State Championship Weekend Recap

The 2023 football season didn’t quite end the way the Houston area would’ve liked. Bellville, North Shore and Summer Creek each lost state championship games and Bellville was the only team to come close to winning.

Fortunately, teams across the area play for much more than just a state championship. No area team has able to hoist a trophy to cap off the ultimate goal, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great season. I’ll dive deeper into that in the outro as we write the final words on the 2023 season. First, let’s recap state championship weekend.

Bellville loses heartbreaker to Gilmer

One week ago, Bellville mounted a goal-line stand against Wimberley to sneak away with a 35-33 win. That win advanced Bellville to state for the first time in nearly 50 years. At the state championships, Bellville didn’t get the play it needed on the goal-line.

With 2:26 left in the third quarter, Corrian Hood ran in a 4-yard touchdown. After a failed two-point conversion that would’ve tied the game, Bellville trailed 28-26. That would be the final score.

A flurry of scoring in the final two minutes of the first half proved to be all Gilmer needed. The Buckeyes scored two touchdowns to Bellville’s one in those final two minutes to take a 28-20 lead to halftime. Despite getting shutout in the second half, Gilmer still came away with the win. Though Bellville cleaned up penalties and turnovers in the second half, it wasn’t enough to overcome what coach Grady Rowe thought was an uncharacteristically sloppy first half.

“Turnovers, penalties that we hadn’t really done all year,” Rowe said. “You can’t win these games and have those kind of penalties and turn the ball over, those things especially we did in the first half.”

Bellville finished with nine penalties for 75 yards and two turnovers, an interception and a lost fumble. Those penalties especially hurt a team like Bellville that is reliant on the Slot T offense, making long distance downs less manageable.

However, that Slot T offense still powered Bellville to state and was still effective at the highest level of high school football. Sam Hranicky ran the ball 13 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns. DD Murray added 81 yards on just nine carries while Hood’s 14 carries went for 49 yards.

Quarterback Zach Leuschner perhaps highlighted the highs and lows of the Slot T offense. He attempted two passes: The first went for 72 yards and a touchdown; the second was picked off at the end of a long Braham drive that ended in the red zone. Both pass attempts came in third-and-long situations.

The medals worn around the necks of every player and staff member are silver and not gold, but 91 teams in 4A-II sat at home with no medal this weekend. There’s a lot to be said for that. Hranicky framed that success another way.

“Our (class) hasn’t lost a regular season game since we’ve been playing on varsity,” Hranicky said. “It’s just how we get after it. We love playing with each other, we love being physical. We’ve just been taught how to play like that, from our parents, from our community and from our coaches.”

Though the season didn’t end in Cinderella fashion for Bellville, the love shared between Rowe and the coaching staff, their players and their community is obvious. I asked Rowe after the game about that bond and he was choked up and emotional through his response.

“We’re a close-knit group,” Rowe said. “The core (of the coaching staff) has been together for 13 years, including three guys who played for me. They’ve committed everything; their families have (too), and you can tell we’re pretty close.”

Duncanville offense rolls, North Shore loses "Round Five"

If there’s anything you can count on more than Santa Claus at this time of year, it’s probably North Shore and Duncanville playing each other for a 6A-I state championship.

The previous four matchups have been well discussed. Three of the four matchups were won by one possession and the largest margin of victory came in North Shore’s 31-17 win in 2019. This year broke from the norm.

For perhaps the first time in this series, one team looked definitively better than the other. Duncanville is an offensive juggernaut, and it showed on Saturday in a 49-33 win to claim the 6A-I state championship. Duncanville rolled up 546 yards in the win.

Caden Durham was the game’s offensive MVP; his 22 carries went for 230 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Keelon Russell added 288 yards and three more scores through the air. North Shore coach Willie Gaston indicated Duncanville’s offensive performance had more to do with greatness than North Shore’s defense.

“It’s not giving up too (many points) it’s called they’re good, they’re talented,” Gaston said. “When you go down against a team that talented, you’re going to dig yourself a hole… but when (you’re playing against) a team that explosive, that talented, you can’t do it.”

Now, North Shore will have to regroup. It wasn’t an easy season for a group that was under new leadership. Replacing a legend like Jon Kay is never easy and Gaston mentioned in his post-game press conference he has plenty to learn as a head coach. But there’s no other way to describe a state championship appearance as a first-time head coach as anything other than s success. The transition and things he learned from coach Kay isn’t something Gaston takes for granted.

“It’s been a true, smooth transition,” Gaston said. “I been here for 15 years, I learned under coach Kay… I want to continue to do what these guys have done since I was a player.”

Kaleb Bailey led the Mustangs as he had all year. He finished 21-of-27 passing for 251 yards, three touchdowns and an INT on the Mustangs’ last drive. Bailey was also the team’s leading rusher with 114 yards. But Bailey is more than just the team’s offensive leader.

“He’s our leader,” Gaston said. “Him being hurt last year, that took him out of track. He needs to get back on that track because he was a lot faster as a freshman. At the end of the day, I love the way that kid battles. Just a great kid, all the players respond to him very well, like I said he’s our leader.”

With talent like Bailey and cornerback Devin Sanchez back next year, and a program that churns out D1 talent on a regular basis, North Shore fans could book hotels for Arlington for next season right now. Gaston, Bailey and the team will want another shot at Duncanville, especially with Durham graduating.

Summer Creek caps off best season in school history at state

The most important thing to note is Summer Creek was masterful nearly all season en route to the best finish in school history and its first state championship appearance.

That being said, DeSoto has a real claim for 2023 National Champions. Some outlets, like Maxpreps, will name a National Champion based on the season of the best high school teams in America. It’s subjective, sure, but anyone who watched the 6A-II state championship game, or paid an ounce of attention to DeSoto this year, would have to include the Eagles near the top of that conversation.

Heck, DeSoto beat 6A-I state champion Duncanville in district play, 49-35. The Eagles rolled to victory on Saturday night, 74-14.

The box score paints a story fitting of the final score. DeSoto out-gained Summer Creek 558-159. Star running back Lloyd Avant was limited to 44 yards on 20 carries, and he did score both of Summer Creek’s touchdowns. Blake Thomas finished 6-of-19 for 91 yards and an interception. Remember, this is a DeSoto team that limited 6A-I champion Duncanville to just 35 points.

Eagles quarterback Darius Bailey finished with 286 yards and four touchdowns. Running backs Marvin Duffey, Tiger Riden and Jaden Trawick had a touchdown apiece rushed for 126 yards, 72 yards and 59 yards, respectively.

The star of the night was DeSoto wide receiver Daylon Singleton. His three touchdown receptions – all coming in the first quarter – tied a record for touchdown receptions in a 6A championship game. He racked up 141 yards on just five catches. Antonio Pride, who finished with 117 receiving yards, and freshman Ethan Feaster each caught a touchdown as well.

It was, by all accounts, not the best game of football Summer Creek has ever played. Again, that’s fine. There are about three teams in the entire state that can play at the upper echelons of high school football in America: Duncanville, North Shore and DeSoto. Those three are head, shoulders and maybe an upper torso above the rest of the state. And the Eagles beat Duncanville, who beat North Shore. So guess who the best team in the nation is.

I write all that to make the point – let’s put Saturday in the books and celebrate the historic season Summer Creek had. Let’s celebrate the “new blood” that made it into the state championship game. And let’s celebrate community.

I wrote on Saturday night that sometimes we like to say we love football more than anything else. I think that emotion and passion is, oftentimes, rooted in community. That’s the impression I got talking to Avant after the game. His career will continue next season at the University of Tulsa, but he still felt every bit of the weight of the end of his career as a Summer Creek Bulldog.

I’d write the quote he gave me, but there’s no emotion in words on a screen. It’s better to see Avant say those words himself, where you can see exactly what the Summer Creek community meant to him through his words and the emotions written all over his face.

So let’s put a cap on the 2023 season. Let’s celebrate communities like the one Avant grew up in, something that seems to be common in Texas. Let’s celebrate stories like Cy Springs, making its first playoff appearance since the early 2000s. Let’s celebrate the heralded recruits who broke records and won awards, like DJ Lagway and Trey Owens. Let’s celebrate the outstanding athletes that won’t be playing big time college football, like Zion Brown and Koby Fosher; who, in many cases, wowed us just as much as those big time recruits. Better put, let’s celebrate all the athletes signing their National Letters of Intent today.

And perhaps most importantly, let’s celebrate an outstanding senior class, especially the ones who may be hanging up the pads forever. Congratulations on a great high school career to the class of 2024. You wowed us on the field and impressed us off of it as well.

Finally, to the class of 2025, now it’s your time. Only 255 days until kickoff of the 2024 season. I know we all can’t hardly wait.

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