of their own.
Miller’s touchdown reception came on an 86-yard pass from Houston commit Bryson Smith with 10:19 left in the 2nd quarter and gave Tyler a 21-0 lead. His 40-yard pick-six off of Horn quarterback Chris Robison (an Oklahoma commit) happened with 2:14 remaining in the 3rd quarter; it was Tyler’s fourth score of that frame and gave the Lions a 62-22 lead. Tyler’s defense forced two turnovers and limited a recently potent Horn offense to 307 total yards, and its secondary held Horn receiver Reggie Roberson, a Kansas commit who had caught eight TDs in Horn’s previous four games, to just 22 yards on three receptions.
John Tyler had already clinched a playoff spot and will be in the 6A Division II playoff bracket, regardless of which teams snag the final two postseason spots out of District 11-6A. The Lions will be district champions with a win Friday over cross-town rival Tyler Lee, which has lost seven straight games after opening the season with wins over 5A programs Corsicana and Marshall. If John Tyler wins Friday (or if Longview loses) they will take the district’s top seed in the 6A Division II bracket and, based on the standings and enrollment figures for District 12-6A, I believe their first round opponent will be Beaumont West Brook.
DE LaGaryonn Carson (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau)
Last week: Did not play in a 27-3 win over Princeton
This week: Friday, November 4 at 7:30, vs. Quinlan Ford
Notes: Carson has not played since being suspended from the team in late September, and it doesn’t appear likely that he’ll be suiting up again for Liberty-Eylau, so don’t expect to see him on the field tonight. In his absence, L-E has turned the corner after opening their season with losses in four of their first five games, and they go into the last week of the regular season with a 3-1 record in district play and a playoff berth, despite a 4-5 record overall.
DE Taquon Graham (Temple)
Last week: Made 3 tackles and a sack in a 17-16 loss to College Station
This week: Friday, November 4 at 7:30, vs. Bryan
Notes: Temple went toe-to-toe with the seventh-ranked team in Class 5A last Friday, but came up just short. Temple came into the game having won 21 consecutive district games, and after falling behind 10-0 early on, they came back to take a 16-10 lead, but a missed extra point ended up being the difference, as a 3rd quarter TD by College Station gave them a 17-16 lead that held up through the game’s final quarter.
With a win tonight Temple will wrap up the runner-up spot in District 18-5A. Temple has the largest enrollment out of the district’s schools, so they will be in the 5A Division I playoff bracket, and their season finale with Bryan will be a battle for the district’s top seed in that bracket. Depending on Week Eleven’s results, Temple will open the playoffs next week against one of three teams. If Temple wins tonight and Josh Thompson’s Nacogdoches team reaches the postseason, those two teams will meet in round one. If Nacogdoches is eliminated after tonight’s game and doesn’t reach the playoffs, the winner of the Temple-Bryan game will play the loser of tonight’s Ennis-Corsicana game, and vice versa.
CB Kobe Boyce (Lake Dallas)
Last week: Made five tackles in a 34-29 loss to Little Elm
This week: Friday, November 4 at 7:30, vs. Prosper
Notes: Trailing 28-21 late in the 4th quarter and needing a win to avoid being eliminated from playoff contention, Lake Dallas freshman QB Drew Sanders scored on a nine-yard run with just 59 seconds left in regulation, and rather than attempt a PAT to tie the game, Lake Dallas went for two and converted on a Sanders run to take a 29-28 lead. But after receiving the ensuing kickoff, Little Elm scored on its first play: a 54-yard pass with 45 seconds left on the clock. Thus ended Lake Dallas’s hopes of reaching the postseason, and the Falcons will be turning in their equipment at the end of the regular season for just the second time since the 2002 season.
Lake Dallas fell to 4-5 for the year, and they will end their season with a Senior Night game with district leader Prosper, which is 6-0 in district play and has already clinched the championship of District 14-5A. Last year’s Lake Dallas team went 12-3 and came within a game of playing for the 5A Division II state championship, losing in overtime to Frisco Lone Star in the state semifinal round. Unless the Falcons upset the first place Prosper Eagles tonight, they will finish with their lowest win total since they went 3-8 in 2002.
CB Josh Thompson (Nacogdoches)
Last week: Team lost to Ennis 27-14
This week: Friday, November 4 at 7:30, vs. Jacksonville
Notes: Thompson was offered by UCLA this week, one week after Penn State became the first school to offer him since he committed to Texas in July. According to ETSN.fm, in Nacogdoches’s first nine games Thompson has compiled 62 tackles, 2 interceptions and 4 pass break-ups, and he has also scored four TDs in spot duty at wide receiver.
Last Friday, Nacogdoches lost its third straight game and put itself in the position of needing to win tonight to reach the playoffs, and even then they may need a little help. Nacogdoches, Lindale and Whitehouse will go into tonight’s games with identical 1-3 district records, leaving them in a three-way tie for fourth place, behind district leaders and playoff qualifiers Corsicana and Ennis (4-0 and 3-1, respectively), and 2-2 Jacksonville (Nac’s opponent tonight) in third place.
Lindale and Whitehouse will play a win-or-go-home match for one of the district’s two remaining playoff spots, and the result will affect Nacogdoches as well. Jacksonville will get District 17-5A’s other playoff spot if they beat Nacogdoches. If Lindale beats Whitehouse, Nacogdoches will simply need to beat Jacksonville to reach the postseason; if Whitehouse beats Lindale, Nac will have to beat Jacksonville by seven points or more, due to the point differentials tiebreaker that would be employed to break the resulting three-way tie between Jacksonville, Nacogdoches, and Whitehouse. (With these scenarios in mind, I certainly hope no football players at those three schools have rolled their eyes at an algebra teacher during classes this week and asked, “When am I ever going to use this in real life?”)
S Montrell Estell (Hooks)
Last week: Team lost to De Kalb 35-20
This week: Idle
Notes: Hooks played its last game of the regular season last Friday and had a chance to claim outright the championship of District 7-3A Division II with a win, but instead they fell to De Kalb and their district record dropped to 4-2. I couldn’t find a recap of the game at any of the usual local news sources, and Hooks’s Hudl page has suddenly switched all of its players’ highlights to private, so I have no idea how well Estell played last week, or if he played at all.
Hooks was already assured a playoff spot before last week’s loss, and based on Hooks’s resume and this week’s schedule, I believe Hooks will finish second in its district, regardless of how the other teams finish, and will open the playoffs next week against the loser of tonight’s game between Lone Oak and Big Sandy Harmony, which will decide 2nd/3rd place in District 8-3A DII. So Hooks can sit back and watch the carnage that could be the rest of their district’s schedule in Week Eleven. Most of the drama will be in the game between Daingerfield and Ore City.
If 4-1 Daingerfield loses to 3-2 Ore City, and 3-2 Omaha Paul Pewitt beats 2-3 New Diana, the final district standings will have four teams at the top all tied with 4-2 records. I think Ore City would be district champs in that case, as they would have head-to-head wins over both Daingerfield and Hooks, and Hooks would be the runner-up because of their 2-1 record against the other three teams (with the loss being to Ore City).
If Daingerfield beats Ore City, Hooks will get the district’s second seed because at worst they’d be tied for second with Pewitt, who they’ve beaten. But deciding the district’s last playoff spot or two could be entertaining. The district would have 5-1 Daingerfield and 4-2 Hooks in the top two spots, then four teams all tied at 3-3 if the following happens: Daingerfield beats Ore City, New Diana beats Pewitt, and 2-3 De Kalb beats 0-5 Queen City.
Suffice it to say, your district has had an odd schedule if it’s going into the last week of the season with one team locked into second place (Hooks), another team that could finish first with a win or third with a loss (Daingerfield), and another team (Ore City) that would presumably finish first with a win, but with a loss could finish either fourth or lose a tiebreaker on point differentials and be left in fifth place and out of the playoffs entirely.
Week Eleven football is fun!
Unheralded 2017 Athlete of the Week: TE Gunnar Murphy (Melissa)
Two of the many ways for a high school football athlete to avoid getting noticed by college coaches are: to not have a breakout season until very late in your high school career, and to spend much of your career playing a position that won’t be the one you’re most likely to line up at in college.
Both of those have been the case with Melissa’s senior tight end Gunnar Murphy, who had not caught a pass in his varsity career before this season but now finds himself among the Dallas area’s Class 4A leaders in receptions and yards.
As a junior, Murphy played left guard and inside linebacker for the Melissa Cardinals. An upper level college coach scouting him that season probably wouldn’t have seen many reasons to pursue him before his senior year. That tends to be the case with 6’2” 240-pound offensive guards who aren’t voted to their all-district team by opposing coaches and play for a 4A DIvision II school that finishes 1-9 for the season.
Fast-forward to 2016, and Murphy has moved off the interior line and is instead lining up at tight end, H-back, fullback and inside receiver. And not only that; as of this writing he has caught 32 passes for 540 yards (a number that puts him in the top ten among players in Class 4A and below in the Dallas Morning News coverage area) and seven touchdowns. He leads his team - which has one of the most productive offenses among area 4A schools - in all three receiving categories, by far.
At Melissa, as with many, if not most, 4A schools, athletes of Gunnar Murphy’s size are in short supply, and team needs usually dictate that such a player will serve on the offensive line on offense and/or line up somewhere in the defensive front seven. And so it was with him, as he played guard and inside linebacker earlier in his varsity career.
Melissa’s head coach Seth Stinton, who is now in his eighth season leading the still-young Cardinals program, says he and his coaching staff “always thought Gunnar had some of the softest hands on our team, but we really needed him to play on our offensive line until this year.” But he made the move outside and has worked very hard to improve his skills at tight end and receiver, getting into good shape at a solid 225 pounds, working on his routes and catching extra passes after practice, and generally being one of the hardest-working players on his team.
He is also a multi-sport athlete, having previously earned all-district honors in basketball and competing at a high level in track and field. He qualified for last spring’s state track meet in the 4A boys shot put, where he finished seventh with a top heave of 53 feet.
Those soft hands that Coach Stinton praises are one of the primary traits that stick out when watching Gunnar Murphy’s senior highlights, along with his surprisingly nimble feet, the difficulty defenders have in bringing him to the ground, and his ability to be a receiving threat from multiple spots in the formation. He definitely doesn’t look like a guy who’s in his first year of playing his position.
Three years ago I drove to Denton to watch the UTSA Roadrunners upset their North Texas hosts on a bitterly cold November afternoon, and was particularly impressed by a couple of catches made by UTSA’s then-sophomore tight end David Morgan, who was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the 6th round of this year’s NFL Draft. I never watched Morgan play in high school at Marble Falls (either in person or on video), but I can imagine the high school version of David Morgan being a slightly taller version of what Gunnar Murphy is right now.
Stinton played defensive back at SMU and was a three-year letterman in the mid-90s. He says Murphy “most definitely is someone who I believe could and needs to play [tight end] at the next level”. He has landed on the radar of schools like FCS Stephen F. Austin, and Division II programs Colorado Mesa and Southeastern Oklahoma State, but Stinton thinks a lot of schools are missing out on him.
It’s hard to blame coaches for not recruiting a tight end who primarily played left guard a season ago and who had produced no game film that showed off his receiving skills until this season. But hopefully more schools will take notice of him between now and Signing Day, which is just three short months away.
For now, Murphy’s biggest concern will be helping Melissa return to the playoffs after its disappointing 1-9 season in 2015. Melissa is 6-3 this year and will reach the postseason with a win tonight over Nevada Community, or with a loss by Bonham to Caddo Mills. Before 2015, Melissa had advanced to the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons, which is to say, for all of its football program’s existence.
Melissa is a small town in the northern half of Collin County, about five miles north of McKinney and nearly 40 miles north of downtown Dallas. As has been the trend in cities both large and small in Collin County (such as Frisco, McKinney, Allen, Wylie, Prosper, and Celina, to name a few), Melissa has experienced a population boom in the new millennium. The city had less than 1,000 residents as recently as the 1990s, but its population had grown to over 4,600 by 2010, and is estimated to be over 7,000 now. Before the mid-2000s, Melissa’s schools only served students up through 8th grade, and its high school age kids attended schools in either McKinney or nearby Anna. Then a new high school was built to serve Melissa’s students and it graduated its first seniors in 2007.
Melissa’s football program produced winning teams almost immediately, and they advanced three rounds deep into the playoffs in their first postseason appearance in 2006. Five years later, they won the Class 2A Division I state championship with a 28-15 victory over Hempstead. They subsequently made the move up to Class 3A (now 4A) and haven’t gone beyond the second round of the playoffs since then, but they’ve got some good young players on the team now and should field a winning team for years to come. The town probably won’t stop growing any time soon, so who knows what level the Cardinals will be competing at in 2026?