highschoolfootball

Lorena’s Colin Highfill (20) greets China Spring’s Kolten Benton (55) before their season opener Friday in Lorena.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson

Over the past several years, NFL knockout pools — sometimes called eliminator challenges — have grown in popularity.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s a pretty simple explanation. A group of people create an office pool or league where each participant picks one NFL team he or she thinks will win its game that week. If your chosen team wins, you survive and advance to the next week. If the team loses, you’re done.

The kicker is that you’re allowed to select each NFL team only once during the season. Once you’ve picked them, you can’t ever use them again.

Why do I bring it up? Well, because I’m borrowing the concept.

At long last, Central Texas high school football returns this week. And because I’m such a sweet guy, I’ve come up with the ultimate road trip for you. Don’t worry about planning your next 11 Friday nights — I’ve already done it.

However, as I alluded to, this schedule of games uses each team only once. Obviously many of our Centex teams will play more than one game worth attending. This menu is therefore a spicy one, for we prefer a life filled with variety.

Naturally, the knockout format created some challenges for me. Given that I was using teams only once and sending you to just one game per week (if you’ve perfected cloning yourself, call me and I’ll give you some more games), I had to put some serious thought into when best to use certain teams. But that was part of the fun.

So, without further ado, here’s my suggested itinerary:

Week 1, Sept. 1

Tolar at Crawford. Last year, the Pirates lost only one regular-season game, in the season opener to a solid Rattler team. Then Crawford proceeded to win 14 in a row, reaching the state championship before falling to Refugio, 23-20. Call your bookie, because here’s a safe bet: Crawford won’t mind a bit of payback.

Week 2, Sept. 8

Mart at West. Some intriguing matchups dot the schedule in Week 2, including Teague-Mexia and Cedar Ridge-Midway. B but here’s a tasty idea: Drive out to West, pick up a kolache (or three) and settle in for this fun matchup, as the state-ranked Panthers play up a class and try to topple the Class 3A Trojans for the second year in a row.

Week 3, Sept. 15

Midway at Temple. The stars at night are big and bright … deep in the heart of Wildcat Stadium. That’s because Jeff Hulme’s Midway team and Scott Stewart’s Temple bunch feature a beaming constellation of some of the brightest talent in the area.

Week 4, Sept. 22

Bremond at Reicher. So, look, it’s going to be crowded over at Midway’s Panther Stadium this night, when the home team welcomes in Waco High. My advice? Venture across town to North 23rd Street, where you’ll get to witness a pair of tradition-rich programs who have combined for a total of 13 state titles. If the Tigers win their first three games, they’ll be going for win No. 51 in a row against Reicher.

Week 5, Sept. 29

Cameron Yoe at McGregor. One of the top quarterbacks in Central Texas, Zach Andress, will have to be on the mark when he goes up against McGregor’s standout defensive back Johnathan Phenix, a University of Houston commit.

Week 6, Oct. 6

Bosqueville at Axtell. This may be the most underrated rivalry in Central Texas. Doesn’t matter the sport: the ‘Dogs always want to beat the Steers and vice versa. Last year, it was all Bosqueville, but the Longhorns were riddled with injuries. Adding intrigue to the 2017 matchup is the arrival of Axtell’s new head coach Eric Blenden.

Week 7, Oct. 13

Aquilla at Abbott. It’s no longer the Superintendent Sibling Squabble, as Aquilla ISD superintendent David Edison’s brother Ricky now works at University High School instead of Abbott. Nevertheless, the annual battle between the Cougars and Panthers is a six-man catfight you never want to miss.

Week 8, Oct. 20

China Spring at La Vega. This weekend ranks as arguably the most compelling of the entire regular season, blessed with a bevy of great matchups. You’ve got the Battle of the Bell with Rockdale and Cameron Yoe. And nobody would deny the appeal of district brouhahas like Belton-Midway, Groesbeck-West and Waco High-Temple.

However, China Spring-La Vega has ascended to another level among Centex showdowns. Both are again ranked in the state’s Top 10, and in each of the past two seasons the district duel has only served as the precursor to a second matchup in the postseason. Clear your calendar. You don’t want to miss this one.

Week 9, Oct. 27

Lorena at Robinson. Man, the hits just keep on coming. Lorena’s Ray Biles and Robinson’s Tommy Allison are two of the nicer guys you could ever meet, and they reflect the people of these proud communities. When the Rockets and Leopards get together, though, the hugs and handshakes give way to full-speed collisions. In 2016, Lorena emerged with a 43-35 win at home, so the Rockets will be looking to return the favor in what could be the District 9-4A championship game.

Week 10, Nov. 3

Fairfield at Mexia. The Eagles have owned the recent edge in this longtime entanglement, winning six of the past seven meetings. Coaches will remind you, though, that it’s a typical throw-out-the-record game. The Blackcats certainly hope that Fairfield’s 22-mile bus ride home on Highway 84 after the game is a quiet one.

Week 11, Nov. 10

Waco High vs. University. Let’s close the regular season with a little crosstown showdown in Waco ISD. Sure, the Trojans are in the midst of a rough patch as a program. They’re looking for their first win since the 2013 season, and they’ve also lost seven straight in the series with the Lions.

They always get up for Waco High, though, and Rodney Smith’s transition to head coach has fostered a new sense of enthusiasm. Waco High’s Marty Herbst will undoubtedly preach to his team that they won’t be able to take the Trojans lightly.

As a bonus, this game always correlates with Waco ISD Hall of Fame Weekend, as the district will enshrine a new class of former athletic greats.

So, there you go — 11 games involving 11 stadiums, 22 different teams, no fewer than 800 players and thousands of sure-to-be rowdy fans.

You’re welcome.

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