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Longhorn football commits in the playoffs, Dec. 10-11

Two UT commits will play for state championships this weekend!

2022 defensive back Ronald Lewis, whose New Orleans Warren Easton team will play in Louisiana’s Class 4A state championship game tonight.
Nick Harris (247Sports)

Seven Texas Longhorn commits were still playing football going into last week’s playoff matches. Three of them lost their games over the weekend, but the UT program has since gained a commit whose team is still alive, so this week’s playoff action will feature no less than five future Longhorns.

Quarterback Maalik Murphy and defensive back Ronald “Champ” Lewis will be playing for state championships in California and Louisiana, respectively. On the homefront, Texas’s UIL high school football playoffs have reached their penultimate week, with the state semifinals being played for each classification between Thursday and Saturday, and by the end of the weekend the matchups will be set for next week’s state championship games at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

Connor Robertson (Austin Westlake) and Kristopher Ross (Galena Park North Shore) will play in the semifinals of the two Class 6A divisions on Saturday afternoon, with Robertson playing in a #1 vs. #2 matchup that will very likely decide the ultimate champion of Division II. And new Longhorn commit Kobie McKinzie is in the 5A Division II playoffs and hoping to lead his Lubbock-Cooper team to the first state title for a Lubbock team in over 50 years.

Unfortunately, #22EFFECT class leader Derrick Brown will not be taking part in this week’s action, as his Texarkana Texas team lost last week. As did Austin Jordan, whose Denton Ryan team fell short in its quest for a second straight state title. And further west, long-snapper Lance St. Louis saw his senior season end last week in the state semifinals for Arizona’s Conference 6A.

Five members of the Longhorns’ 2022 recruiting class already own state championship rings from previous seasons. Three more could reserve their own between now and the end of next week. Below I’ll have 3,000+ words on the commits who will be playing this week, and some updates on those who’ve been eliminated and were voted to an all-district team. All game start times are listed according to Central Time.

2022 QB Maalik Murphy — Gardena (California) Junipero Serra

Saturday, December 11 at 6:00, vs. Bakersfield (California) Liberty (at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo) in the CIF Division I-A state championship game

Note: Junipero Serra and Long Beach Poly have a recent history of playing tight football games that go down to the wire, and last Saturday’s CIF Division I-A Regional Final added another chapter to that history. In a game that both teams had chances to seize, and in which both teams had trips into the red zone that resulted in no points, Serra ended up taking a late lead and holding off a last-minute Poly drive deep into their territory to win 21-17 and advance to California’s Division 1-A state championship.

Maalik Murphy completed 13 of 24 pass attempts and threw for 217 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in the win, and he is now one win away from becoming the first Texas Longhorn QB commit to lead his team to a state championship victory since Jerrod Heard won back-to-back Class 4A Division I state crowns with Denton Guyer in 2012 and 2013.

Poly took a 17-14 lead with 3:25 left in regulation, but Murphy hit senior receiver Troy Crozier on a 75-yard TD pass to put Serra ahead 21-17 with 3:05 left, and Serra held on to that lead through a combination of timely defense and untimely Poly penalties on its final possessions.

Junipero Serra of Gardena — not to be confused with the Junipero Serra of San Mateo, California (which will play Mater Dei for the Open Division championship), or JSerra Catholic of San Juan Capistrano — has won CIF state championships on two previous occasions; the Cavaliers took home the Division II trophy in 2012, and won the Division III state title in 2009.

To win their third state crown they’ll have to beat a Bakersfield Liberty team that comes into the Division 1-A final with an overall record of 11-2. Liberty won the CIF Central Section’s Division I championship, then beat Pittsburg (the North Coast Section’s Division I champion) last week 35-7 in the Regional Final round of the Division 1-A state tournament to set up a title bout with Serra. This is Liberty’s first time to reach a CIF state final.

Murphy will be throwing against a Liberty secondary that includes three-star senior defensive back Jason Oliver, who reportedly holds nine FBS offers and is also Liberty’s leading receiver, averaging 24 yards per catch.

[Side note: the state of California has several large FBS and FCS stadiums and two currently-used NFL stadiums, so it is perhaps a good illustration of the difference between California and Texas in their statewide fervor for high school football that Texas regularly holds its state championship weekend at the home stadium of the Dallas Cowboys, while the championship games for California’s highest divisions will be held this year at Saddleback College, whose stadium seats 8,000. Even in the two seasons immediately before the COVID-19 outbreak, the state finals for the CIF’s highest divisions were held at the similarly-sized stadium of Cerritos College. Most of the Class 6A teams and some of the 5A teams still alive in the Texas playoffs have larger home stadiums. Even such high school football hotbeds as Delaware, Idaho, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming hosted their state championship games in 2021 at stadiums larger than the juco facilities California has used for its state finals in recent years.]

2022 OL Connor Robertson — Austin Westlake

Saturday, December 11 at 2:00, vs. Katy (at Waco’s McLane Stadium) in the semifinal round of the Class 6A Division II playoffs

Note: Austin Westlake, the 2nd-ranked team in the nation according to USA Today, completed its demolition of the Region IV teams in the 6A Division II playoffs last week, winning 70-7 over a 12-1 Austin Vandegrift team that had a pretty solid resume coming into the regional finals. The game was not as close as the final score might indicate.

Westlake led 56-0 at halftime, with its defense being the big story in the first half. The Chaparrals recorded four interceptions, blocked two punts, and recovered a fumble deep in Vandegrift territory, and Westlake’s sophomore running back Jack Kayser scored six touchdowns in that first half.

That victory gave Westlake its 38th consecutive win and set up a big state semifinals matchup between Class 6A’s two defending state champions from 2020. A season ago, Westlake won the 6A Division I state title, while Katy (which actually has an enrollment of about 500 more students than Westlake) was the 6A Division II state champion.

Katy and Westlake are both the third-largest schools in their district, meaning which playoff division they end up in depends not on anything they prove on the field in the regular season but simply on whether or not the two larger schools in their district make the playoffs. In 2020, Katy Tompkins and Katy Seven Lakes both reached the postseason, so Katy went to the Division II bracket. Westlake went to the Division I side a year ago because Austin Bowie (one of two schools larger than Westlake in District 26-6A) had an unusually poor season and missed the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. Had Bowie made the playoffs, Westlake would have been in the Division II bracket and would have almost certainly met Katy in the state semifinals.

This season, the two reigning state champions have been ranked #1 and #2 in Class 6A since the start of the season and both ended up in the Division II playoffs, and unfortunately they will play in the semifinals and only one can advance to the state championship. The two schools have been near-fixtures in the late rounds of the playoffs over the past two decades, but, remarkably, they have never before faced each other in the postseason.

Westlake has three state titles in its history, and has also lost in a state championship game seven other times. Katy has won nine state championships (with eight of them coming in the previous 24 seasons) and has a chance to tie Aledo for the most won by a Texas school.

Westlake has finished with a winning record in 35 consecutive seasons, one of the top five longest such streaks in state history. Katy has had a winning record in a not-too-shabby 31 straight seasons, and even more impressively the Tigers have not just made the postseason but advanced to at least the second round of the playoffs in 28 consecutive years.

Between them, Westlake and Katy have nine seniors committed to FBS programs. Westlake has a pair of juniors who are rated as four-star prospects, and Katy has three juniors who report FBS offers. Aside from this game involving the state’s two top-ranked teams, it is also relevant nationally, with Westlake being USA Today’s #2 team in the country, and Katy ranked eighth.

The winner of the Westlake-Katy game will play for the 6A Division II state championship against either 9th-ranked Denton Guyer (who Westlake beat in the 2019 6A Division II state final) or Tomball (which is already on its longest playoff run since 1985).

2022 DL Kristopher Ross — Galena Park North Shore

Saturday, December 11 at 3:00, vs. Lake Travis (at Round Rock’s Reeves Stadium) in the semifinal round of the Class 6A Division I playoffs

Note: Facing 10th-ranked Humble Atascocita for the second time in six weeks, the North Shore Mustangs took care of business in a 44-20 win in the Region III final of the 6A Division I bracket. North Shore had earlier beaten Atascocita 31-21 on October 29.

North Shore, which was ranked 7th in Class 6A at the close of the regular season, has advanced to the state semifinal round for a fourth straight season and will face Lake Travis. The Lake Travis Cavaliers were ranked 8th going into the final week of the regular season, but fell to 19th in the final rankings after a 63-21 thrashing at the hands of top-ranked Austin Westlake.

In four playoff games, Lake Travis has averaged 45 points per game, and last week the Cavaliers knocked off previously unbeaten and 11th-ranked San Antonio Brennan 42-17. These Lake Travis Cavaliers probably aren’t quite on par with the high-octane teams of the Garrett Gilbert or Charlie Brewer eras, but they’ve got some weapons.

Junior QB Bo Edmundson has nine P5 offers and has thrown for over 3,200 yards and 38 TDs this season. Senior RB/DB Derrick Johnson (no relation to the former Texas Longhorn/Kansas City Chiefs linebacker) has gained over 1,600 yards from scrimmage and scored 24 total touchdowns. Four-star senior wide receiver Caleb Burton (who transferred from Del Valle after his junior season and has been committed to Ohio State for over a year) leads the team with 14 TD receptions, and in the playoffs he has averaged 19 yards per catch and scored 6 TDs.

North Shore and Lake Travis have met in the playoffs on two previous occasions. North Shore dominated Lake Travis 51-10 in the state semifinals in 2018, and beat the Cavaliers in the same round the following year by a 49-38 score. Those North Shore teams won back-to-back 6A Division I state championships. This year’s Mustangs are gunning for their school’s fifth state crown, while Lake Travis seeks its seventh.

The winner between North Shore and Lake Travis will play for the 6A Division I state title against either Southlake Carroll (runner-up in 6A Division I last year) or Duncanville (who North Shore memorably beat in the 2018 and 2019 state finals).

2022 LB Kobie McKinzie — Lubbock-Cooper

Friday, December 10 at 7:30, vs. South Oak Cliff (at Abilene’s Shotwell Stadium) in the semifinal round of the Class 5A Division II playoffs

Note: Newly-minted Longhorn commit Kobie McKinzie will take the field tonight in the Class 5A Division II semifinals against an explosive South Oak Cliff team that has already ended the senior seasons of two other UT commits. The SOC Golden Bears beat Cole Hutson’s Frisco team 35-24 in the second round, and then beat Bryan Allen and three-time defending state champion Aledo 33-28 in the third round.

Scattershooting while wondering, “When was the last time Texas signed a recruit from Lubbock?” The last true standout from the Hub City to wear burnt orange was Aaron Humphrey from Lubbock Monterey, a four-year starter (1996-99) and a 2nd Team All-Big 12 defensive end as a senior who finished his career with 312 total tackles, 50 tackles for loss, 21.5 sacks, and 10 forced fumbles. David Thomas and Mason Walters from nearby Wolfforth Frenship were both multi-year starters for the Longhorns in years after Humphrey graduated, but the only players from Lubbock to earn a letter at UT in the 21st century were three walk-ons from Monterey.

In the history of the Longhorn football program there have been no fewer than 21 lettermen from Lubbock high schools, including at least one from five different schools: Lubbock High, Coronado, Dunbar, Estacado, and Monterey. Kobie McKinzie stands to become the first from Lubbock-Cooper, which is on the south side of Lubbock and part of the Lubbock-Cooper Independent School District, separate from the Lubbock ISD.

Lubbock-Cooper played its first season of varsity football in 1936, and in the next 70 years the Pirates reached the playoffs in football just eight times, but since the start of the 2008 season they’ve missed the postseason only twice and have advanced to the third round or further on seven occasions. Their furthest playoff run was in 2019, when they reached the 5A Division II state semifinals before losing 28-21 to eventual state champion Aledo.

This year’s Lubbock-Cooper Pirates are 13-1, with their only loss a 14-13 defeat at the hands of Class 6A’s Wolfforth Frenship on September 10. Their offense hasn’t been consistently overwhelming — the team has won six games in which they scored 28 or fewer points — but their defense has been solid, and opponents have averaged only 10 points per game. In the playoffs, Lubbock-Cooper has outscored its opponents 142-21, and the team reached the state semifinals with a 22-0 win last week over Wichita Falls Rider. It was Lubbock-Cooper’s second win this season over Rider, a team which at one point was ranked 8th in Class 5A Division II and suffered its only two losses of 2021 against the Pirates. Rider managed just 12 total points in its two losses to Lubbock-Cooper, and averaged 41.7 points per game against all other opponents.

At the close of the regular season, Lubbock-Cooper was ranked 4th in Class 5A Division II, and South Oak Cliff was 5th. SOC has had the more impressive playoff resume though, with wins over Frisco, #1 Aledo, and last week over #9 Lovejoy. SOC is also vying to become the first Dallas high school to win a UIL state championship since Dallas Sunset in 1950. (Dallas Carter won the 5A championship in 1988 but was later forced to forfeit that title.)

Lubbock-Cooper, on the other hand, is in a two-horse race to become the first Lubbock school to win a state title since Estacado brought home the 3A state championship in 1968, its first season of varsity competition. Also in that race is Lubbock Roosevelt, which beat Longhorn commit Brenen Thompson’s team in the first round of the 3A Division II playoffs and is one of the four teams remaining in that bracket.

The winner between Lubbock-Cooper and South Oak Cliff will advance to its first state championship game and face either Crosby or Liberty Hill.

2022 DB Ronald Lewis — New Orleans (Louisiana) Warren Easton

Friday, December 11 at 7:00, vs. New Iberia Westgate (at the Caesars Superdome) in the LHSAA Class 4A state championship

Note: Warren Easton went into Louisiana’s Class 4A playoffs as the 3rd-seeded team and barely broke a sweat in the first three rounds, outscoring its first three opponents 189-19. In last week’s state semifinals the Eagles were up against 2nd seed Neville, which had lost only one game in the regular season and had eliminated the defending 2020 state champions earlier in the playoffs. Though none of Easton’s current players were around for it, there was some recent history with Neville that its fans were well aware of; Neville beat Warren Easton by one point in the 2014 Class 4A state championship, and also eliminated Easton from the playoffs in both of the next two seasons.

Neville was hoping to reach this week’s state final and take home its 13th state championship trophy, but Ronald Lewis and his Warren Easton teammates decidedly ruined those plans with a 45-17 win. Neville did lead 17-13 at one point in the 2nd quarter, but it was all Easton from there, as the Eagles closed out the game scoring 32 unanswered points. According to Crescent City Sports, Neville was held to 54 yards of offense in the second half as Easton pulled away and took control of the game.

Tonight’s Class 4A state championship game will be as close to a home game as any Louisiana state finalist will have, as the Easton Eagles will travel less than two miles from their campus to the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans. They’ll likely have a lot of fans and alumni present who will hope to see the school win its first state championship since 1942. To do that they’ll have to beat 5th seed New Iberia Westgate, which upset top seed New Orleans Edna Karr 27-20 in last week’s other semifinal game. Edna Karr won four straight 4A state titles from 2016 to 2019, and Westgate’s upset win over Edna Karr denied the Easton Eagles a shot at revenge against the team that eliminated them from the playoffs in each of the past four seasons.

Westgate is 12-2 on the season and will be playing for its first state championship. Aside from its win over #1 seed Edna Karr, Westgate’s path through the playoffs included wins over 28th seed New Orleans Kennedy (26-6), 12th seed Leesville (16-7), and 4th seed Shreveport Northwood (34-32).

If Warren Easton wins, it will claim the school’s first state title in 79 years, and Ronald Lewis will be the first Longhorn signee to win a Louisiana state championship since 2015 offensive line recruit Garrett Thomas, who was a member of Many High School’s Class 2A championship team in 2014.

Commits whose season has ended

2022 WR Brenen Thompson — Spearman

Spearman lost 44-11 to Lubbock Roosevelt in the first round of the Class 3A Division II playoffs and finished the season with a 6-5 overall record. Thompson missed much of the season due to injury.

2022 OL Cole Hutson — Frisco

Frisco lost to South Oak Cliff in the second round of the 5A Division II playoffs and finished with a 10-2 record.

2022 DL Aaron Bryant — Southaven (Mississippi)

Southaven finished 9-4 and lost in the quarterfinal round of the Class 6A playoffs.

2022 DL Justice Finkley — Trussville (Alabama) Hewitt-Trussville

Hewitt-Trussville finished 9-3 and lost in overtime in the quarterfinal round of Alabama’s 7A playoffs to top-ranked Hoover, who lost the following week to eventual state champion Thompson.

2022 DL Zac Swanson — Phoenix (Arizona) Brophy Prep

Brophy Prep lost in the quarterfinal round of Arizona’s Conference 6A playoffs by a 14-13 score to Red Mountain.

2022 DE/LB Derrick Brown — Texarkana Texas

Brown and his Texas High teammates faced Crosby last week in the Region III final of the Class 5A Division II playoffs, with hopes of avenging their 62-42 loss to Crosby in last year’s playoffs and getting closer to their first state championship game appearance since 2002.

Crosby went into the game averaging 50 points per game, while Texarkana Texas had averaged 36 points and allowed opponents to score less than 12 points per game. Naturally, the game ended with a final score of 14-7, with Crosby again eliminating Texas.

The Texas Tigers finished the season with an overall record of 12-1. Following the Tigers’ loss, the all-district team for District 9-5A Division II was announced, and Derrick Brown was voted the district’s Defensive Player of the Year.

2022 DE J’Mond Tapp — Donaldsonville (Louisiana) Ascension Catholic

Ascension Catholic lost 42-0 in the quarterfinal round of Louisiana’s Division IV playoffs to top seed Monroe Ouachita Christian on November 19.

2022 DB Bryan Allen — Aledo

Aledo lost 33-28 to South Oak Cliff in the third round of the Class 5A Division II playoffs. Aledo finished the season 12-1, and the loss ended its quest to win a fourth straight state title. Bryan Allen was one of two safeties named to the all-district first team for District 5-5A Division II.

2022 DB Jaylon Guilbeau — Port Arthur Memorial

Port Arthur Memorial lost to Fort Bend Hightower on November 12 in the first round of the Class 5A Division I playoffs. Jaylon Guilbeau was voted the Special Teams Player of the Year for District 9-5A Division I.

2023 DB Jamel Johnson — Arlington Seguin

Arlington Seguin went 4-5 in the 2021 season and did not qualify for the Class 5A Division II playoffs. Jamel Johnson was one of two cornerbacks voted to the all-district first team for District 5-5A Division II

2022 DB Austin Jordan — Denton Ryan

In a state quarterfinals matchup last week between the top two ranked teams in Class 5A Division I, Austin Jordan’s top-ranked Denton Ryan team — that classification’s defending state champion — lost to 2nd-ranked College Station 26-21. Austin Jordan caught 3 passes for 48 yards and a TD, and also made three tackles in the loss.

College Station avenged its defeat at the hands of Denton Ryan in the 2020 playoffs, and will now be the favorite to win this year’s 5A Division I state crown. (College Station is also the partial answer to the trivia question, “Who are the only two schools to beat Aledo in a football state championship game?” College Station beat Aledo 20-19 in the 2017 5A Division II state final, interrupting what would otherwise have been a run of five straight titles for the Bearcats. Aledo’s only other loss in a state final came in the 1974 Class 2A championship, where it was defeated by Grapeland 19-18.)

With the loss, Ryan finished 12-2 for the season, the first time the Raiders had more than one loss in a season since 2014. The coaches of District 5-5A Division I voted Austin Jordan as one of the five cornerbacks on the all-district first team.

2022 K Will Stone — Austin Regents School

Austin Regents lost in the quarterfinals of the TAPPS Division II playoffs and was unable to defend its state championship from the previous season.

2022 LS Lance St. Louis — Gilbert (Arizona) Williams Field

Williams Field, the 3rd seed in Arizona’s Conference 6A playoffs, reached the state semifinals before losing 35-28 to 2nd seed Scottsdale Chaparral.

2022 ATH Anthony Jones — Henderson (Nevada) Liberty

Anthony Jones’s Liberty team lost to Las Vegas Bishop Gorman in Nevada’s 5A state semifinals. Bishop Gorman went on to win the state title the following week.

Other commits not playing this week

2022 RB Jaydon Blue (Klein Cain)

Blue opted out of playing in the 2021 season. In his absence, Klein Cain went 9-3 and lost in the second round of the Class 6A Division I playoffs.

2022 DL Jaray Bledsoe (Marlin)

After previously attending Bremond High School, Bledsoe transferred in the summer of 2021 to Marlin High School, which is 17 miles away. He was subsequently ruled ineligible for the 2021 football season, and in late August the U.I.L. denied his eligibility appeal. In his absence, Marlin reached the Class 2A Division I playoffs and got its first postseason win in six years, and has since advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 2003.

2022 LB Trevell Johnson (Arlington Martin)

After dealing with a hip issue for several months, Johnson attempted to play in week one, but afterwards elected to have a surgery that caused him to miss the rest of his senior season. Arlington Martin finished 9-3 and lost to Lewisville in the second round of the Class 6A Division I playoffs.