The 2018 Texas high school football season will come to a close this weekend, as the UIL state championship games will be held over the course of four days at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The championship week began with the Six-Man championships and the Class 2A Division II state final on Wednesday night and will conclude with the 6A Division I state championship on Saturday night.
One Longhorn signee will take the field at AT&T Stadium this weekend, Cuero senior wide receiver Jordan Whittington. His team will play for the Class 4A Division II championship on Friday morning. That game, along with all the other championship games, will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Southwest, and will likely be re-broadcast a number of times in the following weeks.
His family has a long tradition of football excellence at Cuero, and he and his brother Devin hope to bring the school its fourth state championship. Their uncle Arthur Whittington (who played 5 seasons in the NFL at running back) was a star on Cuero’s first state championship team in 1973, and their father Quincey Whittington played on Cuero’s 1974 state championship and 1975 state runner-up squads.
Jordan Whittington will also be attempting to become the next in a long line of UT recruits to arrive in Austin with a state championship ring. Based on my own research, 1995 was the last Texas high school football season in which none of the teams that won a state title had a future Longhorn on their roster, and since 1996 there have been 44 future Longhorns who played on 47 different state championship-winning teams (13 of them won two or more rings).
2020 commit Hudson Card led his Lake Travis team as far as the semifinal round of the 6A Division I playoffs, but they were soundly beaten last week by a loaded Galena Park North Shore team, and were thus denied what would have been their eighth state championship appearance in 12 seasons.
Another traditional element of the state championship week is the release of the Texas AP Sports Editors all-state teams for each classification, and a few future Longhorns have seen their name on the lists of honorees.
The first National Signing Day came and went yesterday, and every commit from the Longhorns’ 2019 class signed their letter of intent, save offensive lineman Javonne Shepherd. The class included two newly-minted commits in high school wide receiver Kennedy Lewis (Melissa) and Juco linebacker Caleb Johnson (Fullerton Community College). Since this is their first mention in these posts, I’ll give a brief recap of their 2018 seasons below.
2020 QB Hudson Card (Lake Travis)
Last week: Completed 13 of 33 passes for 158 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT, and had 9 carries for 16 yards in a 51-10 loss to Galena Park North Shore in the semifinal round of the Class 6A Division I playoffs.
Notes: Lake Travis is used to long playoff runs, having reached the state semifinal round ten times in the span of twelve seasons. But its 2018 season ended with a thud on Saturday in its first-ever playoff matchup with longtime Houston-area powerhouse Galena Park North Shore.
In a game in which very little went right for Lake Travis, the Cavaliers drove deep into North Shore territory on their first drive before settling for a field goal, produced a total of -1 offensive yards over their next six drives, and trailed 34-3 at halftime.
Hudson Card connected with five-star receiver and Ohio State commit Garrett Wilson in the 3rd quarter for his 49th and final TD pass of the season, but it only cut the deficit to 41-10, and the Cavaliers were unable to add any more points to their side of the board.
North Shore had relatively little trouble moving the ball throughout the game, gaining 557 offensive yards and converting 28 first downs while committing just one turnover and punting only twice. Junior five-star running back Zachary Evans, currently the #2 overall recruit in the 2020 class, rushed for 196 yards on just 17 carries and scored four TDs in the first half. His first carry of the game resulted in a 60-yard TD that gave North Shore a 6-3 lead after Lake Travis had scored a field goal on its first possession.
With the loss, Lake Travis ended its 2018 season with an overall record of 12-2. Its other loss was a 44-14 defeat against district rival Austin Westlake on October 12. Westlake reached the semifinal round of the 6A Division II playoffs before losing 35-30 to Beaumont West Brook. In Hudson Card’s first season as Lake Travis’s starting QB, he completed 68% of his passes and threw for 3,448 yards, 49 TDs and 5 interceptions, and also had 103 carries for 591 yards and 8 TDs.
Card won’t have the all-world talent Garrett Wilson to throw to when he’s a senior next fall, but Lake Travis will return current junior receiver Kyle Eaves, who led the team in receptions and had over 1,000 yards and 14 TDs receiving, as well as sophomore running back Weston Stephens, who had just over 800 yards from scrimmage and scored 17 TDs this season.
WR Jordan Whittington (Cuero)
Last week: Caught 5 passes for 60 yards, had 7 carries for 48 yards and one TD, completed 2 of 2 pass attempts for 87 yards and one TD, made 11 tackles, intercepted 2 passes and returned an interception on a 2-point conversion attempt for two points in a 29-24 win over Silsbee in the semifinal round of the Class 4A Division II playoffs.
This week: Friday, December 21 at 11:00 am, vs. Texarkana Pleasant Grove (at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium) in the Class 4A Division II state championship.
Notes: Jordan Whittington earned all-state honors this week from the Texas AP Sports Editors, which named him a 2nd team defensive back on its Class 4A team.
He made a big impact on offense, defense, and on special teams last week in Cuero’s 29-24 state semifinal win over Silsbee, a hotly-contested playoff matchup the four-star signee called “by far the most intense game I’ve ever played.”
Whittington ended Silsbee’s first offensive series with an interception, and he later connected with his brother Devin Whittington on a 70-yard touchdown pass and scored what would be the game’s winning points on a 9-yard TD run midway through the 4th quarter. He also provided a big point swing by intercepting a pass on a two-point conversion attempt by Silsbee and returning it 103 yards to give his own team two points.
Both teams scored four TDs in the game, but Silsbee left points on the field by missing on all four of their PAT or 2-point conversion attempts, one of which resulted in two points for Cuero instead.
After taking a 7-6 lead into halftime, Cuero scored on its first two possessions of the second half to take a 21-6 lead. Silsbee scored two TDs of their own before the end of the 3rd quarter, one of them resulting in the 2-point conversion interception return by Whittington, and Cuero maintained a 23-18 lead going into the 4th quarter. Silsbee returned a Cuero fumble for a 60-yard TD that gave them back the lead at 24-23 (following their third unsuccessful 2-point conversion attempt) with 8:45 left in regulation.
Cuero’s ensuing drive ended with Whittington’s TD run that gave the Gobblers the lead for good at 29-24 (though they were unsuccessful on their own 2-point attempt). Silsbee had two chances to take back the lead but were stopped on a fake punt deep in their on territory on their penultimate drive, and after Cuero missed a 36-yard field goal attempt to give Silsbee the ball back, Cuero senior defensive end Trey Moore effectively ended the game by recovering a Silsbee fumble at the Silsbee 42-yard line.
The win advanced Cuero to the state championship of their classification for the 11th time in school history. The Gobblers are 3-7 in previous state championship appearances, most recently losing 17-14 to Abilene Wylie in the 2004 Class 3A Division I final. The Gobblers last took home a state championship trophy in 1987 when they beat McGregor 14-6 in that season’s Class 3A championship.
To win their school’s fourth state championship, the Gobblers will have to wrest the 4A Division II title from Texarkana Pleasant Grove, the defending state champions who earned their way back into the state final after throttling Iowa Park 49-14 in their semifinal game.
Before 2017, Pleasant Grove (which is currently in its 35th varsity football season) had never advanced beyond the third round of the playoffs, but the Hawks won their school’s first state championship last season to finish off a remarkable playoff run that included wins over such established programs as Tatum, Celina, Melissa, Graham, and West Orange-Stark, five schools that had played in a combined 14 state championship games and won seven state titles since 2005.
Pleasant Grove goes into its second straight state final with a 13-2 record. The Hawks had their 19-game winning streak snapped on September 21 with a 44-37 loss to 3A Division I program Gladewater, a team they had beaten 50-7 in the final week of the regular season in 2017. Two weeks later on October 5, they lost a highly-anticipated non-district matchup with two-time defending 4A Division I state champion Carthage, 28-21. But since the loss to Carthage, Pleasant Grove has reeled off nine straight wins, and in their first five playoff games they scored just under 46 points per game.
Pleasant Grove running backs James Wiggins and Bruce Garrett both have over 1,200 rushing yards this season, and the pair have combined to produce 3,225 yards from scrimmage and 29 offensive touchdowns. Junior quarterback Ben Harmon has thrown for 1,936 yards and 30 TDs against just 5 interceptions, and he also has run for 390 yards and 10 TDs.
Like Cuero, the Pleasant Grove Hawks are not a prolific passing team, but when they do air it out they’re usually effective at doing so. Receivers Jackson Cobb and Brett Walker both average over 20 yards per catch and have combined for 17 TD receptions.
The team also has some strong defensive players, three of whom earned Class 4A all-state honors this week. All-state defensive backs Tyler Kelley (2nd team) and Kameron Woods (honorable mention) have combined to make 136 tackles, 11 interceptions, and 4 defensive touchdowns. Four-star sophomore defensive lineman Landon Jackson, who was offered by Texas in September, also earned honorable mention all-state honors, and he’s joined on the Pleasant Grove defensive line by fellow 6’5” impact sophomore Marcus Burris, who is credited with 75 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 5 sacks.
For Cuero’s part, two of its senior offensive linemen were named to the 4A all-state team: Caden Jander (1st team) and Brandon Nemec (2nd team), and they should get all they can handle from Pleasant Grove’s talented defensive front.
Cuero will mostly counter on offense with Whittington and senior running backs Kieran Grant (an Army commit who earned all-state honors at both running back and defensive back) and Chance Albrecht. That trio has combined to rush for over 3,400 yards and 64 TDs this season! Despite missing the season’s first four games due to injury, Whittington is also closing in on 1,000 receiving yards for the season, and his brother Devin Whittington has chipped in 24 catches for 494 yards and 2 TDs himself. Fellow senior Deandre Lang has been a playmaker as well, catching 31 passes for 602 yards and 8 TDs, along with 4 interceptions on the defensive side.
QB Roschon Johnson (Port Neches Groves)
Johnson led his team to the third round of the Class 5A Division II playoffs before they fell to fourth-ranked Fort Bend Marshall 53-14. Johnson was voted his district’s MVP for the third straight season, and he finished his decorated high school career with 12,610 total yards, 85 touchdowns passing, and 85 touchdowns rushing. The Texas AP Sports Editors named him an honorable mention Class 5A all-state QB this week.
RB Derrian Brown (Buford, Georgia)
Buford finished the season with an overall record of 10-3, falling short of the state semifinals for the first time since 2006. Derrian Brown finished his senior season with 246 carries for 1,897 yards (7.7 yards/carry) and 28 TDs.
Buford went into Georgia’s 5A playoffs as the 2nd ranked team, but lost 23-20 in the third round to a Cinderella-like Bainbridge squad that had gone 5-5 in the regular season (including losses to a 3A and 2A team) but caught fire in the playoffs. Bainbridge beat the #8 and #4 teams in its first two playoff games before eliminating #2 Buford, then #6 Stockbridge in the semifinals, and finally #3 Warner Robins in Georgia’s 5A state championship game. Warner Robins (which advanced to the state championship with a 45-28 upset win in the semifinals over a Rome team USA Today had ranked 13th in the country that week) had beaten Bainbridge 38-0 when the teams played on October 19, but Bainbridge avenged that defeat by topping Warner Robins 47-41 in triple-overtime in the state championship.
Buford had multiple chances to beat Bainbridge in their 23-20 loss back on November 23, and its players will no doubt be wondering what might have been had they pulled out the win that night, as the Bainbridge team they lost to needed three overtimes to win its state championship matchup and won its semifinal game by just one point.
WR Kennedy Lewis (Melissa)
Lewis committed to Texas on Tuesday and signed with the Longhorns on Wednesday. He had previously been a TCU commit for four months, before re-opening his recruitment in October. According to the Dallas Morning News’s stats, Lewis finished the 2018 season with 47 catches for 753 yards and 10 TDs, and he helped lead Melissa to a 8-4 overall record. He was one of five receivers named by the coaches of District 7-4A Division I to the all-district first team.
WR Jake Smith (Notre Dame Prep - Scottsdale, Arizona)
Smith finished his senior season with over 1,800 yards from scrimmage and scored 39 total TDs. He helped lead his team to Arizona’s Conference 5A state championship game for the second year in a row, but they were once again defeated by a dominating Peoria Centennial team, 60-7. He was honored as the 2018 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year.
WR Marcus Washington (Trinity Catholic - St. Louis, Missouri)
Washington helped lead his Trinity Catholic team to its first state title, catching three TD passes in the Titans’ 45-19 win over local rival Cardinal Ritter in the Class 3 state championship game on December 1. He was one of two wide receivers named to the Class 3 All-State first team.
TE Brayden Liebrock (Chandler, Arizona)
Liebrock finished his senior season with 65 catches for 784 yards and 11 TDs, and his Chandler Wolves team won Arizona’s Conference 6A state championship for a third straight season, which was the program’s fourth state title in five seasons.
TE Jared Wiley (Temple)
Team lost to Mesquite Horn 45-38 in the bi-district (first) round of the Class 6A Division II playoffs on November 16. Temple won its first eight games of the season before dropping each of its last three. Horn lost its first seven games of the season before winning its final three to sneak into the playoffs, then it upset Temple and made it as far as the third round before being eliminated by Spring Westfield by a score of 35-16.
Jared Wiley shared District 12-6A’s offensive player of the year honor with two other players. The district’s postseason honors announcement listed him as 6’7” and 230 pounds!
OL Tyler Johnson (Conroe Oak Ridge)
Oak Ridge finished 5-5 overall and did not qualify for the Class 6A playoffs. Tyler Johnson was one of twelve (12!) offensive linemen voted to the all-district first team from District 15-6A.
2020 OL Logan Parr (San Antonio O’Connor)
O’Connor went undefeated in the regular season for a second straight year, but lost to San Antonio Reagan 30-7 in the bi-district round of the Class 6A Division I playoffs on November 16. Parr was one of five offensive linemen (the perfect number, in this writer’s opinion) voted onto District 28-6A’s all-district first team. He was listed at 6’4” 280 on the all-district list.
OL Javonne Shepherd (Houston North Forest)
North Forest qualified for the 4A Division I playoffs but lost in the bi-district round to Splendora on November 16 by a score of 47-19. North Forest finished 4-7. Javonne Shepherd was one of four offensive tackles voted to the all-district first team out of District 12-4A Division I. As of this writing he is the only 2019 Longhorn commit who has not yet signed his letter of intent.
DE Jacoby Jones (Butler Community College - El Dorado, Kansas)
Jones helped lead his Butler squad to an 8-4 record and a 34-30 win over Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in the Midwest Classic Bowl to conclude its season on December 2. Jones finished the 2018 season with 58 total tackles, 10.5 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and three pass break-ups, and he was named to the All-Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference first team at defensive end. This week he added NJCAA Second Team All-America honors to his resume.
DE Peter Mpagi (Richmond George Ranch)
George Ranch went 4-6 this season and did not qualify for the Class 6A playoffs. Peter Mpagi was one of three defensive ends voted to the all-district first team out of District 23-6A.
DE T’Vondre Sweat (Huntsville)
Sweat was named to the Class 5A all-state team as an honorable mention defensive lineman, and earlier in the month he was voted the MVP of District 10-5A Division II. He helped lead his Huntsville team to a 12-2 overall record and into the fourth round (the regional final) of the 5A Division II playoffs, where they lost to unbeaten and fourth-ranked Fort Bend Marshall in heartbreaking fashion on a last-minute 47-yard TD pass. Marshall will face Aledo in the 5A Division II state championship game on Friday night.
DE Myron Warren (Many, Louisiana)
Warren’s team went into Louisiana’s Class 2A playoffs as the top overall seed and reached the state semifinals, but lost 28-21 to #5 seed Welsh on November 30. Welsh, the defending 2A state champion, went on to lose 47-20 to #2 seed Amite in the state championship game on December 7. According to the stats in Warren’s senior highlight video, he finished the 2018 season with 85 tackles, 30 tackles for loss, and 14 sacks.
LB De’Gabriel Floyd (Westlake - Westlake Village, California)
Westlake went 7-4 and ended its season with a 19-14 loss to Los Alamitos in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs on November 2. Full season stats are not available, but for the eight games for which Westlake’s stats were reported De’Gabriel Floyd was credited with 103 tackles (72 solo), 3 sacks, 2 interceptions (one returned for a TD), and 4 rushing TDs. He also returned a punt for a TD early in the season. Floyd was named the Marmonte League’s Co-Linebacker of the Year along with Oaks Christian’s Josh Calvert, a four-star Washington commit.
LB David Gbenda (Katy Cinco Ranch)
Cinco Ranch finished 3-7 and did not qualify for the Class 6A playoffs. For the season Gbenda was credited with 79 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, and 1 blocked punt, and he rushed for 5 TDs on 13 carries in short-yardage situations. He was a unanimous all-district first team selection at linebacker and was also voted the Defensive Player of the Year for District 19-6A.
LB Caleb Johnson (Fullerton Community College - Fullerton, California)
Johnson, a former Iowa State commit, committed to Texas on Monday and signed with the program on Wednesday. The California native made 120 tackles and 6 sacks as a senior at Vista Murrieta High School in 2015, then signed with Fullerton Community College.
At Fullerton he redshirted as a true freshman in 2016, was credited with 41 tackles (fourth on the team), 8.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 13 games played in 2017, and sat out the 2018 season with a medical redshirt.
During his one Juco season in which he played, Johnson was named an All-Southern Conference first team outside linebacker, and helped Fullerton to an undefeated record and a California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) state championship, though Fullerton was later forced to forfeit several games from the 2017 season and all games from the 2018 season due to rules violations, which vacated the team’s 2017 championship.
LB Marcus Tillman (Jones - Orlando, Florida)
Jones had a record of 10-2 and ended its season with a 30-27 loss on November 16 to Cardinal Gibbons in the second round of the FHSAA Class 5A playoffs. Cardinal Gibbons beat defending state champion American Heritage the following week and went on to win the 5A state championship on December 7.
DB Chris Adimora (Mayfair - Lakewood, California)
Mayfair went 9-3 overall and its season ended with a 31-28 overtime loss on November 10 to Oxnard Pacifica in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 6 playoffs. Chris Adimora, who made his presence felt at both safety and wide receiver, was voted the MVP of the Suburban League.
DB Marques Caldwell (Alvin)
Caldwell suffered a torn labrum and missed much of his senior season. Alvin finished 0-10 and did not qualify for the Class 6A playoffs.
DB Tyler Owens (Plano East)
Plano East finished 8-3 and achieved its best win total since 2006. The Panthers lost 35-25 to Sachse in the bi-district round of the Class 6A Division I playoffs on November 16. Sachse went on to lose 56-28 the following week to Waco Midway.
DB Kenyatta Watson (Grayson - Loganville, Georgia)
Grayson lost to Lowndes 20-15 in the quarterfinal round of the GHSA Class 7A playoffs on November 23. Lowndes lost 28-17 the following week in the semifinal round to eventual state champion Milton.