The Cooldown: Week 11

Another regular season has come and gone. As is the case every year, I’m excited for the playoffs and interested to see which teams will win plenty of great matchups; who will pull off an upset or make a surprise run.

But the end of the regular season also brings about a little sadness. Half of the state has hung up the pads for the year. Gone is the intrigue of the regular season. Just as quickly as it came, the season is nearly gone and we begin again the eight months march to opening night. But for now, we have six awesome weeks left to enjoy, culminating in perhaps the coolest, most talent-packed spectacle in all of high schools sports – the UIL State Championships. Let’s do it.

After a quick recap of last weeks’ best games, we’ll preview the playoffs for 5A and 6A and hit on the Houston-area contenders in 3A and 4A.

Willis caps off district championship with win over Oak Ridge

I’ve covered high school sports in the Houston area for six years now. Though my knowledge of sports in the area doesn’t much predate 2018, I know Willis wasn’t much more than a footnote for a while. The Wildkats were 7-23 from the time I started covering Houston in 2018 through 2020. Then, Willis finished 6-6 and won a playoff game in 2021 before regressing to 5-5 a year ago under first year head coach Trent Miller.

Miller came from a talented program at Spring to take the Willis job. Loaded with talent, even beyond 5-star quarterback DJ Lagway, Willis capped off a district championship and a 10-0 regular season with a 49-35 win against Oak Ridge last week. That is, by the way, 49 points against an Oak Ridge defense that features two 5-star recruits of its own in linebacker Justin Williams and defensive lineman Joseph Jonah-Ajonye, both committed to Georgia.

Lagway finished 30-of-42 passing for 303 yards, three touchdowns and an INT. Lagway added 88 yards and two more touchdowns on the ground; Daylion Robinson had 63 yards and a touchdown on just six carries. Lagway spread his 303 yards passing among seven receivers, none topping 100 yards. DeBraun Hampton had 42 yards and a touchdown, Jermaine Bishop Jr. finished with 83 yards and a score while Jalen Mickens had 82 yards and a touchdown. A’Mauree Holmes had the most catches, with eight for 79 yards. Lagway finds all of his guys.

Willis will face Aldine Nimitz in round one, and faces a tough road in general. Round two could be a matchup against a Tomball Memorial offense that scored 77 points in a game earlier this year. Defending 6A-II state champion DeSoto likely waits in round three. But no matter what happens, Willis took home the district championship and that is a massive win. Oak Ridge will face Dekaney in round one while the winner of Cy Falls and Tomball could wait in round two.

Iowa Colony wins its first district title

Iowa Colony finished 2-7 in its debut as a program last season. A year later, the Pioneers added eight wins to last years’ total and brought home the 12-4A-I district championship in stunning fashion.

I say stunning for more reasons than one. Obviously, the turn-around from 2-7 to 10-0 to win a district championship in the program’s second year is quite stunning. But so too is the fact that the Pioneers 8-0 district finish was two games better than any other district team – Bay City and Needville were 4-2 – yet Iowa Colony won three of its six district games (half!!) by seven points or less.

Speaking of Bay City and Needville, those were two of Iowa Colony’s three close calls. The Pioneers beat Bay City 28-27 and beat Needville 49-45 to close out the year. Want to know one more stunning stat? Iowa Colony, as a new school, has no seniors. Everyone is back next year. A good portion of Iowa Colony’s offensive production has come from freshmen and sophomores.

In the 49-45 win against Needville last week, freshman quarterback Carson White for well over 300 yards of offense. He finished 11-of-19 passing for 168 yards and a touchdown and added 18 carries for 181 yards and four more scores. Jacody Miles ran for 70 yards; Aaron Tenner (who Maxpreps has listed as an eighth grader!!) and Joseph Mosely also had rushing touchdowns. Miles was the leading receiver four catches for 89 yards and Landrew Ward hauled in the lone White passing touchdown.

Iowa Colony ranks No. 4 in the state and is the only top 10 team in 4A-I with a 10-0 record, though No. 3 Kilgore would be a tough out in a potential regional final. The Pioneers will face Furr in round one. No. 1 Boerne would await in the state semifinals if Iowa Colony could advance that far. Needville takes on Yates in round one, and Kilgore would potentially be waiting in round three.

Alief Taylor takes home Alief ISD Championship

As I mentioned earlier, the end of the regular season is a little sad. We say goodbye to half of the teams in the Houston area for next nine months. It feels like opening night was yesterday but somehow its already been 11 weeks and another season has come and gone. That’s true for Alief ISD.

It isn’t easy playing in a pretty loaded 23-6A. Shadow Creek and Pearland have each won state championships. Dawson and Strake Jesuit have made deep playoff runs recently. It’s tough sledding. Alief Taylor’s two-year playoff streak came to an end this season, but not before it captured bragging rights as champions of Alief ISD.

Taylor took down Elsik 21-17 last week after previously beating Hastings 36-7. Torian Roberts and Logan Gray each threw a touchdown pass in the win. Jaxson Adeoye ran for 62 yards and Rafael Quinones ran in a touchdown. Brandon Barrera was the star of the night for Taylor, finishing with six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown.

Though the season is over for Taylor and Elsik, I wanted to write about this game for a reason. There’s no playoff implications to discuss. No road ahead. The season is over. But this is a reminder that there’s so many cool things to celebrate about this sport, such as being the best team in your town. Taylor’s playoff streak is over and Elsik and Hastings didn’t make the cut again. But each still has a lot to play for, and we see long playoff droughts come to an end every year. This year, it’s Cy Springs, playoff bound for the first time in more than 20 years. Who knows, maybe next year we’re talking about Hastings or Elsik being the story of the season.

Player of the Week

I’ve said this a few times this season but this player-of-the-week has been truly overdue. He’s been running over defenses for a minute, and he capped off the final regular season game of his high school career in mega fashion.

My player-of-the-week is Summer Creek running back Lloyd Avant! He saved his best for last, running 34 times for 304 yards and four touchdowns against a top 10 team in the state in district foe Atascocita.

Avant has had a huge senior season and has positioned Summer Creek to make a run at a state championship appearance in 6A-II. Summer Creek has lost at least four games in each of the last five seasons, and was 8-5 last year. This season, the Bulldogs enter the playoffs ranked No. 9 in the state, and they’ll finish with two losses or a state championship.

The only teams in 6A-II ranked higher than Summer Creek in the state are No. 2 DeSoto and No. 7 Byron Nelson. Just behind Summer Creek is No. 10 Southlake Carroll but Summer Creek wouldn’t face any of those three teams until the state title game. Hightower might be the stiffest competition in Region III, while the winner of No. 11 Cibolo Steele and No. 15 Dripping Springs could wait in the state semifinals. Either way, Summer Creek is the favorite in Region III.

Playoff Preview

So we’ve finally made it. The second season is here. Let’s dissect the brackets and what they mean for all our teams in the Greater Houston area.

Because there aren't many teams in Houston below 5A, here's a quick preview of what to expect from Houston area teams in 3A and 4A. Bellville is once again the class of the area in 4A-Division II, but getting past Silsbee to win Region III will be no easy task. If Bellville can pull it off, Wimberly would be the likely opponent in the state semifinals with Carthage likely waiting in the state title game.

The best chance the Houston area has below 5A is in 3A-Division I. Columbus romped Hitchcock in the regular season, 52-24, and Hitchcock is probably the main competition for the Cardinals. Both are Houston area, so I would anticipate one of the two -- likely Columbus -- representing Houston in the state semifinals. Jourdanton and Edna are the best teams in Region IV with Jourdanton ranking No. 10 in the state. The survivor of No. 1 Columbus and No. 6 Hitchcock likely makes it to state against No. 2 Malakoff or No. 4 Brock. I have Columbus winning state, my only Houston area champion in this years' playoffs.

6A-Division I Preview

Alright let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way because it’s obligatory: North Shore will be the overwhelming favorite to win Region III for at least the sixth year in a row. Katy could be an intriguing challenge in round three; the Tigers lost to Atascocita previously this year. Atascocita could be waiting in the regional final; North Shore beat the Eagles 61-35 two weeks ago.

Whoever wins out between Austin Westlake and Austin Vandegrift in Region IV could be a very interesting state semifinal showdown. The Mustangs pulled away from Westlake in the fourth quarter of last years’ state semifinal; Vandegrift lost handily to DeSoto in the 6A-II state championship game. In any case, North Shore should win Region III and North Shore-Duncanville V is a real possibility. It may even be likely we get that fifth state championship showdown in six years between those two.

Now that we’ve got the macro-level expectations covered for 6A-I, let’s discuss some sleepers and interesting matchups. Pearland takes on Dickinson in round one, which might be the most interesting first round matchup in the Houston area. Pearland finished 8-2 with a non-district loss to C.E. King and a 21-7 loss to district champion Dawson. A 20-13 win against Shadow Creek was the marquee win, and the Oilers rolled in almost every other game. Dickinson’s lone loss came to Atascocita, 46-21, on opening night. Dickinson’s marquee win came against Ridge Point, 45-37, in week two. That should be a great showdown in round one.

Atascocita was ranked in the top 10 all season until a double-digit loss to Summer Creek in the season finale and the Eagles will get the winner of Dickinson and Pearland in round two, so long as they handle business against Dobie. While Dickinson might be the better of those two and Atascocita has a blowout win against the Gators this year, this has the potential to be a great game no matter the opponent. Dickinson has improved as the season has gone on. I don’t want to say Atascocita has regressed given the two losses are to North Shore and Summer Creek, but the Eagles don’t have the same momentum Dickinson does at the moment. Could that momentum be enough to make this a close game? I hope we get to find out.

Another great potential round two matchup could be Lamar against Ridge Point. Each have explosive playmakers on offense. I would give Lamar a leg up in this one, but it could be a great game. Lamar might be co-favorites with Atascocita in this lower half of the bracket, and I’d be super interested to see the Texans face North Shore in the regional finals. We’ve seen what Atascocita can do against North Shore; how about Lamar?

The other most intriguing round one games in Region III include Ridge Point against Tompkins (it is not an easy road for Ridge Point) and Shadow Creek against Clear Springs. I’m excited to follow along with both of those games.

In Region II, we could have a tasty showdown between Klein Collins and The Woodlands in round two. Outside of a blowout loss to an explosive Lamar squad, Klein Collins has looked fantastic this year. The Woodlands might not have lived up to expectations, but still boast a solid handful of playmakers on offense. That game could go either way and it may be my top game to watch in among second round possibilities, so long as Collins dispatches Cy Ranch and The Woodlands is able to beat Spring in round one.

In the other half of the Region II bracket (which features half-Houston and half-DFW teams), we’ll see Klein Cain take on Bridgeland and Conroe faces Spring Westfield. Bridgeland and Westfield will be the favorites, but both of these games could feature an upset.

Unfortunately, Duncanville will be the overwhelming favorite in this region, and I doubt any Houston area team seriously challenges the Panthers. This has been the case for the last six years. Coach Reginald Samples has a factory going at Duncanville, and the Panthers have the same aura of feeling unbeatable before the state championships that North Shore does.

My state championship pick – Duncanville over North Shore

6A-Division II Preview

Unlike 6A-Division I where North Shore is an obvious favorite because of the dynastic run the Mustangs are on, the 6A-Division II obvious favorite in Region III is more because no other team in the 6A-II bracket has held a candle to this team all season.

That team is Summer Creek. I won’t go too deep on the Bulldogs here because it is partially discussed above. There are only two state ranked teams in the Houston area in the 6A-II bracket: Summer Creek and Willis, who is in Region II. That means No. 9 Summer Creek will be big favorites in Region III.

The Bulldogs open with Pasadena Memorial before a potentially interesting game with Pearland Dawson in round two. Round three holds less intrigue: The opponent will likely be Katy Taylor, George Ranch or Stratford – Summer Creek clears all three with ease. In my opinion, the likely opponent in the regional finals would be either Hightower or C.E. King, whom Summer Creek beat 33-12 in the regular season. Hightower is probably the most likely to win this region outside of Summer Creek, and that regional final game could be pretty fun.

In Region II, teams will have to upset No. 2 DeSoto to win the region. Willis, No. 13 in the state, stands the best chance at doing that, though the odds are still long. The potential round three showdown between DeSoto and Willis is probably the singular game I’m most excited for in this entire bracket, and I’m hoping to bring live coverage.

Elsewhere in Region II, Tomball will look to upset Cy Falls in a great round one matchup. This is a familiar situation for Tomball. The Cougars were in the same spot in 2021, a fourth-place finish in district 15-6A led to a run to the state semifinals where they lost to Denton Guyer. A run to the state semifinals is unlikely, but Tomball has the guns to win a few games. So does Cy Falls. Between those two and likely round two opponent Oak Ridge, I’m excited to see who emerges in round three.

Cy Springs and Tomball Memorial will be another round one banger to keep your eye on, the winner gets Willis so long as the ‘Kats beat Aldine Nimitz. Katy Jordan against Hightower and Katy Taylor against George Ranch are other round one matchups in 6A-II I’m keeping my eye on.

My state championship pick – DeSoto over Summer Creek

5A-Division I Preview

There are no obvious favorites here necessarily. Fulshear is looking pretty good, and the Chargers are my pick to win the region. But it is more wide open than the 6A brackets. I’ll hit on Region II first because there are only three Houston area teams in the bracket.

None of the Houston area teams in Region II are state ranked, and New Caney Porter opens the playoffs with the favorite to win the region: No. 2 Longview. Probably chalking that one up as an L. La Porte had a solid regular season, and will face Lancaster in round one. One of the best first round games in the area is Mansfield Timberview against Frisco Wakeland, and La Porte will face the winner of that game if it wins. Longview would wait in round three. La Porte and New Caney Porter got stuck in a tough portion of the bracket.

Barbers Hill is the other Houston area team in Region II. They get McKinney North in round one and would likely face Richland in round two. Richland had a great year, and that will be a tough game. Frisco Lone Star could wait in round three. Odds are: Houston area teams won’t make it deep in this loaded portion of the bracket, especially with Longview lurking.

Onto Region III, I think Fulshear is the favorite, but plenty of teams could make noise here. Out-of-area Smithson Valley and College Station are among the contenders. Galveston Ball had a great season. Fulshear would potentially get Ball in round three before facing the potential winner of College Station and Smithson Valley in the regional finals.

I believe Fulshear will get the regional finals against one of those two, probably Smithson Valley, and I think Fulshear will win. Smithson Valley ranks No. 4 in the state while College Station is No. 9. I also like Fulshear over the Region IV winner, likely No. 7 PSJA North. However, No. 1 Aledo is loaded with talent and would present a significant challenge at state.

My state championship pick – Aledo over Fulshear

5A-Division II Preview

Only one region to preview here! Houston area teams only play in Region III in the 5A-II bracket. There are some Austin and Waco area schools mixed in. The favorite should be No. 1 Lake Creek by virtue of, you know, being ranked No. 1 in the state.

I do believe Lake Creek will win the region, but it will be tough. After a first round date with Nederland, the Lions would get an unfamiliar opponent in either Waco University or Austin Crockett in round two before a potential showdown with No. 3 Port Neches-Groves in round three. Survive that, and who knows what waits in the regional finals. Texas City had a good year; Fort Bend Marshall is a championship caliber program; Richmond Randle has an explosive offense. Who knows!

Speaking of Randle, they face Marshall in round one and that might be my favorite first round matchup in the whole state. Marshall struggled through the middle portion of the schedule, but caught fire late. The Buffs feel like a team that could make a run to the regional finals or lose in round one. Neither would shock me. Randle is a solid squad, but it will take a lot to take down a team with a pedigree like Marshall with a coach like James Williams.

Back to Lake Creek, the biggest threat in the region is more than likely PNG. The Indians made it to state last season and beat Marshall in the regular season, 7-0. It beat Texas City 38-23. I don’t know what to make of this game. Lake Creek only beat 2-8 Montgomery 36-35. Each team has had its ups and downs. I think this will be a close game in round three and I think the winner wins the region and heads to state. The state semifinal opponent could be 10-0 No. 6 Alamo Heights. Another tough game, but I like Lake Creek to make it to state. But, Lake Creek, PNG or Alamo Heights making it to state wouldn’t surprise me.

My state championship pick – Lovejoy over Lake Creek

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