Photo courtesy Texas Redzone Report

AUSTIN — Excitement is in the air in the hallways of San Marcos and Bowie High Schools — because their two football teams are set to square off in a District 14-6A championship game at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Burger Stadium.

“These are the kind of games that are fun to play in,” Bowie Head Coach Jeff Ables said. “It’s what you work for. It’s what you work all offseason for. It’s what you work all summer for, and all the work and preparation throughout the season to get here. This is where you want to be, so it should be a fun week.”

Bowie (8-1 overall, 4-0) is gunning for its fourth district championship in school history. The Bulldogs won their first in 2007 and repeated the following year in 2008. They also won last year so they’ll be going for back-to-back titles again on Thursday.

San Marcos (8-1, 4-0) hasn’t won district since 2003, but the program has come a long way since coach Mark Soto took over in 2012. The Rattlers were 1-19 in the two years prior to his arrival and hadn’t made the playoffs since 2007.

After a 1-9 record in his inaugural season, Soto has steadily improved the ball club and now has them on the cusp of a third straight playoff appearance and possible league championship.

Rattler Head Coach Mark Soto. Photo courtesy Austin American-Statesman

“We’re really happy with where we are now,” Soto said. “We wish we would have done it earlier, but sometimes you got (to) build a nice foundation, which we have. The community is really happy with the team that we field and I know the kids are playing for the community. They want to bring back the district championship to this community.”

This is the same situation the two teams were in last year when both entered the game with unblemished district records. But Bowie made minced meat of the Rattlers in a 59-7 annihilation at Rattler Stadium in San Marcos.

“For us to get back to the same situation, kind of create our own destiny, we’re pretty excited about that,” Soto said. “As far as this year goes, we’re a different team. We’re not the same team we were last year. We’ve gotten better along with Bowie so it’s going to be an interesting matchup.”

San Marcos has an explosive offense with senior quarterback Prude Calderon (1,317 yards, 21 TDs) and junior running back Jason Johnson (951 yards, 12 TDs), giving defenses two dangerous rushers they have to account for. Calderon can also make plays through the air when need-be, completing 55.7 percent of his passes for 1,160 yards and 13 touchdowns with just four picks.

The Rattlers are averaging a district-best 44.4 points per game. They also have the league’s best defense — a unit that’s allowed just 18.4 points per game.

Austin Bowie Head Coach Jeff Ables. Photo courtesy of Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman

“Their quarterback is the guy that stands out to me,” Ables said of San Marcos. “(He’s) a really good athlete. He’s fast, big and fast, big playmaker for them. Their running back, of course, is back again (in) Johnson. (He’s) a really good athlete, fast, and then they play hard like us. They get after it. They believe in their system and they play hard.”

Bowie, though,  has been dealing with the injury bug.

The Bulldogs lost sophomore quarterback Trinidad Sanders to a torn ACL two weeks ago. They’re also down two starters on the offensive line in senior Cameron Williamson and junior Paul Aleman. But Ables said he is happy with the way his team is playing in spite of adversity and feels they have a great chance if they can limit mistakes.

“The kids have played hard,” Ables said. “It hasn’t always been pretty the way we’ve won ballgames but the effort and the fight has always been there and that’s what I’ve like about it, is they’re playing hard. We’ve had a lot of injuries, probably more than I can remember in a long time. Somebody else has just stepped up and that’s what we’re going to have to do Thursday. We have a bunch of guys that are out. We’re going to have to have some people who step up and fill those shoes.”

Steven Ryan covers fantasy, prep and the University of Texas for TexasHSFootball. Follow him on Twitter,@StevenEphAustin, and read more of his content here

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