Top Surprises in Small-Town Texas Football in 2017

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Photo: Courtesy of Sharon Burby

Every Texas high school football season features the teams most expect to engineer deep playoff runs; Argyle, Canadian, Carthage, Borden County and Richland Springs just to name a few. Seemingly every season also features a handful of teams emerging from the shadows to make some noise of their own. Here are a few of those teams not on many radars in 2016, but have a chance to play deep into December:

Gatesville (7-0, 2-0) 13-4A DI

The Hornets endured a rough 2016 schedule, winning only one district game and finishing with a 4-6 mark. Gatesville has been revitalized this season though, currently tied for first place in district and undefeated overall in 2017. The rebound began with payback against Waco Connally and Cameron Yoe in their 0-2 start last season, shocking the Yoemen 31-29 in week two on late game heroics. Burnet topped the Hornets last season by three, but Gatesville won in the rematch by 40.

The offensive output is about the same as last season, but the difference maker this season has been the defense. The unit allowed 39.3 points per game in all of 2016, but improved that number to just 15 points per game allowed so far this season. Gatesville still has to contend with Waco La Vega and China Spring for district supremacy, but the Hornets are well on pace to reach the postseason for the first time since 2012.

Raymondville (7-0, 2-0) 16-4A DII

Raymondville squeaked into the playoffs in 2016, but ran into a tough Cuero team in bi-district and finished with a 3-7 record. Now the Berakats are one of the more strong teams in the Rio Grande Valley with an undefeated mark, and an offense scoring an average of 28 points per game. Records like the 3-7 mark last season though are mostly turned on their head with an improved defense, and Raymondville’s has done just that. The unit allowed 34.8 points a season ago, but is now averaging 10.7 points allowed per game.

The district title will be determined this coming Friday against Rio Hondo, but chances are good Raymondville will reach the postseason with a winning record for the first time since 2014.

Friona (7-0, 2-0) 1-3A DI

Friona last won a playoff game in 2009, also the last season the Chieftains finished with a winning record. But third year coach Jimmy Arias has Friona rolling this season, with an offense averaging 40.4 points per game. The unit has stepped things up even more in district play; Friona won only one district game in 2016, but the offensive attack has led the team to 54 and 42 point wins over Amarillo River Road and Littlefield.

Jacksboro (7-0, 2-0) 5-3A DII

Courtesy: Sharon Burby

The subject of a previous feature article on, the Jacksboro Tigers are off to their best start in over a decade under first year coach Brannon Rodgers. The Tigers qualified for the postseason last year, but was eliminated in bi-district and finished with a 6-5 mark. Now the program is red hot, and with wins over Henrietta and Nocona in district, has staked a legitimate claim for the district title.

Jacksboro’s run game has led the team’s breakout season, averaging more than 300 yards per game to help the average points per game number climb to 36, up from 23.9 in all of 2016.

McCamey (7-1, 2-0) 3-2A DI

The Badgers reached the postseason in 2016, but did so with only one district win, and finished with a 3-8 record after a loss to Anson in bi-district. McCamey is now off to their best start since 2005, on course to win a district title. Outside of a loss to Iraan in week three, the offense has been spectacular, averaging 46.4 points in their seven wins.

McCamey will need to down Christoval in the regular season finale to claim the district title, but the Badgers have been the best offensive team in district so far with 81 points in their two games — in second place in that category is Christoval with 31.

Milano (7-0, 2-0) 13-2A DII

Milano reached the postseason in 2016, and even won their opening round contest, but still finished with a 4-8 record. The Eagles have taken a big leap forward in 2017 however, currently undefeated overall and off to a blazing start in district action. Milano made headlines earlier in the season by snapping Bremond’s 49 game win streak with a seven point victory in week three. Bremond was one of only two teams who managed double digit scoring against the Milano defense, with the unit sporting an average of 10.7 points allowed per game.

Aquilla (7-1, 2-0) 14-1A DI

Aquilla finished with a 5-5 record in 2016, but winning only one district game shut the Cougars out of the postseason. With a loss to a strong Milford team being the lone blemish, Aquilla has played a solid 2017 season, and is currently in the driver’s seat to win their district. The Cougars started 14-1A DI play with a 66-16 win over Abbott, their first since 2013.

Aquilla takes on Coolidge next week, in a contest likely to determine a district champion.

Blackwell (7-0) 7-1A DII

There are currently only four undefeated teams in six-man DII, Blackwell being perhaps the most surprising of the group. The Hornets finished 6-4 in 2016, but was unable to reach the postseason after dropping a pair of district games. The offense has been explosive, scoring an average of 56.7 points per game, while the defense sports three shutouts on the year.

With district play starting this coming weekend, the question remains if Blackwell can improve on last season’s district mark and reach the postseason for the fifth time in six years.

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