The Cooldown: Week 16

The state semifinals are in the books and we have three Houston area teams advancing to the state championships!

North Shore has been a mainstay in Arlington the weekend before Christmas; heck, the Mustangs could probably make their hotel reservations for state weekend 2024 if they wanted to. Summer Creek is making its first-ever appearance at the state championship game. Bellville is looking for its first-ever state championship. Let’s recap each of their state semifinal games and preview the state championships.

North Shore wins defensive struggle

North Shore held Westlake to just 14 points and under 150 yards of total offense on Saturday. That’ll be the recipe to use to beat Duncanville as well, but more on that later.

This game was a defensive slugfest the whole way. North Shore led 17-14 for the final quarter-and-a-half before intercepting a tipped pass in the end zone on the final play of the game to make it a 23-14 final score. Perhaps the most shocking part of this game was how ineffective Westlake’s passing game was: Chaps quarterback Rees Wise was just 3-of-18 for 29 yards. That is the lowest passing total from a quarterback that doesn’t play in a Slot T offense that I’ve seen in a long time.

North Shore out-gained Westlake 309-114. Running back D’Andre Hardeman out-gained Westlake by himself, running for 117 yards and a touchdown. Kaleb Bailey threw for 106 yards and ran for an additional 70 yards and North Shore’s other offensive touchdown.

The Mustangs will need another defensive masterclass against Duncanville, and they will need to be at their best on offense as well. It’s encouraging that North Shore totally shut down Westlake as a tune-up for state.

Summer Creek beats Steele; advances to state for the first time

Cibolo Steele looked out-matched from kickoff.

After quickly shutting down the Steele offense on its opening drive, Summer Creek knifed its way down the field with ease, with Blake Thomas finding Lloyd Avant wide open on a screen pass for a touchdown. One more long touchdown drive in the first quarter – capped off by a wild scramble drill touchdown pass on third-and-long to Caleb Welch – and the Bulldogs were well on their way to state. The score might’ve been 14-0, but the talent on the field didn’t lie.

Summer Creek was simply bigger, stronger and, most importantly, faster. Lloyd Avant demonstrated all three of those things, scoring in a multitude of ways. His 30 carries went for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas showed off his speed to the tune of 166 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries. The Summer Creek signal caller also finished with 96 passing yards for two touchdowns and an INT. In a lot of ways, Avant on the ground opened things up for Thomas through the air, which also opened things up for Thomas on the ground.

If that sounds confusing, I say that because most of Thomas’ passing yards came in the first half, while most of his damage on the ground came in the second half. Steele was forced to respect Avant on the ground from the start, which opened up Thomas through the air. Then, forced to respect the run and the pass, Thomas was able to find easy running lanes when Steele dropped into coverage.

That will be the challenge DeSoto will face, though it’s also a challenge Summer Creek should familiarize itself with. DeSoto has a backfield duo of DJ Bailey and Tiger Riden that rival Thomas and Avant. The last game of the season should be a good one.

Bellville takes down powerhouse Wimberley to advance to state

Bellville did it again, folks. The Brahmas won a huge game last weekend despite attempting zero passes. Slot T mafia represent.

Bellville has won plenty of big games this way, but none bigger than its 35-33 win against Wimberley last week. That win gives the Brahmas an opportunity to win the first state championship in program history.

DD Murray is Bellville’s bell cow, and he carried 14 times for 97 yards and two touchdowns. The Slot T offense is a three-headed monster rushing attack that also features Sam Hranicky (16 carries for 52 yards and a touchdown) and Corrian Hood (10 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown). Bellville also got a huge scoop-n-score touchdown from defensive lineman DJ Sanders.

Between the three-headed rushing attack and a defense that has been dominant all season, Bellville has more than a good shot to win the 4A-II state championship. It will need to beat a Gilmer team that has three losses to the Brahmas’ none, but Gilmer also upset state powerhouse Carthage to get to state, and hung 79 points on four-loss Glen Rose in the state semifinals.

Player of the Week

At this juncture, it would be unfair to pick just one player-of-the-week. Three Houston area teams will play for a state championship this weekend and that’s no small feat. So, I’ll choose one POTW for each Houston area school playing at state.

For North Shore, my player-of-the-week is D’Andre Hardeman! In a game that was every bit of a defensive struggle, particularly pertaining to the passing game, Hardeman out-gained Westlake by himself to power North Shore past the Chaps. In addition, shout out to the North Shore defense. I don’t like picking entire units for POTW, but the Mustang defense put up an all-time performance and they deserve a mention here.

My Summer Creek POTW is Blake Thomas! The Bulldogs quarterback showed off his dual-threat ability, passing for 86 yards and rushing for 153. That helped open things up for Lloyd Avant, which will be crucial next week against a good DeSoto defense.

My Bellville POTW is Corrian Hood! Out of Bellville’s three-headed monster in the backfield, Hood got the least amount of carries last week but gained the most amount of yards. As mentioned, his 10 carries went for 121 yards and a touchdown.

State Championships Preview

This year, the Houston area is bringing a little bit of everything to the state championships. North Shore brings the legacy to state, which has just as much to do with the opponent as anything. This is the fifth time in six years that North Shore will play for a state championship. It’s also the fifth time in six years that the Mustangs face Duncanville.

Summer Creek is bringing new blood to state. The Bulldogs have never been on this stage before and they’ll face DeSoto, who won both of its previous state championship appearances in 2016 and 2022. Bellville, unlike Summer Creek, has two previous state championship appearances, but the Brahmas lost both. Bellville, like Summer Creek, will have the chance to capture its first state title.

North Shore vs. Duncanville – 3 p.m. Saturday

Personally, I’d love to know how many times in the history of the UIL that two football teams played each other for a state championship five times, much less five times in six years. Duncanville has basically become a district opponent for North Shore.

North Shore won the first matchup – also by far the best game and most memorable of the four previous games – 41-36 on a walk-off Hail Mary from Dematrius Davis to AJ Carter. No need to rehash it too much, most remember it well.

The second matchup was a stripped down version of the first. Duncanville was forced to play freshman quarterback Chris Parson(now at Mississippi State) after senior quarterback Ja’Quinden Jackson (Utah) was injured in the state semifinals. North Shore wide receiver Shadrach Banks (now a linebacker at TCU) missed the game with injury. Running back Zach Evans (TCU, Ole Miss, LA Rams) was suspended for the contest. So, only Davis (Auburn, Alabama State) returned from among the elite offensive firepower from the year before. North Shore mostly cruised to a 31-17 win.

After Westlake and Southlake Carroll bested these teams in the 2020 state semifinals, the 2021 game was a defensive slugfest. Freshman quarterback Kaleb Bailey, now back in the state title game after missing last year with injury, helped the Mustangs to a 17-10 win in that game. Duncanville finally bested North Shore last year, 28-21. As mentioned, Bailey didn’t play in that game so North Shore turned to wide receiver David Amador to play quarterback.

Now, Bailey is back and relishing the chance to put North Shore back on top. It won’t be easy. Duncanville, between quarterback Keelon Russell, running back Caden Durham and wide reciver Dakorien Moore, might have the most talented offense in the state. That offense picked apart Spring Westfield in the state quarterfinals to the tune of 70 points. North Shore hung 55 points on Westfield back in non-district play. Considering the stakes of those games, I’d say that’s pretty even.

The story could be the quarterback battle between Russell and Bailey, both D1 recruits. But the battle watch is Duncanville wide receiver Dakorien Moore, rated as the fifth-best player in the entire nation for the junior class against North Shore cornerback Devin Sanchez, rated fourth-best in the nation for the junior class. Winner gets the higher ranking?

Duncanville is interesting. The Panthers lone loss is to DeSoto. It’s smallest margin of victory was 21 points, against South Oak Cliff. All three teams I just mentioned are playing for a state championship on Saturday. North Shore, meanwhile, has struggled to get going in many playoff games. Strong defense hasn’t been supplemented by strong first half offense, but the Mustangs are so talented that they easily put away opponents anyway. Duncanville should have the edge on offense; North Shore the edge on defense.

Simply put, there are play makers all over the field on both sides of the ball. Five stars, D1 recruits, guys who are just really good, even the ones not playing big time college ball. It will be another heavyweight showdown. In the four previous iterations of this game, only one was decided by more than seven points – North Shore’s 14-point win in 2019, the game hampered by injury. I’m guessing this game continues the long line of great games in this series. I think Duncanville wins it by a score.

Summer Creek vs. DeSoto – 7 p.m. Saturday

The final game of the TXHSFB regular season should be a good one. DeSoto should be a big favorite; the Eagles do have a double-digit win against Duncanville this season. But Summer Creek presents a similar offensive challenge to Duncanville. The passing game isn’t quite as good, but Blake Thomas is an excellent runner out of the backfield to supplement Lloyd Avant. If Summer Creek can get the passing game going, that can set up everything else.

DeSoto features DJ Bailey at quarterback and Tiger Riden at running back. Riden is Avant’s match, a physical runner who has some speed as well. Bailey is not Thomas’ match. He does his damage through a lethal passing game that features outstanding freshman receiver Ethan Feaster, but Bailey isn’t as effective as a runner as Thomas is.

Because of DeSoto’s explosive offense, perhaps the best in the entire state, I’ve got DeSoto by two scores in this one. I think Summer Creek keeps it close most of the night with a physical running game complemented by a few big throws from Thomas and getting him in space through a few designed quarterback runs. But in the end, DeSoto is too much.

Bellville vs. Gilmer – 3 p.m. Friday

I had the chance to cover Gilmer last week. The Buckeyes, from the opening kick, looked great. Glen Rose looked overmatched all night, but the Tigers still muscled their way to 42 points. The problem is, they let up 79. Part of that is an explosive Gilmer offense, but part of that is Glen Rose just didn’t have the explosive athletes to be able to compete with Gilmer.

Bellville is more equipped to handle that with DJ Sanders leading the defense. Gilmer’s offensive line didn’t look outstanding and I think Sanders will create a lot of havoc. The other thing benefitting Bellville is the Slot T offense. It isn’t run by many teams, and I’m not sure how Gilmer will handle facing it. Throw in three ultra-talented backs in Murray, Hranicky and Hood, and I think Bellville will be the favorite in this game.

Of course, class 4A can be harder to predict. I could be totally wrong. But I think Bellville wins this one by two scores, adding a late touchdown to pull away.