Photo: Tony Venegas/TexasHSFootball.com

Familiar faces will square off Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. CST at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland as the Lubbock-Cooper Pirates (7-4) face off against the El Paso Parkland Matadors (9-2) in the area round of the Class 5A Division II playoffs.

The two teams met last year in the same round in Odessa and the Pirates got off to a fast start and controlled the game for a 48-28 win over the Matadors. Now that they’re facing off against each other again, both teams believe that that sense of familiarity will help them this time around.

“It really comforts me because we know more about what their tendencies are as opposed to playing a new team,” said Parkland defensive end Nathan Mendoza, “We know more than what they’ll come at us with.”

“They look pretty similar to when we played them last year,” said Lubbock Cooper head coach Max Kattwinkel, “They’re very athletic and well coached. A major concern when playing Parkland is how fast they go and for that reason, I’m glad we got to play them last year.”

El Paso Parkland RB Deion Hankins (Photo: Tony Venegas, TexasHSFootball.com)

El Paso Parkland has one of the fastest offenses in the state, averaging 598 yards per game and 46.7 points per game in 2017. It all starts with junior running back Deion Hankins who has had some challenges this year dealing with injuries. Even with missing a few games this season, he leads the team with 1,795 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on the year and is fully healthy and ready to go.

“I feel good,” Hankins said, “I was a little nervous last week because it was my first week going back full speed. But I feel good coming into this game.”

The Matadors will also have the right arm of senior quarterback A.J. Briggs to lean on. Briggs has worked to get into shape and in the absence of Hankins has developed into another team leader, according to head coach Eric Frontz. Briggs has thrown for 3,452 yards and 35 touchdowns this season.

Offensive Lineman’s Stance
Parkland DE Nathan Mendoza (91) will be a big part of the Matador rush on Friday against Lubbock Cooper. (Photo: Tony Venegas, TexasHSFootball.com)

Defensively, the Matadors are known for getting after the quarterback, racking up 44 sacks on the season. Going up against the physical, hard-running style of the Pirates presents a different challenge but Mendoza (five sacks) notes that this team is playing with a different frame of mind this year.

“They had a lot of big kids last year and physically and mentally, I don’t think we were prepared for that,” Mendoza said, “This year, we’re a lot more comfortable and in a better state of mind.”

The Pirates are also entering Friday’s game with confidence after winning a thrilling 28-27 bi-district game against Dumas. After getting into the playoffs as the fourth seed, Kattwinkel is pleased to see his team progress through that game.

“It was a back-and-forth game and I was really pleased with how our kids hung in there,” he said on the win, “It’s a new challenge this week though as we get ready to play another good team.”

Offensively, the Pirates have had to overcome their own challenges with starting running back and leading rusher Elijah Boyd out for the rest of the season due to injury. Kattwinkel credits two sophomores, Tyler Hairston and Jacob Dennis, for stepping in and trying to fill the void.

Lubbock Cooper won last year’s matchup with El Paso Parkland 48-28. (Photo: Courtesy of Kenda Davies/ Lubbock Cooper ISD)

“We moved Tyler up from JV and Jacob had to battle his own injuries this season before we got them into the rotation, but they’ve done a good job,” Kattwinkel said, “They’ve both been thrown into the fire and they give us a different look than Elijah.”

As the teams finish preparations for the rematch, the Matadors are ready to take on what they struggled with last year.

“Just playing them again this year will be helpful just because what they throw at us won’t be a surprise,” Hankins said, “We just need to fix the mistakes we made last year. Both teams have improved and it’s good to have a rematch against them. I feel like it gives us a second chance.”

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