It’s hard to envision a scenario where Mart is not on top of District 8-2A Division I when December rolls around. But can the Bosqueville Bulldogs knock the Panthers off their throne?

The two shared a close game last season, with the Panthers escaping with a five-point win on their way to an unblemished district record. The game was undoubtedly the only contest in which the Panthers were challenged in their 12-1 season, so make sure to head to Bosqueville on Nov. 10 for the rematch.

Riesel and Italy hovered around the .500 mark in 2016, with both teams teams in the bi-district round of the playoffs. The Indians and Gladiators enter 2017 with playoff aspirations once again and both have enough returning leadership returning to get there.

Axtell fought through an injury-riddled 1-9 season and could have some depth issues this season. If the Longhorns stay healthy, don’t be surprised if they sneak back into playoff contention with former Valley Mills head coach Eric Blenden leading the way.

Axtell Longhorns

  • LAST SEASON — 1-9 (1-4)
  • RETURNING STARTERS — 6 offensive, 6 defensive
  • COACH ERIC BLENDEN — 0-0 at Axtell

All-time: 322-370-33 since 1920

Playoff history: 26-20-1 in 21 trips, most recently 2011; 0 state championships

Base offense: Wing-T

Base defense: 3-4

Outlook: After struggling to a 1-9 campaign a season ago, the Longhorns welcome fresh blood to the head coaching position.

New man in charge Eric Blenden moved from Valley Mills to Axtell this summer with one thing on his mind: staying healthy.

As is the case at every Class 2A school, Blenden and the Longhorns need to stay as injury-free as possible, with depth being a major concern.

“Us in a nutshell — we have to stay healthy to have a chance,” Blenden said. “It’s hard for us to just move someone else to certain positions because of our lack of depth.”

Axtell will count on FB/LB Dominic Rosales to anchor both sides of the football. Rosales played just three quarters in 2016, going down with a gruesome leg injury.

“We hope to get it to Rosales 30 times a game,” Blenden said. “He’s a special player who will need to be big.”

New signal-caller Hayden Sheffield, playing his first year of football, gives Blenden a much-needed boost at the quarterback position.

“We would be in a world of hurt if he didn’t decide to come out,” Blenden said. “He’s taken the leadership role and makes us leaps and bounds better. He’s really taken control of the offense.”

Schedule

9/1 at Dallas Gateway 7:30

9/8 Bruceville-Eddy 7:30

9/15 at Leon 7:30

9/22 Chilton 7:30

9/29 at Holland 7:30

10/13 Bosqueville 7:30*

10/20 at Mart 7:30*

10/27 Itasca 7:30*

11/3 Riesel 7:30*

11/10 at Italy 7:30*

Bosqueville Bulldogs

  • LAST SEASON — 9-3 (4-1)
  • RETURNING STARTERS — 5 offensive, 5 defensive
  • COACH CLINT ZANDER — 71-37 (at Bosqueville)

All-time: 148-148-1 since 1990

Playoff history: 13-13 in 13 trips, most recently 2016; 0 state championships

Base offense: Spread

Base defense: 4-3

Outlook: Bosqueville has made a name for itself as a perennial playoff team, and last season was no different. The Bulldogs boasted a 9-3 record, reaching the area finals in Class 2A Division I in 2016.

The talent is back for Bosqueville, but experience could be a factor under center. The Bulldogs plan to start freshman Tyler Webb at QB, a talented, albeit young, athlete who takes the reins of an offense that can put some points on the board. Head coach Clint Zander has been impressed with what he has seen so far from Webb, but knows the offense will hit some speed bumps along the way.

“He has already hit some freshman lumps, for sure,” Zander said. “But that’s expected. I’ve been pleased with what I have seen so far.”

With success brings higher expectations. Zander has turned Bosqueville into a really good program, thrusting the Bulldogs’ goals upward each year his teams find success.

“The kids are expecting to win now,” he said. “We hope it’s a given we are going to the playoffs and just a a matter of how deep we are going.”

This year is no different. Webb is surrounded by an experienced offensive line, as four of Bosqueville’s big guys up front make up a big chunk of the Bulldogs’ thin, six-man senior class. Add them to a list of the likes of LB Bryce Eckardt and wideout/defensive back Tanner Sepulveda, and the Bulldogs have a ton of playmakers on both sides of the ball to carry the leadership burden.

“This group gets along, they are a very a very congealed group,” Zander said. “Our family atmosphere really carries a lot of weight.”

Schedule

9/1 Santo 7:30

9/8 at Rogers 7:30

9/15 Reicher 7:30

9/22 Crawford 7:30

9/29 at Dublin 7:30

10/13 at Axtell 7:30*

10/20 Riesel 7:30*

10/27 at Italy 7:30*

11/3 at Itasca 7:30*

11/10 Mart 7:30*

Itasca Wampus Cats

  • LAST SEASON — 1-9 (0-5)
  • RETURNING STARTERS — 6 offensive, 7 defensive
  • COACH KEVIN AUTEN — 2-18 at Itasca

All-time: 435-474-34 since 1910

Playoff history: 6-12 in 14 trips, most recently 2009; 0 state championships

Outlook: The Wampus Cats have struggled mightily each of the last four years, scratching out only a total of three wins with the possibility of going 1-9 four years in a row looming.

The Cats do have talent, though, with OL/DL James Savala coming off an all-district season. Center Wyatt Helms “is the leader of the line,” head coach Kevin Auten says. OL/DL Rick Ortega joins Savala back on both lines after injuries hampered his playing time.

Schedule

9/1 at Wortham 7:00

9/8 Rice 7:30

9/15 at Frost 7:30

9/22 Rio Vista 7:30

9/29 at Dawson 7:30

10/13 at Mart 7:30*

10/20 Italy 7:30*

10/27 at Axtell 7:30*

11/3 Bosqueville 7:30*

11/10 at Riesel 7:30*

Mart Panthers

  • LAST SEASON — 12-1 (5-0)
  • RETURNING STARTERS — 7 offensive, 7 defensive
  • COACH KEVIN HOFFMAN — 20-4 at Mart

All-time: 793-329-39 since 1912

Playoff history: 102-38-1 in 36 trips, most recently 2016; 5 state championships (1957, 1969, 1999, 2006, 2010)

Base offense: Spread

Base defense: 4-3

Outlook: The Panthers are a year removed from yet another fantastic playoff run, falling to eventual state runner-up and Central Texas rival Crawford in the regional semifinals by a mere seven points. The Panthers were a few friendly bounces away from advancing to play Refugio in the regional finals.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, though, it didn’t go their way. But something Mart does have on its side this year is a host of talented athletes coming back on both sides of the ball that will make them the favorite to yet again top District 8-2A Division I.

“We have seven seniors and a lot of the same group back from last year,” head coach Kevin Hoffman said. “All of these guys have taken on different parts and are stepping up. This summer, these guys have held the other kids accountable.”

Mart has unparalleled, electrifying speed on both sides of the ball. Dual-threat QB Jace Terry meshes well with RB Tyrek Horne in the backfield, forming a two-headed monster that is unrivaled in the Panthers’ district. Filling out the outside is University of Houston commit and big target Zamar Kirven.

“Jace does what we ask out of him and more,” Hoffman said. “He’s a cool cat and nothing seems to bother him.”

It’s not just offensive speed that gets Hoffman’s blood flowing. The defense features experienced vets at linebacker in Cooper Baize and Kirven. An interesting change for the Panthers defensively is Hoffman’s move of small speedster Shatydrick Bailey to defensive end. At 5-3, Bailey wouldn’t seem too imposing to most defensive tackles. It’s the quickness of the wideout that triggered Hoffman’s change.

With state championship banners crowding the Panthers’ gym, Hoffman uses an analogy of another sport to keep his kids grounded and focused on the task at hand each day in practice.

“I tell them that we need to be like a race horse,” he said. “We need to have blinders and look straight ahead.”

Schedule

9/1 at Lexington 7:30

9/8 at West 7:30

9/15 at McGregor 7:30

9/22 Kerens 7:30

9/29 at Centerville 7:30

10/13 Itasca 7:30*

10/20 Axtell 7:30*

10/27 at Riesel 7:30*

11/3 Italy 7:30*

11/10 at Bosqueville 7:30*

Riesel Indians

  • LAST SEASON — 6-5 (3-2)
  • RETURNING STARTERS — 5 offensive, 6 defensive
  • COACH ROBERT LITTLE — 6-5 at Riesel

All-time: 341-411-31

Playof history: 7-9-1 in 10 trips, most recently 2016; 0 state championships

Base offense: Multiple run

Base defense: 4-3

Outlook: In his first year as head coach of Riesel, Robert Little led the Indians to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. It was quite a rebuilding job for Little and his staff.

“We got here late and I think we did an adequate job,” Little said. “For the most part we got the kids in the right places.”

But can the Indians maintain their early success under Little, with a third-place finish in District 8-2A Division I? They tied Italy with a 6-5 overall record, but managed a 3-2 district record to finish behind just Bosqueville and Mart.

For the offense, it starts up front. While accomplished backs Gus Mulsow and Thomas Byrd are familiar with Little’s offense, he worries about his inexperienced offensive line.

“We know our line has to get better,” he said. “Most of these guys have lived in the shadows of the other starters and haven’t gotten a lot of work.”

Riesel’s defensive front seven has been more than just adequate this summer, but it’s the secondary that lost a few playmakers.

“Up front (defensively), we need to keep people contained,” Little said.

“Not only in the secondary, but our juniors and sophomores have to step up all across the board. They have got to carry the torch.”

Schedule

9/1 at Thrall 7:30

9/8 at Meridian 7:30

9/15 Granger 7:30

9/22 at Mildred 7:30

9/29 Hubbard 7:30

10/13 Italy 7:30*

10/20 at Bosqueville 7:30*

10/27 Mart 7:30*

11/3 at Axtell 7:30*

11/10 Itasca 7:30*

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