The Texas high school sports world will convene on AT&T Stadium again in Dallas for a four day feast that will see twelve state champions crowned by the time the dust settles on Saturday night. From McLean (Pop. 778) in the panhandle to Texarkana (Pop. 36,411) to Austin (pop. 790,390), cities from all over Texas are represented. Last year, the final state title game of the week between North Shore and Duncansville saw North Shore win on a Hail Mary as time expired. With that in mind, expect another thrilling and unpredictable week in Dallas. Here is what to watch for in each of the twelve state title games, which kick off Wednesday December 18th and continue through Saturday.
-Games are listed in order of kickoff time:
1A Six-Man Division I: McLean Tigers (13-1) vs. Blum Bobcats (12-2) 11 a.m. Wednesday
McLean is back as they look to defend their first ever state title that they earned in a 100-70 win over Milford last year. Blum is making its state title game debut after defeating Jonesboro 52-30 in the semi-finals, an impressive feat considering they started the season with a 0-2 record. The Bobcats will be out for revenge as these teams met to open the season and McLean came away as 65-38 winners.
Key Players: Running back and linebacker Ben Crockett, last year’s title game MVP after racking up nine touchdowns in the win over Milford, will be the key player for McLean in this game. He is still very much the focal point of the Tiger offense and is coming off a 483-yard, nine touchdown performance in the semi-final win over Rankin. Senior receiver Dalton Abshire added 55 yards and two touchdowns on the ground last week and will be a crucial complement to Crockett. The explosive junior Jacob Watson is a special teams threat after returning a kickoff for a touchdown against Rankin. For Blum, running back Coltin Gonzales, who had 350 yards on the ground last week, and quarterback Dylan Vardeman, who threw for two touchdowns in their semi-final victory lead its backfield. Junior Koby Clinscales is the Bobcats’ best receiver and scored a late touchdown last week to put the game away for the Bobcats, setting up the decisive rematch against McLean. “The first time we had a lot of new parts to the team. We have now had 14 game under our belt,” Blum head coach Cooper Thornhill said. “So the key to success is we have to be able to adjust at everything they throw at us while executing at a high speed.” In the end, the Bobcat defense, which gives up only 18.4 PPG, will have to find a way to make some stops against Crockett and the explosive McLean offense which put up 97 points in their semi-final victory over Rankin if they are to get revenge this time around.
1A Six-Man Division II: Motley County Matadors (11-3) vs. Richland Spring Coyotes (13-0) 2 p.m. Wednesday
Motley County is back in the state title game for the first time since 2011 and is to add to its only state title earned back in 2007. Since starting the season 3-3, the Matadors have found their groove, winning eight in a row heading in to this matchup. However, they are facing a goliath in Richland Springs who are seeking a Texas high school football record ninth state championship. The Coyotes have a familiar face back at the helm as coach Jerry Burkhart returned to the program he coached to eight championships this season after a year away at 11-man Stanton and an assistant coach at Rankin. The Coyotes will be favorites after dismantling defending state champs Strawn 62-14 in the semi-finals, a game that was ended by mercy rule in the third quarter.
Key Players: For the Coyotes, their offense runs through quarterback Landon Burkhart, the head coach’s son. In the semi-finals, he threw for 137 yards and added 76 more on the ground, accounting for three total touchdowns on the night. He also performs well in the clutch, scoring the winning touchdown on a nine yard run with just 41 seconds remaining in a nail-biting 34-29 win over Calvert in the second round. Junior running back and linebacker Matthew Rigdon is one to watch on both sides of the ball for Richland Springs. He scored two rushing touchdowns, returned an interception for a touchdown, and also scooped up a fumble and took it to the house in the semi-final victory over Strawn. For the Matadors, the key to their offense is sophomore running back Jake Richards, who has rushed for 920 yards and 14 touchdowns in the Matadors’ last three playoff games. When the Matadors decide to go through the air, they have a solid option at quarterback in Demetric Sims who is coming off a 211-yard, three touchdown game in the Matadors’ 56-44 semi-final victory over Blackwell. Six-foot-five receiver Kade Wampler has caught touchdowns in the last two games and will look to use his height to his advantage against the Coyotes. In the end though, the Matadors will likely need a big game from Richards in order to keep pace with the Coyote offense.
2A Division I: Post Antelopes (15-0) vs. Refugio Bobcats (15-0) 7 p.m. Wednesday
Post is making its state title game debut after taking care of Valley View 35-7 in the state semi-finals. The Antelopes were 4-7 just a year ago, but turned it around this season behind a stout defense that is only giving up 11.4 points per game. The Bobcats, on the other hand, are regulars at the state title game, making their fourth appearance in five years. They defeated San Augustine 29-21 in the semi-finals and will be looking to win their fifth state title and first since 2016.
Key Players: The Antelopes rely on their ground game heavily and are carried by a two-headed monster in the backfield consisting of running back Ashton Jefferson and a wildcard player in Taytem Thetford who can play quarterback, running back, or receiver. Jefferson has rushed for 1,965 yards on the year, while Thetford has racked up 895 yards himself. “Our running game has been successful because of our offensive line and also because of Ashton’s patience and vision,” Post head coach Michael Pittman said. “He knows when to hit the hole fast and when to be a little more patient and allow his blockers time to create holes.” Post quarterback junior Slayden Pittman, the head coach’s son, can sling the ball around when needed, having thrown for 22 touchdowns on the season. The Bobcats have a talented backfield of their own with senior running backs Naaji Gadsden and Ysidro Mascorro. Gadsden has racked up 1,070 yards and 25 touchdowns on the season, while Mascorro has added 624 yards and 13 touchdowns. Quarterback Austin Ochoa, a UTSA baseball commit, has thrown for 2,781 yards and 30 touchdowns, while adding 422 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground to lead this talented Bobcat offense. “Our offensive line has gotten better and better,” Refugio coach Jason Herring said. “And our QB Austin Ochoa is the real deal. He does a tremendous job of executing our offense, and getting the ball to our playmakers.” It is setting up to be a backfield battle on Wednesday night, and the team that can establish its ground game first will have the inside track to victory.
2A Division II: Hamlin Pied Pipers (12-2) vs. Mart Panthers (12-3) 11 a.m. Thursday
Hamlin is making its first ever state title appearance after avenging an early season loss to Stratford with a 56-23 victory over them in the semi-finals. However, they are in for a big test on Thursday morning against 2-time defending state champs Mart. The Panthers started the season 2-3, but cruised through their 10 games after that with their average margin of victory in those games coming by 48.3 points.
Key Players: Shifty senior running back Jevon Williams has been one of the focal points of the Pied Piper offense with 1451 yards and 29 touchdowns on the year. Junior quarterback Braydin Warner completes this backfield duo, accounting for 2272 passing yards and 28 passing touchdowns of his own on the season. The Pied Pipers have a unique weapon to keep an eye on in former tackle turned receiver Austin Lozano. At 6-foot-1 and 290 pounds, he will be a matchup nightmare for Refugio on Thursday morning. “Austin was a skill player for us last season, we knew what potential that he had there for us, but he has exceeded those expectations,” Hamlin head coach Russell Lucas said. “The most surprising skill that Austin exhibits for a 6’1 290 pound kid is his speed and agility. Our kids are glad they don’t have to tackle him.” For the Panthers, they graduated backfield duo Shatydrick Bailey and Tyrek Horne, but they have been replaced by the next generation of Panther running backs. Junior running back and linebacker Roddrell Freeman, who already has an offer from Texas Tech, has run for 1,970 yards and 36 touchdowns on the year. He is joined in the backfield by sophomore running back Klyderion Campbell, who is coming off a 97-yard rushing performance in the semi-finals. Athletic senior quarterback Kyler Martin, who also plays defensive back, missed out on last year’s state title with a torn ACL, but has plenty of experience and over 1500 passing yards on the season.. Overall, the Pied Pipers are going need a near flawless performance from Williams and Warner if they are to take down the two-time defending state champs on Thursday.
3A Division I: Pottsboro Cardinals (15-0) vs. Grandview Zebras (14-1) 3 p.m. Thursday
Pottsboro is making its first ever appearance in the state title game after knocking off Brock in a thrilling 36-35 semi-final victory. The Cardinals have proved they can execute in close games with their last three playoff wins coming by a combined total of nine points. Grandview, on the other hand, didn’t even win its district, but it found its way back to the state title game for the second year in a row as they look to defend their title they earned in a 35-21 win over Malakoff last year.
Key Players: Pottsboro’s offense is led by a powerful backfield tandem. Dual-threat quarterback Braden Plyler has rushed for 1,013 yards on the season and thrown for 2,471 yards, while senior running back Cy Shope has racked up 1,979 yards rushing and 35 touchdowns on the year. When they go through the air, senior receiver Ezra Fritts is a big play threat as he scored a 69-yard touchdown in the win against Brock. “This team has shown how resilient and mentally tough they can be,” Pottsboro head coach Matt Poe said when reflecting on the past couple weeks. “They have remained calm and have not panicked in some really intense situations. They always believe we will win.” For the Zebras, Dane Jentsch leads the way at quarterback again after winning the state title as a sophomore. He is a threat on both sides of the ball as he picked up an interception as a defensive back in the Zebras’ semi-final win over Columbus. When asked about Jentsch, Grandview head coach Ryan Ebner responded that “his poise under any circumstance and his ability to lead in those moments” is what impresses him the most about his quarterback. Jentsch also has two talented backs behind him with seniors Elijah Golden and Tremayne Gullatte, who ran for 128 yards and three touchdowns against Columbus. The most highly touted player on the field Thursday afternoon, however, will be the Zebras’ 6-foot-6 TE/DE Dametrious Crownover who already has offers from Texas A&M, TCU, and Alabama among others. In the end, the Zebras will need their returning players to make plays against a Pottsboro team that doesn’t shy away from performing in big moments.
3A Division II: Gunter Tigers (14-1) vs. Paul Pewitt Brahmas (14-1) 7 p.m. Thursday
After losing to Canadian in the state semi-finals last year, Gunter got its revenge in this year’s semi-finals after a goal-line stand on the final play of the game preserved a 27-20 victory for the Tigers. Gunter is back in the title game for the third time in four years and is powered by an elite defense giving up only 11.1 points per game. Paul Pewitt punched its ticket to the title game with a 24-18 victory over East Bernard in the semi-finals. It is back in the championship for the first time in 14 years and is looking to add to its only state title earned all the way back in 1998.
Key Players: It will be a battle of the ground games in the nightcap on Thursday. The Tigers run a flexbone offense run game anchored by senior running back Bryson Rigsby. Sophomore quarterback Hudson Graham can make plays on the ground, with 81 rushing yards in the Tigers’ quarter-final victory, and through the air when needed after throwing two touchdowns against Canadian. “Hudson has been great for us all year long. He has really hit his stride in the playoffs,” Gunter head coach Jake Fieszel said. “His greatest attribute is his maturity. [I’m] really excited to see what he does in this week’s championship game.” Both passing touchdowns were caught by the versatile Peyton Lowe who followed up his 82 rushing yards in the quarter-final with 127 yards receiving in the semi-final. The Brahmas also run an almost exclusively ground-based offense. Running back La-Jathan Allen has 2,096 yards rushing on the year and is also a force on defense, securing three interceptions in their semi-final victory. Both senior quarterback Cross Holder, who only threw 40 passes on the year, and Kadrien Johnson have over 1,000 yards rushing on the season, completing the Brahmas’ three-prong rushing attack. “We are blessed with a great group of skill kids that have great vision,” Pewitt head coach Triston Abron said. “I also believe that the true MVP of our offense is our offensive line. Those Big Hogs are physical and create the seams needed to for our skill guys to do their thing.” In all, the Brahmas have rushed for 6,223 yards on the season. If you like old-school football before the days of the forward pass, this game is for you as these two teams will look to grind their way to victory on the ground.
4A Division I: La Vega Pirates (14-1) vs. Carthage Bulldogs (15-0) 11 a.m. Friday
La Vega is back to defend the state title they earned last year in a 35-21 win over Liberty Hill. Carthage has been on this stage plenty as they are looking for their 8th state title and first since they won back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017. The Bulldogs defeated Lampasas in a 49-42 thriller in the semi-finals to punch their ticket to the finals at Jerry’s World.
Key Players: One of the key players for the Pirates is their explosive running back Jar’Que Walton. He ran for 136 yards on just 11 carries in the semi-final win over Springtown and showed his breakaway speed on an 83-yard touchdown run. Dual-threat senior Landry Kinne, who recently picked up an offer from West Texas A&M, starts at quarterback. He moved permanently to the position this year after playing several positions for the Pirates last year. Defensively, the Pirates forced six turnovers against Springtown in their semi-final victory and are anchored by Kansas State commit LB DeMarrquese Hayes. The Bulldogs like to air out the ball on offense and are led by QB Kai Horton who has 3498 yards passing and 46 touchdowns on the season. He has plenty of weapons too. Speedy receiver Kelvontay Dixon, the brother of Texas running back Keaontay Ingram, has an offer from Texas himself and has racked up 1,092 yards on the season. He is joined by fellow receiver Kel Williams who is over 800 yards on the season and running back Mason Courtney who has 1,892 all-purpose yards this year. It will be immovable object against unstoppable force as La Vega’s stout defense looks to shut down an explosive Carthage offense on Friday morning.
4A Division II: Pleasant Grove Hawks (14-1) vs. Wimberley Texans (12-3) 3 p.m. Friday
Pleasant Grove is back in the title game for the third year running. They won the title in 2017, but they will be looking to bounce back this year after falling to Cuero in last year’s title game. For the Texans, they are looking for their first state title since 2011. They finished second in their district but got hot once playoffs started, avenging an earlier season loss to district champ Geronimo Navarro in the quarterfinals before knocking off Silsbee in a 56-43 shootout in the semi-finals.
Key Players: The Hawks, who run a wing-T offense, have a plethora of talent in their backfield led by BYU commit Bruce Garrett, who has 1,443 yards rushing on the season, and K.J. Hicks, who has added 862 yards and 15 touchdowns himself. When the Hawks need to throw the ball, they have a trusted quarterback Ben Harmon who leads the team into the title game for the third year in a row and is coming off a 301-yard, 4 touchdown performance in the semi-final victory over Midland Greenwood. “My dad was a D1 Coach, my step-father was a D1 Athletic director, and my brother-in-law has coached for the Dallas Cowboys, OU, Texas A&M and South Carolina. So I’ve followed football my entire life and been around some great coaches and players. All that to say, I have never seen a better leader than Ben Harmon,” Pleasant Grove head coach Josh Gibson said. “[Harmon’s] work ethic and dedication are second to none. He plays with passion and a “can’t lose” attitude. He leads and our players follow him. He had broken passing records for 3 consecutive years at Pleasant Grove, but his greatest impact comes from his ability to get others to invest in our program. I’ve never seen a player do it better than him.” Defensively, 5-star defensive end Landon Jackson, who has offers from Texas, Texas A&M, and Alabama among others, will look to wreck havoc in the Texans’ backfield. The Texans, however, won’t be easy to stop as they possess an offense averaging 50.4 points per game in the playoffs. At the helm is quarterback Cooper McCollum who has thrown for nearly 3,500 yards along with 47 touchdowns on the season. His favorite target is junior receiver Christian Marshall who has 1,282 yards and 18 touchdowns on the year. Physical sophomore running back Moses Wray has rushed for 1,223 yards on the season and will be a crucial component to the Texan passing game on Friday. This game pits two different offensive philosophies against each other. It leaves the defining question will it be the ground game of the Hawks or the passing offense of the Texans that finds success at Cowboys Stadium on Friday afternoon.
5A Division I: Denton Ryan Raiders (15-0) vs. Shadow Creek Sharks (15-0) 7 p.m. Friday
Denton Ryan is back in the state title game for the first time since 2010 after defeating Frisco Lone Star 35-7 in the semi-finals. The Raiders have destroyed their opponents this year with their average margin of victory coming by a staggering 41 points. The Sharks, meanwhile, have only had varsity sports for two years, but are 30-1 as a football program. Their only loss? To Highland Park in the state title game last year. They will hope to claim that first state title this year in the nightcap on Friday.
Key Players: The Raiders are led by Louisiana Lafayette commit Emani Bailey in the backfield. He has risen to the occasion in the playoffs rushing for 813 yards overall in the Raiders five playoff victories, including a 146-yard, two touchdown performance last week against Lone Star. “He runs extremely hard and with passion,” Denton Ryan head coach Dave Henigan said of Bailey. “He is a great kid, tireless worker, and the heart and soul of our team.” The Raiders are just as dangerous through the air. Junior Seth Henigan, the head coach’s son, and his almost 3,000 yards passing on the season lead the way. His favorite target has been athletic receiver Billy Bowman, a 2021 Texas commit, who has 780 yards and 14 touchdowns on the year. The Sharks, however, have plenty of talent of their own despite being such a young program. “We have players here at Shadow Creek that make football a priority. They are willing to work and have a hunger to be successful. They have been willing to trust coaching and be accountable to each other,” Shadow Creek head coach Brad Butler said when asked about the program’s success. “I also think we have the right group of coaches that have been able to come together from different backgrounds and share the same vision. That is not always an easy task. I am so grateful for our staff. They are extremely dedicated and willing to go the extra mile for kids. I was told by a really good coach a long time ago that if you can get kids and coaches believing and trusting each other, you will have a great chance to win.” On defense, the Sharks are led by four-star DE Alex Bryant, and Kansas State commits LB Jeremiah Harris and DE Ronald Triplette. Offensively, Kyron Drones leads the way at quarterback for the Sharks with 3,290 yards through the air and nearly 700 more on the ground on the season. Their top receiver is senior Seth Jones, a Baylor commit, who has racked up 688 yards and nine touchdowns on the year despite missing a few games. With both teams averaging about 50 points per game, Friday night will most likely be a night filled with offensive fireworks in Jerry’s World as these two teams battle to take home the title.
5A Division II: Aledo Bearcats (14-1) vs. Fort Bend Marshall Buffaloes (14-1) 11 a.m. Saturday
This game is a rematch from last year’s title game that saw Aledo run out 55-19 winners over the Buffaloes. Fort Bend Marshall is still looking for its first ever state title and has plenty of momentum after blowing out Boerne Champion 55-21 in the state semi-finals. Aledo, on the other hand, is looking for a remarkable ninth state title. They survived Lubbock Cooper 28-21 on a controversial no-call on a potential fumble in the semi-finals to earn their fourth straight state title appearance.
Key Players: There will be several highly touted players on display Saturday morning. One to watch is Aledo running back Jase McClellan, a 2020 Oklahoma commit. He scored the winning touchdown with just under two minutes left in the semi-final and has racked up 1,268 yards and 27 rushing touchdowns on the season despite missing several games due to injury. “Jase is a fierce competitor who does not like to lose,” Aledo coach Tim Buchanan responded when asked what impresses him the most about his star running back. The Bearcats also like to air it out behind senior quarterback Jake Bishop and his 3,637 passing yards on the season. He has plenty of weapons at his disposal including Utah commit Money Parks, who has 1,023 receiving yards on the season, and junior JoJo Earle, who has nearly 1500 yards receiving this year and possesses offers from Texas, USC, and LSU among others. The Buffaloes have no shortage of talent either. They returned the talented backfield duo of quarterback Malik Hornsby and running back Devon Achane from last year’s team. The elusive Achane, a Texas A&M commit, has over 2,000 rushing yards and nearly 700 yards receiving to go with his 48 total touchdowns this season. Hornsby, a dual-threat quarterback with offers from Baylor, Texas A&M, and Texas, has thrown for 2,097 yards and rushed for 1,372 yards more. “They are very gifted athletes who know the offense very well and understand the defenses they go against,” Fort Bend Marshall coach James Williams said when asked about Achane and Hornsby. “Our coaches do a good job of putting them in situations to be successful. Their God given gifts take over from there.” This duo will have to make plenty of plays on Saturday in order to keep up with a loaded and experienced Aledo offense if they are to get the Buffaloes their first-ever state title.
6A Division I: Duncanville Panthers (15-0) vs. North Shore Mustangs (14-1) 3 p.m. Saturday
It is a rematch of one of the greatest endings in Texas high school football endings. Last year when these two teams met in the state finals, now graduated A. J. Carter caught a 45-yard hail mary from Dematrius Davis as time expired to give North Shore the 41-36 victory and their first state title since 2015. Duncanville is looking for revenge this year and their first state title since 1998. They come into the game riding a wave of momentum after dismantling Rockwall 56-14 in the state semi-finals.
Key Players: The semi-final victory for Duncanville came at a massive loss however. Senior quarterback and Texas commit Ja’Quinden Jackson suffered a knee injury and will most likely miss the state title game. Dual-threat freshman quarterback Chris Parson will most likely start in his place. The Panthers will need running back Trysten Smith, who has 1,725 rushing yards on the year and is a Central Arkansas commit, to step up along with speedy junior receiver Roderick Daniels, who has offers from Arkansas and Kansas among others and leads the team with 695 receiving yards. They have plenty of talent on the other side of the ball too led by Auburn commit safety Chris Thompson Jr. and four-star junior linebacker Kendrick Blackshire. The Mustangs, meanwhile, are led by last year’s hero Davis, a Virginia Tech commit, at quarterback and Zachary Evans a 5-star recruit with 1,600 rushing yards on the season, at running back. “I think the greatest traits Dematrius possesses [are] his vision and his football IQ. The greatest dual threat quarterbacks not only have the physical tools to hurt you in two ways but they also understand when to use those abilities,” North Shore head coach Jon Kay said. “Dematrius is perfectly content standing in the pocket and delivering the ball when teams load the box to contain his legs and he [is] equally content running the ball when teams commit numbers to defending his ability to throw. His football IQ is off the charts and he truly understands how to attack defenses.” On defense, safety Upton Stout, who has offers from North Texas and Utah State among others, leads the way with six interceptions on the year. Duncanville will need a big game from its playmakers to compensate for the loss of Jackson, but with the plethora of talent all over the field, this game could very well be another thriller that you won’t want to miss.
6A Division II: Denton Guyer Wildcats (14-1) vs. Austin Westlake Chaparrals (14-1) 7 p.m. Saturday
The final game of the weekend sees two teams coming in off convincing wins in the semi-finals. Denton Guyer took down Spring Westfield 35-17 in their semi-final victory and returns to the title game for the first time since 2013. Westlake blew out Katy Taylor 63-3 last week and is back in the state championship for the first time since 2015. The Chaparrals, however, are 1-7 all-time in the state title game with their only championship coming all the way back in 1996.
Key Players: The Wildcats are powered by a prolific offense averaging 46.1 points per game. At the forefront of the attack is powerful running back Kaedric Cobbs who has racked up staggering numbers on the ground this year with 2,267 rushing yards and 38 touchdowns. He is joined in the backfield by explosive junior quarterback Eli Stowers, a Texas A&M commit who had over 3,000 yards passing, 1,000 yards rushing, and 48 touchdowns this year. Completing the trifecta of talent is Air Force commit wide receiver Seth Meador with his 1,200 yards receiving on the year. For the Chaparrals, they are led by the quarterback-receiver trio of Kirkland Michaux and his connections with Mason Mangum and Ryan Lindley. Lindley, a Yale commit, has racked up 1,224 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns on the year, while Mangum, a California commit, has added 957 yards and 13 touchdowns of his own. Michaux threw for seven touchdowns against Katy Taylor and is the leader of this offense which averages 48.7 points per game. All signs point to a shootout as these two offenses loaded with talent square off to wrap up the weekend.