Photo: James Ellis/TexasHSFootball

With less than three weeks left in the high school football season, there are thrilling matchups that can be found on the Lone Star State landscape Friday and Saturday — whether it’s in Crockett, Cypress, Snyder, or Vernon.

From battles between defending champions and upstart teams looking dethrone them to Associated Press Top-10 tangles to possible bracket-busting upsets in the making, the UIL 2A State Semifinals could make Texas the center of the prep football universe.

Class 2A, Division I

1. AP No. 5 Mart (13-1) vs. NR Stratford (13-1) 7 p.m. Thursday at Snyder Tiger Stadium

Mart High School’s matchup with Stratford at Snyder Tiger Stadium may test a Panther defense that has stifled 13 of its 14 opponents, allowed more than 10 points five times and held its last nine opponents to four points per game.

The Panthers have four players — freshman Rodrell Freeman (7), juniors Shatydrick Bailey (6) and Elijah Green (4) and senior Camden Rhodes (4) — with four or more sacks this season and four — seniors Jermaine Madkins (5), Jalon Kirven (3) and Zamar Kirven (3) and sophomore Kyler Martin (2) — with multiple interceptions. The team has 28 and 15, respectively, in 2017.

Photo courtesy of Shari Hudson

In Mart’s way, though, stands high-powered Kade McBryde and Shay Hess -powered Stratford, which has scored 44 points per game this season and scored 50 or more points seven times. The Elks scored a season-high 74 against Guymon High School (OK) on Sept. 15.

McBryde has thrown for 1,177 yards, 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions in 14 games while Hess’ 911 yards and 26 touchdowns leads the Elks . There are four other backs — including Daniel Decasas, who has rushed for 862 yards and 11 touchdowns on 104 carries and Paul Ortega, who has rushed for 744 yards and 13 touchdowns on 84 carries — that have 400 or more yards rushing this season.

2. AP No. 6 Refugio (12-1) vs. AP No. 9 San Augustine (11-1) 7 p.m. Thursday at the Cypress Berry Center

File Photo by John Glaser/Texas HS Football

Refugio and San Augustine High Schools may represent two teams in different sectors of the same spectrum.

One looks to reclaim the UIL 2A throne while the other looks to build on back-to-back area appearances in 2014 and 2015 and a regional quarterfinal appearance in 2016. The Bobcats have been arguably one of the hottest teams in high school football after winning 10 consecutive games and shutting out four opponents and outscoring teams 517-99 between the months of October and December.

San Augustine, behind 2,000-yard passer Gavin Murr and 2,000-yard rusher KJ Davis, are no slouches.

Murr has completed 152 of his 237 attempts for 2,347 yards and 26 touchdowns — against only three interceptions. He’s also completed passes to nine different receivers and touchdowns to five different pass catchers, including 13 scoring passes to 6-foot-2, 175-pound QuenTyvian Borders.

Murr’s primary back has been equally as impressive, rushing for 2,303 yards and 33 touchdowns.

Class 2A, Division II

3. AP No. 1 Tenaha (15-0) vs. NR Burton (13-1) 7 p.m. Thursday at Crockett Driskell Stadium

Photo courtesy ETSN

Tenaha High School must have taken the pain and fury of losing to Bremond in the 2016 UIL 2A Division II Regional Final and bottled it during the offseason — because the way the Tigers have carved a path to the 2017 State Semifinals has been nothing less than impressive. 

Not only is Tenaha undefeated in 15 matchups, its average margin of victory has skyrocketed past 30 points and into the spectrum of Associated Press No. 1 raking respectability.

And though The Tigers have a premier signal-caller in CJ Horn (131-165, 2,636 yards, 36 TD, 3 INT) and a workhorse back in Onterio Thompson (161 rush, 2,221 yards, 30 TDs), their bend-don’t-break defense has done neither during the current postseason stretch. Tenaha has allowed 14 points in four games — all to regional quarterfinal opponent Iola High School — and pitched three shutouts.

Burton High School, though, has used offense to power its playoff run and outscored their four opponents 224-78, including beating Falls City in a shootout last Friday.

In eight of the last nine games, the Panthers have scored no fewer than 41 points and scored 50 or more in five matchups.

4. AP No. 3 Muenster (14-0) vs. NR Wellington (13-1) 7 p.m. Thursday at Vernon Lion Stadium

Blake Wood/TexasHSFootball

This Wellington High School team, owners of a near flawless record, is all beef — especially when you consider its larger-than-life, 6-foot-11 and 360-pound offensive lineman Trevor Roberson.

Behind Roberson and a hulking offensive line and one 1,000-yard rusher in JoJo McKnight and a near century-mark rusher in Luke Williams, Wellington has paved its way to 4,114 total yards rushing and 55 touchdowns with an eye-popping 8.3 yards per carry average.

The Rockets’ air attack, led by Williams and second-leading pass catcher Arturo Tellez (512 yards, 6 TDs) is equally dangerous.

Threatening to cancel lift-off, though, is Muenster’s Hornets, a team that pairs stifling defense with overpowering offense and that has its stinger dangling above the destruct button.

“This would be the first year they ever made it to a [football] state championship,” said eighth-year Muenster Head Coach Brady Carney. “We won a state championship in baseball and basketball last year, but have never won one in football. We’re  not focused on that, though. We’ve got Wellington. They’re very well-coached and they take a lot of pride in playing really good defense and running the ball. It’s the backbone of their team.”

To say Muenster has dismantled 13 its 14 opponents may be an understatement after beating Era High School 70-0 on Oct. 13, Ranger High School 74-6 on Oct. 27, Perrin-Whitt High School 73-0 on Nov. 10, and formerly state-ranked Iraan High School 60-o during the area round.

The rise of its rifle-armed junior gunslinger has been a large reason for the Hornets’ run through the season and the playoffs.

“To me, Parker’s greatest attribute is how he responds under pressure in big-game situations,” Carney said about Parker McGrew. “It’s very seldom I’ve seen him fold in those circumstances and I’ve been around him for a long time. Where most kids fold under the pressure, you can tell he enjoys it and excels in spite of it.”

Opponents have to be wary of both the outrageous arm talent and accuracy of McGrew (127-179, 2,296 yards, 36 TDs, INT) and the bruising running of senior running back Clay Stevens (114 rush, 1138 yards, 17 TDs) and the 31 total turnovers (17 FR, 14 INT) created by Stevens and the defense.

McGrew has also cracked the 1,000-yard mark, rushing for 1,129 yards and 17 touchdowns in 14 games.

*Additional reporting provided by Tony Venegas

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