The Cooldown: Week 15

It feels hard to believe – maybe because last season was so long with the delayed start for 5A and 6A – but we’re down to the “final four” stage. Left standing in 6A is North Shore, Katy and Tomball; for 5A, Katy Paetow and Crosby are still alive. Those represent, essentially, the five best teams in Houston this season as they are the final five remaining. Each faces an out-of-area opponent this week, so none of them are guaranteed to advance to state.

Check out last weeks’ recap, player-of-the-week, and what to expect this weekend for the state semifinals along with game times and locations.

Tomball keeps dream season going

Tomball lost three-straight games heading into its regular season finale and finished as the four-seed in district 15-6A. In the four weeks since that regular season finale, the Cougars haven’t lost a game and are heading to the state semifinals.

Getting past Bridgeland is usually no easy task, but the Bears were missing star quarterback Conner Weigman – who suffered a head injury against Cedar Hill in round three. Even so, Bridgeland hung in as long as it could. A Jonathan Nelson touchdown catch made it a one-score game midway through the third quarter. Then, Tomball did to Bridgeland what it has been doing throughout these playoffs.

The Cougars racked up four touchdowns in less than three minutes to close the third quarter en route to a 48-13 win; unexpected for a team that had just 14 points midway through the third. Cale Hellums continued to prove he’s one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the area, carrying the ball 27 times for 173 yards and three scores while adding another 112 yards and two touchdowns passing.

Tomball’s trio of Hellums and running backs Christian Womack and Evan Alaniz have been outstanding this year, and they will need to continue doing so to beat Denton Guyer, a team with championship pedigree. Guyer lost to Austin Westlake in the 2019 6A-II state title game and lost to Cedar Hill in the state semifinals last year. Guyer is used to playing on this stage and Tomball will have to adjust to that. Game information is below.

Katy survives scare from Summer Creek

Summer Creek is an example of a team peaking at just the right time. Unfortunately, not many teams (even at their peak!) can beat Katy.

Katy did what Katy does best: run the ball. Seth Davis was unstoppable, running for 229 yards and three touchdowns on just 15 carries – an average of more than 15 yards-per-carry! As a team, Katy ran 30 times for 367 yards and four scores. Caleb Koger tossed 90 yards, a touchdown and an INT on 5-of-11 with Nic Anderson catching the lone touchdown pass.

Lloyd Avant, fresh off his first college offer from UCF, had a huge game for Summer Creek. The sophomore revelation ran 20 times for 146 yards to pace the Bulldogs in that category, but it wasn’t quite enough to beat the No. 2 team in the state. Like Tomball, Summer Creek was also a fourth-place district finisher, but didn’t play like it in the playoffs. This is a young team that will miss offensive lineman Kelvin Banks and running back Torrie Curry next year, but returns most everyone else.

For Katy, it advances to the game we’ve all been waiting for all season long. Once we knew both the Tigers and Austin Westlake would be in 6A-II, it has felt like destiny that those two would meet up in the state semifinals. We get that matchup on Saturday with each looking to defend a state title, given that Westlake was in 6A-I last year.

Jacob Brown powers Paetow into state semifinals

The quarterback play in Friday’s Paetow-Hightower matchup struggled, so Jacob Brown decided he would take over the game.

CJ Dumas completed just three of his 14 passes for a total of 30 yards, but Paetow didn’t need much more than that out of their typically outstanding quarterback when Brown rushes for 348 yards and five scores on 30 carries. The true definition of a workhorse, Brown has been this way for Paetow all season when he’s been healthy. For perspective, Brown accounted for 348 yards and Paetow finished with 402 yards total.

Hightower’s rushing attack paled in comparison, with sophomore duo Jeremy Payne and KJ Penson combining to run 20 times for 70 yards and a Payne touchdown. Payne made himself more of a factor in the passing game, catching three passes for 81 yards. Senior Kaleb Johnson led the team in receiving with four catches for 90 yards and a score.

Paetow won the regular season matchup between these two and this game wasn’t much different, with the score never being close enough for Paetow to sweat. The Panthers will take on Flour Bluff in the state semifinals with a trip to the state championships on the line, impressive for what is Paetow’s fourth football team in school history.

To sum up the other action last week, North Shore bested Atascocita (again) 44-20 behind a big fourth quarter, while Crosby gutted out a 14-7 win against Texas High to advance. Game info for every game next week is below.

Player of the Week

North Shore plays in perhaps the toughest district in the state, 21-6A. The four playoff teams are North Shore (still playing), Atascocita (lost to North Shore in round four), CE King (lost to No. 2 Katy in round three) and Summer Creek (lost to No. 2 Katy in round four). That is a gauntlet.

North Shore beat all of them and beat Atascocita – albeit without senior star quarterback Gavin Session – twice. Not easy to do! And the Mustangs find themselves once again in the state semifinals, and fortunately this time the opponent is not the buzz saw that is Westlake. This is the fourth-straight year the Mustangs have appeared in the state semifinals.

Nobody knew how North Shore would fare without offensive standouts Dematrius Davis and Shadrach Banks. The Mustangs leaned on Davis for four years and filling his shoes has been no easy task for Wyndell Mitchell and freshman Kaleb Bailey, each who have quarterbacked North Shore this season. But it helps to have experience in the backfield, and North Shore leaned on that guy to capture another Region III title; my player-of-the-week, Xavier Owens.

The senior running back torched Atascocita to the tune of 162 yards and two scores on just 14 carries. Owens has been a crutch for North Shore all season and they will continue to lean on him as the Mustangs look to add another state title.

What to look forward to

There are just five Houston-area teams left playing; all could advance next week or all could be sent home for the season. My guess is a mix.

Houston is eliminated below class 5A. With five teams left, there is one Houston-area team left playing in 6A-I, 5A-I and 5A-II with 6A-II being the lone bracket with multiple Houston-area teams left. Here’s game information and what to expect for each matchup.

6A-I: North Shore vs. Lake Travis

It’s been tough to get a read on North Shore this season. At times, the offense has struggled. At times, the offense has been explosive as usual. Lake Travis has mostly the opposite. The Cavs struggled to score on No. 1 Westlake, but scored at least 35 points in every other game. Of course, North Shore plays in a tough district while Lake Travis doesn’t outside of Westlake.

Lake Travis did beat state ranked SA Brennan 42-17 last week, while one could argue that Katy Tompkins is an opponent of similar ilk and North Shore beat the Falcons only 26-20. However, North Shore’s defense is one of the best in the state and will likely play defense more like Westlake than Brennan, and the Cavs scored just 21 on Westlake.

It should be a close game and I think it could go either way. North Shore will need to be clicking on offense to get it done, and may take advantage of a team that hasn’t been tested in these playoffs. I like North Shore by three in this one, but I think it could go either way. North Shore takes on Lake Travis on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Reeves Stadium in Round Rock.

6A-II, Region II: Tomball vs. Denton Guyer

As mentioned above, Guyer is a team with state championship pedigree. Tomball is not. But the Cougars have been playing their best ball of the year and already upset trendy Region II picks Cy Park and Rockwall-Heath. Why stop now?

Guyer has impressed this year, beating defending 5A-I state champion Denton Ryan, Atascocita and others. The lone Wildcat loss came to Allen in district play, 38-31. But Guyer has had close calls each of the last two weeks against seemingly inferior opponents. The Wildcats beat a “meh” Byron Nelson twam 43-36 and followed that up with a narrow 25-22 win against district mate Prosper, whom Guyer beat 35-7 in the regular season.

This game could be a case of two opposite teams, a Tomball team peaking at the right time and a Guyer team slumping at the wrong time. Guyer will likely be the favorites in this one, but Tomball already owns two playoff upsets. Can they do it a third time? I’ve got Guyer by six. Tomball takes on Denton Guyer at 7 p.m. Saturday at Baylor’s McLane Stadium.

6A-II, Region III: Katy vs. Austin Westlake

This is the game we’ve all been waiting for. 6A No. 1 vs. No. 2. It’s been that way all season long. A battle of two 14-0 teams needing one more win to get to state. The winner will be heavy favorites at state. The legendary Gary Joseph facing off against the legendary Todd Dodge, who will retire at the end of the season. This is all we could ask for.

There isn’t necessarily much to say about what led us to this point. Both teams have been dominant all season long. This is exactly what we all expected. But I’ve got Westlake by 14 in this one. Katy has been phenomenal but has also showed more cracks, including a three-point win last week. Meanwhile, Westlake has won every game by at least 35 points with the exception of a week two 34-14 win against Euless Trinity. Katy battles Westlake at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Baylor’s McLane Stadium.

5A-I: Katy Paetow vs. Corpus Christi Flour Bluff

Paetow has beaten every opponent it has played this year by at least two scores, with the exception of a 33-28 loss to Manvel in which it was missing its top two running backs. Flour Bluff has beaten 10 of its 14 opponents by at least two scores, with the exceptions being losses to Victoria East and Gregory Portland, a three-point win over CC Moody, and last weeks’ 13-7 win against CC Veterans Memorial, whom Flour Bluff beat 39-7 in the regular season.

Paetow will likely be heavy favorites in this game. The Panthers have looked dominant all season long. They’ve got a great quarterback in CJ Dumas who will play college ball at Prairie View A&M, and a formidable rushing attack featuring Jacob Brown, who I believe has ran for more than 200 yards in every game he’s played this season.

I’ve got Paetow winning this one by 17. Paetow takes in Flour Bluff on Friday at 7 p.m. at Heroes Stadium in San Antonio.

5A-II: Crosby vs. Liberty Hill

We’ve got another rematch of a state semifinal from last year! Who could forget Crosby’s thrilling 62-61 overtime win against Liberty Hill to make its second-ever state title appearance?

Both teams enter at 12-2 with Crosby’s losses coming in the first two games of the season against Carthage (27-24) and Manvel (35-21), two of the best teams in the state. Crosby barely escaped last week with a 14-7 win against Texas High after a 53-50 win over A&M Consolidated in round three.

Liberty Hill’s losses came against 4A-I state favorite Austin LBJ (41-34) and 6A Killeen Ellison (12-7). Ellison missed the playoffs at 6-4, but are a 6A team playing against 5A-II Liberty Hill. This could be a thriller similar to last year and it is tough to know who will win. Liberty Hill barely escaped last week as well with a 43-40 win against Alamo Heights. I expect another close game, but Crosby’s athletes get it done in a seven-point win for the Cougars. Crosby takes on Liberty Hill on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Green Stadium in Bryan.