We’re onto the regional finals, meaning only the elite of the elite are left playing. In fact, only seven Houston-area teams are still alive and looking at the list… North Shore, Katy, Atascocita, Marshall, Westfield, Columbus, C.E. King… yep, the gang’s all here. It is definitely the regional finals. Each of those teams except C.E. King have played for a regional final in the last few years.
C.E. King stuns Hightower
All told, Hightower had an incredibly successful first year as a 6A program. It isn’t Hightower’s first time playing in the state’s largest classification – the Hurricanes played Southlake Carroll for a state title in 5A, then the largest class in the state, back in 2011 – but it had been in class 5A ever since Texas added class 6A back in 2014, until this season.
So how did the Hurricanes handle their first taste of life in 6A? I think a 10-3 season, two playoff wins and district runners-up sounds pretty good. Unfortunately for Hightower, that first season in 6A came to an end at the hands of C.E. King on Friday. The senior-laden Panthers were propelled by running back Keith Willis, who finished with 198 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries.
Quarterback Denim Johnson also turned in a nice game, going 11-of-16 passing for 122 yards, a touchdown and an INT. Johnson added 76 yards and a score on the ground as well. The Panther defense did a good job as well, limiting Hightower to just 275 yards of offense in the 38-21 win. Fortunately for Hightower, there is plenty of room for growth as quarterback Joseph Stewart will be a junior next season and star running back Jeremy Payne will return for his senior year.
C.E. King has benefitted from playing one of the toughest schedules in Texas. Losses at Allen, at North Shore, to Atascocita and to Summer Creek – all of whom were state-ranked for much of the season – has prepared the Panthers well for this deep playoff run. Now they’ll play Katy for a regional title.
Katy topples Summer Creek
Speaking of Katy, the Tigers are back in the state quarterfinals after sprinting past Summer Creek, literally.
In this blog last week, I talked about how Summer Creek could slow down a dominant rushing attack. That sort of happened… Katy averaged a very good, but not quite Katy-like 6.5 yards-per-carry. The Tigers still ran for 326 yards so they weren’t slowed down much. Katy usually averages north of 8.0 yards-per-carry so I suppose Summer Creek did what it could to minimize the ground impact, but, yeah… it’s still Katy.
Seth Davis was outstanding again, running 26 times for 224 yards and two scores, which equals out to a Katy-like 8.6 yards-per-carry. Caleb Koger was efficient in the passing game, finishing 8-of-13 for 92 yards and two scores. At this point, Katy is cruising through the playoffs and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them win another state title.
North Shore eliminates Cinco Ranch
North Shore is onto round four for the eighth-straight season after a convincing 49-21 win against Cinco Ranch. But I want to talk a little about the Cougars first before we get to North Shore’s road ahead.
These two teams made history in very different ways this year. On North Shore’s end, not many teams can say they’ve played for eight-straight region titles. For Cinco Ranch, it scored 21 points in a third round playoff game against the defending state champs, a team with perhaps the best defense in the entire state. But what’s so impressive about that? A handful of teams have achieved that this year.
Why it’s special for Cinco is because of where it has been. It capped off a 9-4 year with two playoff wins in a tough district. The Cougars have losses to North Shore and Katy this year, two of the top three teams in the state all season. That’s remarkable because the Cougars went 4-24 between 2018-2020. Then, a strong class of ’23 led Cinco Ranch to an 8-5 season and two playoff wins in 2021 and followed it up with two more playoff wins this season. Gavin Rutherford, Seth Salverino, Sam McKnight, Eric Eckstrom and more have powered this run. It’s been fun to cover them as well.
Rutherford finished 14-of-31 for 167 yards and a touchdown through the air in his swan song as a Cougar. McKnight struggled on the ground against an excellent North Shore defense, but had a great season season overall. Salverino caught three passes for 73 yards and a score.
For North Shore, the Mustangs continue to lean on perhaps the state’s best defense to help win games. That Mustang defense held Cinco Ranch to just 166 yards of offense. The offense was sharp as well, even as North Shore continues to try to fill the massive hole left by injured quarterback Kaleb Bailey.
Rashaad Johnson had a great game on the ground, carrying the ball 21 times for 214 yards and two scores. D’Andre Hardeman added 113 yards and two more rushing touchdowns while receiver-turned-fill-in-quarterback David Amador added another 85 yards on the ground in addition to two touchdown passes.
North Shore gets a tough rematch with Atascocita next. The Mustangs survived an Atascocita upset bid in a close game 16-13 the first time around. The winner of that one likely gets three-time defending state champion Austin Westlake in the state semifinals.
Player of the Week
Big thank you to Fort Bend Marshall’s Jordon Davis for making this an easy choice. It might be my easiest player-of-the-week choice of the year. The Buffs quarterback completed an insane 20-of-21 passes for 325 yards and five touchdowns. He added 15 carries for an additional 115 yards and two more scores. That’s 36 touches for 440 yards and seven touchdowns.
It doesn’t get more player-of-the-week than that.
Marshall made a big time statement by beating a solid Lake Creek squad 55-18. The Buffs face Port Neches-Groves next and could face Liberty Hill for the right to go back to state.
Playoff Schedule: Regional Finals
Here’s the entire slate of games for Houston-area teams in the regional finals. We’re down to just seven teams, Columbus is the only team left playing below 5A and Houston is eliminated from the 5A-I bracket all together.
- North Shore vs. Atascocita, 7 p.m. at New Caney’s Randall Reed Stadium
- Katy vs. C.E. King, 7 p.m. at NRG Stadium
- Marshall vs. Port Neches-Groves 7 p.m. at Galena Park ISD Stadium
- Columbus vs. Franklin, 7 p.m. at Tomball ISD Stadium
- Spring Westfield vs. Duncanville, 3 p.m. at Georgetown ISD Stadium