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Texas Longhorns Commits: Playoff Round Five Preview

Taquon Graham’s Temple team is one win away from playing for a state championship.

Sam Ehlinger signs his financial aid agreement paperwork at a ceremony at his school on December 8.
Joe Cook (Inside Texas)

Going into last week’s round four games of the Texas High School football playoffs, it didn’t seem very likely that this column would extend past this week, but like a TV series extending a season with unexpectedly good ratings during a sweeps period, Taquon Graham and his Temple Wildcats teammates upset previously unbeaten Manvel, the 3rd-ranked team in Class 5A, to win the Region III championship in the 5A Division I playoff bracket, and ensured that this series would continue for at least one more week past this one.

With only two games to recap and one to preview, this is my shortest post of the season. Texas is hosting several recruits on both official and unofficial visits this weekend, so there’s a decent chance next week’s post will have more names than this one does.

2017 Commits

QB Sam Ehlinger (Austin Westlake)

Last week: Did not play in a 51-3 loss to Lake Travis in the regional final round of the 6A Division I playoffs.

Notes: Ehlinger officially became a Longhorn when he signed his financial aid paperwork in a ceremony at his school on Thursday. He is set to graduate early and enroll at Texas in January.

Ehlinger suffered a broken wrist in Westlake’s third round win over Laredo United and didn’t play in last week’s blowout loss to Lake Travis, a team Westlake still hasn’t beaten since 2007. In his absence, sophomores Taylor Anderson and Sam Saxton filled QB duties for Westlake and combined to complete just 9 of 23 pass attempts for 84 yards and one interception. Lake Travis dominated the game, which was attended by most if not all of the new Texas Longhorns coaching staff, according to Jared Kalmus, who writes for SBNation affiliate site Underdog Dynasty.

The most significant result of the game, as far as it concerns UT, was the staff’s subsequent offer to Lake Travis’s senior tight end/H-back Cade Brewer, who made 6 catches for 78 yards against Westlake, including a one-handed touchdown grab, and impressed with his blocking as well. Brewer, who has been committed to SMU since April, now has 18 total offers, though, interestingly, Houston never offered him when Tom Herman was the Cougars’ head coach.

Back in March I wrote about my eight favorite in-state tight ends in the 2017 class and had Brewer ranked fifth. Lake Travis offensive coordinator Michael Wall tells me the UT coaches “have been talking to him [Brewer] about the importance of the H-back in their offense” and that they think his strengths are a good fit.

Whether UT’s pitch will be enough to persuade Brewer to flip his commitment from SMU remains to be seen. His friend and Lake Travis QB Charlie Brewer (no relation) is also committed to SMU, and a number of the assistant coaches at Lake Travis have been at the school since former head coach and current SMU HC Chad Morris led the Cavaliers to state titles in 2008 and 2009 Lake Travis also has a Texas connection though, as Wall and new UT offensive line coach Derek Warehime are friends and fellow Tulsa alums, although they played for the Golden Hurricane several years apart.

Cade Brewer and Lake Travis will play Humble Atascocita on Saturday afternoon at the Alamodome in San Antonio in the 6A Division I state semifinal round.

WR Damion Miller (Tyler John Tyler)

Notes: John Tyler lost 56-14 in the third round of the playoffs to Klein Collins, who will play DeSoto in Houston on Saturday in the 6A Division II state semifinal round. Miller was unanimously voted to the all-District 11-6A first team at wide receiver.

DE LaGaryonn Carson (Texarkana Liberty-Eylau)

Notes: Liberty-Eylau lost in the first round of the playoffs. Carson was suspended from the team in late September and didn’t play again.

DE Taquon Graham (Temple)

Last week: Made five tackles and a game-ending sack in a 24-23 win over Manvel in the Region III final of the 5A Division I playoffs.

This week: Saturday, December 10 at 2:00, vs. Richmond Foster (at San Marcos’ Bobcat Stadium) in the 5A Division I state semifinals.

Notes: Fans who attended the Temple-Manvel game must have felt like they’d been beamed out to a PAC-12 game. The game was the fourth of a Saturday quadruple-header of playoff matchups at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, and though it had been scheduled to start at 8:00, it did not kick off until after 9:30, and it was 12:15 a.m. when the game clock finally went to zeroes in the 4th quarter.

Manvel was clearly the favored team in this game. Due to the impending opening of a new high school in Alvin ISD, Manvel was dropped from Class 6A to 5A in last February’s UIL realignment, and immediately became one of the favorites to compete for a 2016 state title. In its four previous seasons as a Class 6A school (2012-2015), Manvel had reached at least the third round of the football playoffs every year and had become one of the state’s most talent-rich programs, though the Mavericks lost to near-annual state finalist Katy in the fourth round of the playoffs in each of the last three years.

Temple scored the first points on Saturday night on a field goal in the final minute of the 1st quarter. A touchdown a little after the mid-way point of the 2nd quarter gave them a 9-7 lead. A later Temple drive stalled at midfield in the final minute of the first half, but Manvel punt returner Jalen Preston (a four-star 2018 prospect who was offered by Charlie Strong’s staff) was tackled at his own one-yard line with just 22 seconds left before halftime. On the ensuring play, Preston was tackled in the end zone for a safety to pad Temple’s lead to 11-7 going into the second half.

A TD pass with 4:00 left in the 3rd quarter made Temple’s lead 18-10, but Preston returned the kickoff 100 yards for a TD to cut the deficit to 18-17. Later, on the final play of the 3rd quarter, Manvel receiver Keylon Stokes (a Tulsa commit) scored on a 72-yard TD pass to give Manvel its first lead since the middle of the 2nd quarter, 23-18. Temple took the lead for good on a 16-yard TD catch by junior D’Yonte Heckstall with 3:05 left in regulation, which put the Wildcats ahead 24-23. This came shortly after Heckstall (who had 8 catches for 129 yards and 2 TDs on the night) caught a six-yard pass on 4th-and-5 to save Temple’s eventual game-winning drive.

Manvel’s last drive of the game - and of the 2016 season - ended when Taquon Graham and a Temple teammate sacked Manvel QB Kason Martin for a huge loss on a 4th-and-11 play.

Having upset Class 5A’s third-ranked team to win their regional championship, Temple will next face Class 5A’s fifth-ranked team, Richmond Foster, with a trip to next week’s 5A Division I state championship on the line. Foster is undefeated at 14-0 and has averaged 58 points per game in its four playoff wins so far. Only one team all season held them under 34 points.

Foster’s offense is led by four-star senior wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, a longtime Oklahoma commit who was offered just this week by Tom Herman’s new staff at Texas, and a player currently ranked #38 in the state in 247Sports’ Composite rankings. Lamb has caught 90 passes for 1,911 yards and 32 TDs, and he has reached the end zone three other times on punt returns. Passing him the ball is senior QB Alex Ramart, who reports offers from Louisiana-Monroe, Houston Baptist and Texas Southern, and has thrown for 44 TDs against just 6 interceptions while completing over 70% of his pass attempts this season.

This is the second straight season for a school from Lamar Consolidated ISD to reach the state semifinals; Richmond George Ranch won last year’s 5A Division I state title to culminate a playoff run that included a 59-46 win over Temple in the fourth round. So a Temple win over Foster on Saturday would at least give them a small measure of revenge against LCISD, if not George Ranch in particular (that school moved up to 6A this year and finished the 2016 season with a 6-5 record), and will prevent that school district from claiming its third state football title (Rosenberg Lamar’s 2007 Class 4A Division I state championship is the other one).

The winner of Temple-Foster will play the winner of Saturday’s Denton Ryan-Highland Park matchup in the 5A Division I state championship game next week.

CB Kobe Boyce (Lake Dallas)

Notes: Lake Dallas did not reach the playoffs.

CB Josh Thompson (Nacogdoches)

Notes: Nacogdoches did not reach the playoffs. Thompson earned first team all-Distirct 17-5A honors as both a safety (he was a unanimous selection) and a utility offensive player.

S Montrell Estell (Hooks)

Notes: Estell’s Hooks team lost 45-13 in the second round of the playoffs to Gunter, a team that is now 14-0 and will play 12-2 Canadian tonight in Wichita Falls for a berth in the 3A Division II state championship game. Estell shared District 7-3A Division II’s Offensive MVP award with Daingerfield senior Markevian Grant.