5A Division II Aledo Bearcats (12-1) vs. Crosby Cougars (12-3)
Tale of the Tape: On paper, this matchup features the biggest gap in program prestige as Aledo seeks its record 10thstate title against a Crosby team that is returning to the state title game for the first time since 1960 and is seeking its first ever state title. After losing the 12-5A Division II district title decider to Nederland in the final regular season game, Crosby has rattled off five straight victories, including a 62-61 overtime thriller over Liberty Hill in the semifinals. Meanwhile, Aledo has made the state title game seven of the past eight years and is led by its explosive offense averaging 48.7 points per game.
Players to Watch: The Crosby offense lives and breathes through its dynamic backfield duo of Deniquez Dunn and Reggie Branch. Branch started at quarterback throughout much of the regular season, but Dunn has taken over in the postseason to great success. Dunn has thrown for 1,621 yards, rushed 909 yards, caught 36 passes for 401 yards, and totaled 42 touchdowns this season, while Branch has contributed 1,527 passing yards, 1,661 rushing yards, 407 receiving yards, and 42 touchdowns himself. They are a true do-it-all tandem. When Branch or Dunn aren’t making plays, look for receiver Jaylen Herman, who leads the team with 1,262 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns, or the explosive Kameren Kirkwood, who had a 74-yard kickoff return for touchdown last week, to have the ball in their hands. When the Aledo offense takes the field, they will have to deal with Crosby’s two talented defensive ends McCoy Casey and Wade Lewis who have combined for 47 tackles for loss and 12 sacks this season. Meanwhile at linebacker, Trevon King has been a steady presence for the Cougars this season with 113 total tackles and 18 tackles for loss.
Aledo has two talented playmakers of its own to do battle with the Cougars in Alabama commit wide receiver JoJo Earle and Lamar commit running back/cornerback Demarco Roberts. Both have been varsity contributors over each of the past four seasons and both bring plenty of speed and explosiveness to the Aledo offense. Much of the Bearcats’ success begins with these two players. “We would not be in the state title game without JoJo and DeMarco and their offensive line, lead by Rocco O’Keefe,” Aledo head coach Tim Buchanan said. Over the course of Aledo’s five playoff games, Roberts has rushed for 1,020 yards and 17 touchdowns, while Earle has contributed 316 yards receiving, 166 yards rushing, and nine total touchdowns. Behind center, Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi stepped into the starting role in mid-November after moving in from California. He has led the Bearcats throughout the playoffs and, while Aledo loves to rely on its ground game, he has taken care of the football, throwing for 691 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions during the playoffs. Defensively, North Texas commit defensive end Chris Wright and LSU commit safety Bryan Allen Jr. are two highly rated players to watch out for on the Bearcat defense as they try to stop Crosby’s high powered attack led by Branch and Dunn.
With Aledo searching for its 10th state title overall and its ninth in just twelve years, Crosby will be considered the underdogs heading into this one. However, that is a role the Cougars have excelled at as, despite finishing as runners-up in their district, they have knocked off four straight district champions just to get to this point. Aledo is a formidable opponent, but Crosby will assuredly be ready to battle in this one as it seeks its school’s first ever state title in any sport.