Texas High School Football Preview: UIL State Championships

Chris Sommer
December 18, 2018 - 9:35 am

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After 16 weeks of thinning the herd, it's time to hand out the biggest and most important trophies of all in Texas high school football. 

Only 24 teams are still playing in the season's final week. Here are the matchups for the UIL State Championships at AT&T Stadium in Arlington:




7 pm Saturday

This has the potential to be a big-school blockbuster. Duncanville took down defending state champion Allen last week, while Galena Park North Shore walloped last year's other 6A Division 1 state finalist, Lake Travis. 

Duncanville is on a 14-game win streak, while North Shore has won 15 straight. Duncanville is second in the state in 6A scoring offense and tops overall in scoring defense. 

North Shore is No. 1 in scoring offense and third in 6A scoring defense. On paper, this looks like a classic, but here are the keys: If North Shore Jr. RB Zach Evans goes off again - he has nine touchdowns in the last two games - Duncanville is in trouble.  Evans might be the best high school running back in the nation. On the other hand, if Duncanville Jr. QB Ja'Quinden Jackson can again find open running lanes, like he did against Allen, the Panthers should be able to match North Shore blow-for-blow. 

Both teams are going to put plenty of points on the board. You get the feeling this championship game could come down to the team that gets the crucial defensive stops at the right time.



3 pm Saturday

The last time Longview won a state championship, the Great Depression was still going on.  That was 1937.  Beaumont West Brook didn't even win their district this year, finishing second behind Galena Park North Shore in 21-6A, which ended up landing two teams in the state title games.  That's a rare feat.  Longview and West Brook faced off in the opening round of the playoffs the last two years, which each winning once.  Longview's offense is triggered by highly-recruited Jr. QB Haynes King, who is joined in the backfield by bruising "Thunder" RB Jessie Anderson and speedy "Lightning" RB Keilyn Williams.  Longview has the No. 4 scoring offense in 6A. 

And while the overall numbers may not be as impressive for Beaumont West Brook, they have some serious weapons.  Sr. RB Robert McGrue is a 2,000-yard rusher who has scored 37 touchdowns this season.  West Brook QB L'Ravien Elia is a tremendous athlete who will look to connect with standout WR Thaddeus Johnson, who caught eight passes for 204 yards and a TD last week. 

The chances are decent at least one of these teams hits 50 on the scoreboard in this game.




11 am Saturday

With standard-bearers Carthage and Allen falling within a matter of hours last weekend, the longest active win streak in Texas high school football now belongs to the Highland Park Scots. They've won 30 consecutive games, and one more win on Saturday would give Highland Park a third-straight Class 5A Division 1 state championship. 

And the team standing in their way has never lost a varsity football game. That's right. Alvin Shadow Creek is in their first season, and they are 15-0. 

Meanwhile, Highland Park has won more games (831) than any other program in Texas history. The Scots high-stepped past Denton Ryan last week behind six total touchdowns from Jr. QB Chandler Morris.  His three TD passes went to Sr. WR Bennett Brown, who stepped in for injured starter Drew Scott.  Morris has targets aplenty all over the field. 

For Shadow Creek, diminutive quarterback Jamarian George does it all. He ran for 117 yards and three touchdowns last week. George leads a Sharks offense that is both efficient and explosive. Shadow Creek scored 41 points while running only 34 offensive plays in the semifinal win over San Antonio Wagner, which came in with the No. 1 defense in 5AD1. 

Experience may give Highland Park an edge in this one, but we have seen very few rookie seasons like the one put together by Alvin Shadow Creek. 



ALEDO (15-0) vs. FORT BEND MARSHALL (15-0)
7 pm Friday

It only seems like the Aledo Bearcats play in the state title game every year, but they are pretty darn close. If Aledo comes out on top Friday night, they will have won seven state championships in the span of a decade.  One more title would also be their eighth overall, tying the state 11-man record. 

Then there is Fort Bend Marshall, which is playing for state for the first time in school history.  But consider this - Marshall is a team playing with a different purpose. Last week, 17-year-old safety Drew Conley was shot and killed during a family dispute.  Fort Bend Marshall is embracing the memory of their fallen teammate by displaying his No. 3 jersey on the sideline. Conley will be heavy on their minds when they take the field against Aledo.

When the Marshall offense is on the field, you won't be able to keep your eyes off RB Devon Achane.  He can score from anywhere on the field, and showed it last week, with touchdown runs of 80, four and nine yards. 

As for Aledo, the Bearcats are not only chasing history, they still feel the sting of last year's one-point championship loss to College Station. For Aledo QB Jake Bishop, winning titles is a family tradition, and he has yet to join his older brothers in that exclusive club. 

The Marshall defense will see a heavy dose of Jr. RB Jase McClellan, who is committed to Oklahoma. Another key performer for Aledo is outstanding athlete Tre Owens, who returned an interception 100 yards for a TD last week, and also scored on a punt return.  

Just as with Highland Park, Aledo gets the edge based on experience, but don't count out Fort Bend Marshall.




WACO LA VEGA (13-2) vs. LIBERTY HILL (13-1)
3 pm Friday

Chances are this will be the fastest game played at AT&T Stadium this week. The M.O. for Liberty Hill and Waco La Vega is run, run, run. Both teams throw very few passes. Matter of fact, Liberty Hill has attempted only 36 passes the entire season.  The Panthers run the Slot-T offense, and they run it to perfection. 

Liberty Hill has run for more than 7,100 yards this year.  Their loaded backfield is led by QB Jacob Cearley, who runs the read-option like few others.  Sr. RB Kyle Harrison has scored 39 touchdowns this season.  Liberty Hill is the No. 1 scoring offense in 4AD1, at 54.9 points per game. 

Waco La Vega won a state title under legendary coach Willie Williams in 2015, and they are back in the big game under Williams' first year successor, Don Hyde.  La Vega's ground game is also a machine.  They ran for 480 yards in the semifinal win over Decatur, led by 197 yards and three touchdowns from Sr. RB John Richards.  Once he gets up to speed, bringing down Richards is like trying to tackle a boulder. 

These two teams played in the same district not long ago, and Waco La Vega leads the recent series, 4-0.  They met last in the 2017 quarterfinals.


11 am Friday

Texarkana Pleasant Grove joins three other schools (Highland Park, Newton, Mart) with a chance to repeat as state champions. The Cuero Gobblers are out to make sure it doesn't happen in 4AD2.  After a tough quarterfinal win over Pittsburg, TPG rolled to a huge victory over Iowa Park last week.  The Hawks aren't flashy, they just win.  TPG rolled up 488 total yards last week with no punts.  Efficient QB Ben Harmon was 6 of 8 for 150 yards and 3 TD, while RB Bruce Garrett ran for 106 yards. 

Meanwhile, on the other sideline, we find the explosive Cuero squad. The Gobblers' lineup is filled with athletes, and Jordan Whittington is the most spectacular of all. Committed to Texas, Whittington literally does everything for Cuero.  In last week's win over Silsbee, Whittington scored two touchdowns, ran for 38 yards, caught five passes, threw a 70-yard TD to his brother, Devin, and even scored two points on defense by returning a failed two-point conversion attempt 103 yards. 

As pointed out by Greg Tepper at Dave Campbell's Texas Football, Cuero is only the second team in Texas high school football history to play for a state title in five consecutive decades.  (Wichita Falls was the first.)  The Gobblers last won a championship in 1987.  If any Cuero team is going to break the drought, this is the one.




MALAKOFF (12-2) vs. GRANDVIEW (13-2)
7 pm Thursday

These two have a relatively short trip to Arlington for the biggest game of the year.  They're also the only state finalists who played one another earlier this season. 

Grandview defeated Malakoff, 28-7, on Sept. 20.  Another odd fact...neither Malakoff nor Grandview won their district title outright.  Grandview was the co-champ in 9-3A-1, while Malakoff finished second in their district behind Kemp. 

Players to watch for the Grandview Zebras (just love that mascot) include Soph. QB Dane Jentsch, RB Elijah Golden and Soph. defensive end Dametrious Crownover. 

The Malakoff offense is led by QB Darion Peace, RB Keevie Rose and WR Andreas Garrett. 


CANADIAN (14-1) vs. NEWTON (14-0)
3 pm Thursday

As a wire-to-wire #1 in the AP poll this season, Newton comes in favored to repeat as state champs. Winners of 29 straight, the Eagles' current streak is second only to Highland Park's 30.  Stellar Sr. RB Darwin Barlow (committed to TCU) carried Newton to victory last week, and he will again be counted on heavily against Canadian.  Not only is Newton the top-scoring offense in 3AD2, they also have five shutouts this season. 

Canadian cleared a big hurdle in their semifinal win over Gunter, and Coach Chris Koetting's squad has a championship pedigree.  The Wildcats will not be intimidated by Newton.  Canadian's only loss this season was to private power Grapevine Faith Christian in September. 




NEW DEAL (15-0) vs. MASON (15-0)
11 am Thursday

This small-school showdown could be one of the best games played at AT&T this week. The Mason Punchers have topped the 2A poll for the last three months, while New Deal has dominated its competition in the postseason.  The Lions have held four of five playoff opponents to six points or less.  Give yourself a chance to enjoy New Deal Sr. QB Jett Whitfield, who has more than 4,000 yards of total offense this season.  His main target is "Big 12 caliber" WR DK Blaylock, who recently de-committed from Iowa State and is said to be considering Texas Tech.  New Deal is the first 11-man school from the Lubbock area to play for a state title since Idalou in 2010. 

Mason's offense is really good, but their defense is absolute nails.  The Punchers have allowed a touchdown or less in 12 of 15 games this season.  On offense, RB Klay Klaerner will pound away at the New Deal defense.  Klaerner ran for 212 yards and four touchdowns last week.



GRUVER (14-1) vs. MART (14-1)
7 pm Wednesday

After winning the state title in 2A Division 1 last season, the latest UIL realignment dropped Mart into 2A Division 2. 

As if they needed any additional help.  Pound-for-pound, Mart might be the best high school football team in Texas.  Mart has the top scoring offense in 2AD2 and the No. 2 scoring defense in the division.  This is their 11th appearance in the state title game.  Scored 80 in one playoff game and 64+ in two others.  Mart's two senior running backs are worth the price of admission.  Tyrek Horne is a local legend who has run for more than 6,200 yards in his career while scoring 84 touchdowns.  His backfield buddy is RB Shatydrick Bailey, who might stand 5-foot-4.  Bailey can score from anywhere on the field.  The Mart backfield is rounded out by Soph. QB Roddrell Freeman, who is ready to carry the legacy forward. 

Gruver was able to bounce back from an early deficit against Albany last week.  They can light it up both on the ground and through the air.  Only Mart has a more prolific scoring offense in 2AD2 this season.  Sr. QB Keegan Kelp loves to target 6-foot-5 WR Jalin Conyer.



McLEAN (14-0) vs. MILFORD (12-1)
2 pm Wednesday


FOLLETT (12-2) vs. STRAWN (12-2)
11 am Wednesday


Do yourself a favor and catch at least one of these six-man games this week.  The field is shorter, the action is wilder and you will be in for a treat. 

Strawn is the defending champion in Division 2. If there are two things they love in Strawn, it's their football team and the legendary chicken fried steak at Mary's Cafe.