No. 6 Midway (8-0, 4-0) at Shoemaker (0-9, 0-5)

Players to watch: Midway: Tanner Mordecai, Jaxon Player; Shoemaker: Mark Walker, Tiji Paul

Key matchup: Shoemaker run game vs. Midway defensive line

Breakdown: With two weeks left in the regular season, Midway sits atop District 8-6A standings with a spotless 4-0 record. Ellison and Belton are close behind, each with a 3-1 district record. The Panthers have already played Belton, as Midway topped the Tigers, 53-32, two weeks ago. Midway and Ellison will face off in next week’s district finale.

But the Panthers can’t look ahead to Ellison just yet as they take on Shoemaker Friday night in Killeen. The Gray Wolves have fought hard in every contest this season, but they’ve come up short each time. Most recently, Shoemaker dropped 35-12 to Belton a week ago.

While the Gray Wolves took on the Tigers, Midway had its bye week. Now, the Panthers return to the gridiron ready to finish out district play with hopes of continuing the season well into December.

Midway has proven it has the pieces to do so, despite the daunting 6A playoff bracket, however it shakes out. While Tanner Mordecai, James Fullbright and the wealth of receivers have received loads of praise, it’s been the Panther offensive line that’s been key to Midway’s offense so far. Defensively, the Panthers are talented in the front seven with defensive lineman Jaxon Player and linebacker Matthew Barnhill with plenty of other playmakers around them.

Waco High (4-4, 1-3) at Bryan (3-5, 1-3)

Players to watch: Waco High: Terrance Hamilton, Nakeveyon Vincent; Bryan: CJ Koontz, Kerry Brooks

Key matchup: Waco High offensive line vs. Bryan defensive line

Breakdown: For Waco High to keep playing after next week’s regular season finale against University, the Lions need to win their next two games. This Friday, Waco High takes on Bryan.

The Lions are currently in a three-way tie for the final playoff spot with Bryan and Bryan Rudder. A&M Consolidated is third at 3-2, while Temple is second at 4-0 and College Station is first at 5-0.

Like Waco High, Bryan has been successful this season with its ground game. CJ Koontz leads the Vikings with 86 carries for 553 yards and 14 touchdowns. Kerry Brooks isn’t far behind with 104 rushes for 530 yards and three touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Terrance Hamilton has paced the Lions’ offense with 141 carries for 935 yards and eight scores. Hamilton and the Waco High offense will need to find more rhythm than it had last week as the Lions recorded only three first downs in the first half. Waco High finished with 257 yards of total offense against College Station, as Hamilton finished with 102 yards and quarterback Jaylen Harris had 112 yards.

Bryan Rudder (1-7, 1-3) at University (0-8, 0-4)

Players to watch: Rudder RB Kevonte Johnson; University RB Jeremiah Stroupe

Key matchup: First-quarter start for both teams

Breakdown: This could be University’s last, best shot to snap the program’s 44-game losing streak as well as give Rodney Smith a win in his first season as Trojans head coach. University will close the season with Waco High next week, and that crosstown clash figures to be a much taller task.

Rudder has won just once this season, but those successful memories are recent. The Rangers stunned rival Bryan, 35-28, last week, as Kevonte Johnson provided the winning TD on a 27-yard run with 2:17 to play. Johnson is a guy University will have to keep multiple eyes (and mitts) on, as he averages 144 rushing yards per game.

University hasn’t really been in close in a game in the fourth quarter all year, as the Trojans have lost by an average score of 51-10. Jeremiah Stroupe, who ran for 108 yards last week against A&M Consolidated, has been one of the bright spots.

No. 4 La Vega (8-0, 3-0) at Gatesville (7-1, 2-1)

Players to watch: La Vega: Cameron Henry, Kemoche Hobbs, Jared Rogers; Gatesville: Jett Truss, Zach Mueller, Will Carroll

Key matchup: Donta Stuart vs. Jett Truss

Breakdown: It’s Central Texas’ leader in interceptions versus the area’s third-ranked quarterback. If that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what will.

Donta Stuart, with seven interceptions for 300 return yards and a touchdown, will no doubt have the La Vega secondary ready to try and contain Gatesville and quarterback Jett Truss. Truss has completed 118 of 195 passes for 1,785 yards and 18 touchdowns with only five interceptions. He’s also run for 531 yards and seven scores.

While the Hornets have found success through the air – with receivers Derrick Bayer (785 yards, 8 touchdowns) and Zach Mueller (355 yards, 4 touchdowns), the Pirates have dominated running the football.

All three of La Vega’s running backs are in the top 20 in Central Texas. Cameron Henry leads the way with 797 yards and 13 touchdowns, followed by John Richards with 663 yards and 12 touchdowns as well as Kemoche Hobbs with 631 yards and 11 touchdowns.

While it will be interesting to see the showdown between La Vega’s secondary and Gatesville’s pass offense, keep an eye on the battle in the trenches. The play of both the offensive and defensive lines have been key to the success of these two programs.

China Spring (6-2, 2-1) at Liberty Hill (5-2, 2-1)

Players to watch: China Spring: QB Cayden Johnson, RB-TE Tyrick James, RB Erik Hart; Liberty Hill: RB Kyle Harrison, RB Hunter Oncken, S Wyatt Cheney

Key matchup: Liberty RBs Kyle Harrison and Hunter Oncken vs. China Spring defensive line

Breakdown: The China Spring-Liberty Hill game has all the makings of an offensive shootout with teams that feature vastly different styles.

The Cougars use a spread offense led by quarterback Cayden Johnson. His passing skills are balanced by the running of Tyrick James and Erik Hart who both surpassed 100 yards in last week’s 43-16 thrashing of Gatesville.

Liberty Hill goes old school with a Slot-T formation featuring the talents of running backs Kyle Harrison and Hunter Oncken. Both delivered big games in a 59-14 blowout of Burnet last week as Harrison rushed for 194 yards and Oncken contributed 173 on the ground.

“They just grind and pound, they’re a very physical football team,” said China Spring coach Mark Bell. “They’re old school and like to play smash mouth football. I thought our guys played very well last week and did some good things. We came out faster and played better, and when we can spread the ball around it makes it good.”

Fairfield (5-3, 3-0) at Mexia (3-5, 1-2)

Players to watch: Fairfield QB Chad Rushin, Fairfield WR/LB Avery Archibald; Mexia RB Josh Beachum; Mexia QB Travion Carter

Key matchup: Fairfield secondary vs. Mexia receivers

Breakdown: Though Mexia has actually played Groesbeck and Teague more often, the rivalry with Fairfield is one of the school’s most intense.

When the Eagles and Blackcats get together, it’s always a tussle, no matter the sport. That should be the case again Friday, as Fairfield could clinch no worse than a share of the District 9-4A title with a win while Mexia needs a win to remain in the playoff hunt in this competitive district.

Fairfield has managed to grind out tough wins in district play, opening with an overtime win over Salado before dispatching Robinson and Connally. Last week against the Cadets, Eagles linebacker JaShaughn Hatcher iced a 28-14 win over the Cadets with a timely 30-yard pick-six.

Connally (3-5, 2-1) at Lorena (2-6, 1-2)

Players to watch: Connally: Javion Sunday, Javion Dawkins, Shelby Lee; Lorena: Bradley Lina, Thor Hoffmann; Riley Mitchell

Key matchup: Sunday vs. Lorena defensive front

Breakdown: It was an offensive explosion a week ago for Lorena in its 56-14 win over Robinson, while Connally was engaged in a defensive battle it lost in the final seconds against Fairfield, 28-14. Now, the two teams meet up with playoff implications on the line. Connally is currently tied for second with Connally at 2-1 in district play. Lorena is tied for fourth with Mexia at 1-2. Fairfield is alone at the top at 3-0.

In Friday’s contest, both teams must prepare for heavy rush attacks. Connally is led by Javion Sunday who has run for 736 yards and 8 scores. Thor Hoffmann has racked up 536 yards and eight touchdowns for Lorena.

While those two backs are lethal, the defenses have to keep the quarterbacks in check. Last week against Fairfield, the Cadet offense seemed to reach another level with Kavian Gaither stepped in under center because the Eagles couldn’t solely focus on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Leopards’ Bradley Lina passed for 120 yards and ran for 114 against Robinson.

Each team has plenty of defensive talent to keep this contest low scoring. Riley Mitchell leads Lorena with 104 tackles, followed by Cade Michna with 89, Greg Martinez with 88, Brannen Davenport with 75 and Colin Highfill with 74. For Connally, Devin Pullin tops the defense with 83 tackles, followed by Shelby Lee and JoJo Crosby each with 71 along with Javion Dawkins who has 59 tackles and six sacks.

Eustace (5-3, 2-3) at Whitney (5-2, 2-3)

Players to watch: Eustace: QB Alejandro Sanchez, RB Clifton Johnson, WR Cory Strawn; Whitney: QB Devin Wilson, RB Dez Garner, S Juan Saucedo

Key matchup: Whitney QB Devin Wilson vs. Eustace secondary

Breakdown: Both Whitney and Eustace are fighting for playoff position following big District 9-3A Division I wins last week.

Whitney rode a strong defensive performance in a 33-10 win over Elkhart while Eustace delivered a powerful offensive performance in a 53-7 win over Palestine Westwood.

Eustace’s biggest challenge will be containing Whitney dual-threat quarterback Devin Wilson who has passed for 1,355 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for a team-high 599 yards and six scores. Dez Garner balances the Whitney attack as he’s rushed for 546 yards and five scores.

Rio Vista (4-3, 2-1) at Clifton (5-2, 3-0)

Players to watch: Rio Vista QB Christian Hodshire; Clifton LB Riley Perry; Clifton WR TJ Ferch; Clifton RB Marc Gutierrez

Key matchup: Clifton linebackers vs. Rio Vista QB Christian Hodshire

Breakdown: Can the Cubs go unbeaten in district two years in a row?

Maybe, but they’ll have to get past Rio Vista first, no easy chore. The Eagles feature a dual-threat dynamo at quarterback in Christian Hodshire, who has passed for 830 yards and 10 touchdowns while running for 528 yards, including three 100-yard performances.

Of course, Marc Gutierrez is a load for any defense to handle. The Cub senior back has piled up 1,245 rushing yards on the year, as he targets another run at a 2,000-yard season. (He had 1,975 yards last year).

Italy (4-4, 1-2) at No. 4 Mart (7-1, 3-0)

Players to watch: Italy LB Clay Riddle; Mart RB Shatydrick Bailey; Mart WR/LB Zamar Kirven; Mart QB Jace Terry

Key matchup: Italy ball control vs. Mart’s ball-hawking D

Breakdown: It’s important to Mart head coach Kevin Hoffman for his team to keep improving each week. That’s no easy task for the fourth-ranked Panthers, who have outscored their district opponents, 202-0.

In their long, illustrious football history, the Panthers have been known for touchdown-producing machines on offense, behind players like Quan Cosby, Lee McClendon and DeNarian Thomas. But defense is a Mart staple as well, and this one has the potential to be one of Mart’s best. Not only is Mart adept at swarming to the ball and cutting off gaps, the Panthers have shown a knack for takeaways that turn into touchdowns.

Coolidge (6-2, 2-0) at Abbott (4-4, 1-1)

Players to watch: Coolidge SB Torrey Hoover; Coolidge DL Colby Casarez; Abbott RB/LB Matthew Urbanovsky

Key matchup: Abbott run defense vs. Coolidge back Torrey Hoover

Breakdown: After a hard-fought 38-28 win over Aquilla last week, the Yellowjackets could put a stamp on a district title by taking down the tradition-rich Panthers.

Torrey Hoover is a big-time playmaker, either running or throwing the rock for Coolidge. Abbott will have to send multiple defenders in the sophomore’s direction.

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