The Cooldown: Week 15

Two more weeks of football and three Houston area teams left in the fight.

North Shore is a mainstay in Arlington and might’ve booked the hotel back in August. Summer Creek has been good-not-great competing in perhaps the toughest district in the state. In other districts, maybe the Bulldogs would’ve looked great the last few years; they’ve looked fantastic this season. Then there’s Bellville. The Brahmas are a lock to win a few playoff games every year before getting knocked out. Not this year. Bellville suffered its smallest margin of victory in its 31-7 win against Jasper.

Let’s recap the regional finals and preview the state semifinals.

Westfield, Huntsville are eliminated

Four of the remaining seven Houston area teams were eliminated last week. Atascocita lost its rematch to North Shore; Hightower lost a close one to Summer Creek; Westfield and Huntsville lost out-of-area matchups. The Houston area went 1-2 in those Houston-versus-non-area matchups, with Bellville winning the one.

Westfield was smoked by Duncanville, but then again, who doesn’t get smoked by Duncanville. The Panthers are, at this point in time, the odds-on favorite to win the 6A-I state championship. Duncanville is outscoring its opponents 244-80 through four rounds with the closest game coming in a 49-21 win against The Woodlands. Westfield lost to Duncanville 70-28. At this point, it is what it is. Here’s to hoping North Shore can give the Panthers a game in the state championship.

Miles Dent finished 8-of-14 passing for 115 yards and two INTs against a Duncanville secondary that will mostly be playing D1 football in the next few years. Dent also ran five times for 47 yards. The biggest damage Westfield could do was on the ground, where the Mustangs gashed Duncanville all night.

As a team, Westfield ran 30 times 356 yards and two scores, good for nearly 12 yards-per-carry. Taji Atkins accounted for most of that, running 23 times for 296 yards and the two touchdowns, good for nearly 13 yards-per-carry. An impressive feat against a great defense that features a top 10 player in the nation on the defensive line in Collin Simmons.

Unfortunately, Duncanville employs multiple four star and five star recruits on offense. High school teams aren’t built to hang with teams like Duncanville and it shows up just about every week. Duncanville is a top 10 most talented team in the nation. For Westfield, it was a great season with a not-so-great ending, but like I said… it is what it is. The Mustangs shouldn’t let one game take anything away from the outstanding season they had.

Huntsville had a tall order as well, facing one of the state’s top defenses in Port Neches-Groves. The Hornets couldn’t get the job done, losing 24-14, but that’s not how their season should be framed. An appearance in the regional finals, winning three playoff games, it’s a huge success for a team that started of the year 1-3.

Huntsville finished the season on a 7-3 run after the hopes for the season weren’t looking great at the end of September. But that’s why we play the games. Unlike the College Football Playoff, apparently, teams get rewarded for winning games. What was a 1-3 start and a 5-5 regular season record turned into a 3-1 playoff record. Three gold balls isn’t bad at all.

Summer Creek rallies to knock out Hightower

Some have dubbed this the game of the year; every bit of a heavyweight fight. I wasn’t in attendance, but I’m inclined to believe it from those who were.

Summer Creek and Hightower traded blows for most of the night. Hightower led it 21-17 at the half; Summer Creek regained the lead and held on for good with 21 seconds left. Hightower’s season boiled down to needing a stop on 3rd-and-goal to likely force at least a game-tying field goal. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, it isn’t easy keeping Lloyd Avant out of the end zone.

His game winning one-yard touchdown run sealed the deal. Avant finished with 139 yards and three scores on the night to keep Summer Creek’s state title hopes alive. Hightower, meanwhile, got great games from its stars. Joseph Stewart threw for 274 yards, three touchdowns and an INT on 13-of-25, while Jeremy Payne caught 106 yards and a touchdown worth of Stewart’s passes.

The story of the night was, despite near equal yardage, was Hightower’s four turnovers. The Hurricanes were -2 in turnover margin, which looms large considering Summer Creek needed a touchdown with under 30 seconds left to win it.

Summer Creek advances to face Cibolo Steele out of the San Antonio area, which I'll preview at the bottom of this blog.

North Shore overcomes early deficit to beat Atascocita

I discussed last week about North Shore overcoming its slow starts in the playoffs to put together a full game and rout Cy-Fair. Well, the Mustangs are back to slow starts.

Of course, it’s not like Atascocita is some easy out. The Eagles are highly talented. But North Shore is the better team; it showed that in its 61-35 regular season win. Of course, the playoffs are different. The game slows down. But there’s no question North Shore hasn’t been starting as fast as it would like in these playoffs.

The raw talent is still enough to overcome a slow start against a top 20 team in the state. It’s sort of like when we see Georgia play with its food and all of a sudden the ‘Dawgs are in a dogfight with a Missouri or a Kentucky type of team, but Georgia still wins anyway even though it might not have played a great game. It’s a talent thing. It feels like North Shore has been a lot like that in these playoffs.

My words should be taken with a grain of salt because I don’t get to see most of these games in person. But the scoring runs are perplexing, it seems as if North Shore proverbially turned it on and off so-to-speak. The Mustangs started out in a 14-0 hole, but sprinted back to take a 34-14 lead a few minutes into the fourth quarter. Then Atascocita answered with two more scores before North Shore hung on for a 34-28 win. Maybe I’m making too big of a deal out of this considering Atascocita is really good after all, but it’s tough not to compare it to the regular season romping North Shore put on the Eagles.

Kaleb Bailey had a good game, finishing 14-of-22 passing for 269 yards and two scores. Most of that yardage went to Christopher Barnes, who had 203 yards and caught both of Bailey’s touchdown passes.

The Mustangs have one more test, against a Westlake team with a great defense and a not-as-great offense, before a potential state championship game. Like Atascocita, North Shore is used to seeing Westlake in the playoffs. The Mustangs beat Westlake in last years’ state semifinals and lost to the Chaps in the 2020 semifinals.

Player of the Week

It’s been a few years since we’ve had a Houston area team playing at state before the largest classifications, 5A and 6A kick off on Friday night and Saturday. My player-of-the-week and his team are making a charge to change that, and they’re one game away.

My player-of-the-week is Bellville running back DD Murray! He ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries as Bellville had no trouble beating Jasper, 31-7. Murray will need another big game against Wimberley if Bellville wants a shot to play for a state title, but his performances so far are a big reason the Brahmas find themselves a step away from state.

State Semifinal Preview

Three Houston area teams remain alive, each in different classifications. We’ll start with North Shore in 6A-I.

North Shore vs. Westlake, Saturday, 3 p.m. at Pflugerville’s The Pfield

For the third time in four seasons, North Shore will take on Westlake for the right to advance to state.

The 2020 game featured an epic showdown between highly rated quarterbacks and even better defenses. Cade Klubnik and Westlake ended Dematrius Davis’ and North Shore’s season with a narrow 24-21 win. The 2022 game wasn’t as close, as North Shore cruised to state.

The 2023 edition of this game is harder to read. North Shore has shown to be capable of playing explosive offense. North Shore has also shown that it doesn’t always get off to a hot start. However, the fact that North Shore has been a second half team in these playoffs so far might benefit the Mustangs.

Westlake is great on defense, but the Chaps don’t have as impressive of an offense as they have in recent years. They have the ability to score a lot, as shown in a weak district and against lesser playoff opponents, but scores have been tamped down against good competition – 31 points against Ridge Point in the season opener, 20 against Lake Travis, 27 against Dripping Springs and 21 last week in a playoff rematch with Lake Travis.

Let’s contrast that with North Shore’s top competition – 38 points against The Woodlands in week one, 42 points against C.E. King (state ranked most of the season), 31 against Summer Creek, 61 against Atascocita, 45 against Cy-Fair and 34 in the rematch against Atascocita.

Westlake has a great defense, but so does North Shore, and I trust the Mustangs offense more than I trust Westlake’s. It should be a good game, but I’ve got North Shore by about 10 points, personally.

Summer Creek vs. Cibolo Steele, Saturday, 4 p.m. at Waco’s McLane Stadium

Summer Creek has been on a mission all season, and the Bulldogs find themselves in the state semifinals after an 8-5 season a year ago and losing seasons as recently as 2019 and 2020. New blood is never a bad thing.

The Bulldogs haven’t been pushed much this year. There was a 31-21 loss to North Shore in what was a thrilling game, and Summer Creek’s 7-point win on opening night against Klein Cain was its only single digit victory this season until last week.

If the Bulldogs haven’t been tested much this season, they sure were last weekend against Hightower. Summer Creek passed that test with flying colors, winning in the face of adversity. The Bulldogs turned Hightower over four times and punched in a game winning touchdown with under 30 seconds left.

If Summer Creek hasn’t been tested much this year, the same might be said for its semifinals opponent, Cibolo Steele. The Knights lone loss came in week two at Lake Travis. Like Summer Creek’s loss to North Shore, that’s a 10-point loss to a superior Division I opponent. Also like Summer Creek, Steele was tested for the first time in a while last week. Steele beat Dripping Spring 28-21, its only single digit win of the season so far.

Of course, the argument could be made that Summer Creek has played, and beaten, higher quality opponents. I’m no expert on the San Antonio area, but I’m not sure Steele has played any team as good as C.E. King and Atascocita, save for maybe Dripping Springs. While Summer Creek has wins over those two and Hightower, Steele has played maybe one team in that same proverbial weight class.

Once again, I’m no expert on the San Antonio area. But I do know no team, even the ones that hung with or beat Summer Creek, have been able to slow down Lloyd Avant very well. Not to mention, the Summer Creek defense is loaded with talent and has experience facing top end Division I talent – such as Atascocita’s Tory Blaylock, North Shore’s Kaleb Bailey, Hightower’s Jeremy Payne and others. Should be a good game, I have Summer Creek as a 6-10 point favorite. Follow along on our social media channels on Saturday, I’ll have video highlights of scoring plays as they happen.

Bellville vs. Wimberley, Friday, 7:30 p.m. at Pflugerville’s The Pfield

I’ll keep this preview a little shorter because my breadth of knowledge below class 5A starts to thin out. Like the Summer Creek – Cibolo Steele preview, I know one team well and not much about the other. The problem is, I can get a feel for how good a team might be by who they played; how much they won or lost by against those teams. I don’t have that same knowledge for 4A.

Not to mention, there are a lot of blowouts. It’s hard to glean too much information from that. For example, Bellville is 14-0 and has won every game by at least 24 points. Half of Bellville’s wins have been shut outs. The Brahmas haven’t been tested, or at least it doesn’t seem like it. I am pretty confident Bellville hasn’t played a team with the talent Wimberley has. That might be based on reputation, but Wimberley seems to be Bellville’s equal.

Wimberley has just two shut outs this season, but has similarly beat every opponent to a pulp. While Bellville’s smallest margin of victory this season is 24 points, Wimberley has played three games of smaller margins: An 8-point win against Brock, a 21-point win against Lampasas and a 12-point win against Lago Vista. Brock and Lampasas are both up a level in 4A-I. Brock is still alive, facing Malakoff this weekend.

What to make of all that… I don’t know! Wimberley seems like the team that’s been more tested and Wimberley has been here before, making appearances in the state championship game three times since 2019. None of those games were particularly close, with the Texans losing to Pleasant Grove and Carthage twice. The winner of this one gets the winner of Gilmer and Glen Rose in the state title game, teams that gave three and four losses, respectively.

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