University (0-9, 0-5) vs. Waco High (5-4, 2-3)
Players to watch: University RB Jeremiah Stroupe; University WR Osea Cadena; Waco High QB Jaylen Harris; Waco High DT Nakeveyon Vincent
Key matchup: Waco High D-line vs. University offensive line
Breakdown: Waco High coaches haven’t mentioned to their players the fact that University is carrying a 45-game losing streak or that the Trojans haven’t beaten the Lions since 2009.
“If you ask one of our players, they’ll tell you we’re playing the New England Patriots this week,” Waco High coach Marty Herbst said.
Part of that relates to what is at stake. Waco High, which fell a single point shy of reaching the playoffs last year, can clinch a spot with a win over its crosstown rival. The Lions can still get in with a loss and a Bryan Rudder loss, “but we certainly don’t want it to come to that,” Herbst said.
After dropping games to Temple and College Station, Waco High bounced back with a 40-21 win over Bryan that featured three long TD connections between QB Jaylen Harris and receiver Quinn Williams.
The clash is also the annual Waco ISD Hall of Fame Game, and will feature a ceremony honoring the district’s new Hall of Fame class of Jerrell Freeman, Marcus Walker, Vince Carter and Charlie Morton.
#4 La Vega (9-0, 4-0) at Burnet (4-5, 0-4)
Players to watch: La Vega: QB Jamal Williams, RB Cameron Henry, RB Kemoche Hobbs; Burnet: QB Chandler Galban, RB Ian Carter, WR Tyler Torres
Key matchup: La Vega running backs vs. Burnet defensive line
Breakdown: After winning nine straight games, the Pirates would like to finish off an unbeaten regular season with a win over last-place Burnet.
La Vega coach Willie Williams likes the way his team is improving every week, including last Friday’s 49-7 thrashing of Gatesville to improve to 4-0 in district play.
“The good thing is we’re getting better in all phases of the game, and that’s what we want to do,” Williams said. “We’re throwing and catching a lot better. The defense is playing well and creating turnovers, and that’s allowing our offense to get the ball in great position.”
Burnet’s offense showed some good signs in last week’s 51-35 loss to Lampasas, but La Vega’s ground game will be hard to contain.
Liberty Hill (6-2, 3-1) at Gatesville (7-2, 2-2)
Players to watch: Liberty Hill RB Kyle Harrison; Liberty Hill WR Reece Hudson; Gatesville QB Jett Truss; Gatesville WR Derrick Bayer
Key matchup: Gatesville run defense vs. Liberty Hill slot-T
Breakdown: After a 7-0 start, Gatesville suddenly finds itself in a precarious position following lopsided losses to China Spring and La Vega.
The Hornets can quell all worries by closing out the season with a win over the Panthers. But that will be easier said than done. Liberty Hill’s powerful, misdirection-heavy running attack has given foes fits all year, and the Panthers should roll into Gatesville with plenty of confidence after sneaking away with a 59-58 win over China Spring last week.
Gatesville hasn’t won since dealing with the overturned suspension of six of its players two weeks ago, but the quality of opponent has something to do with that. The Hornets averaged 41 points per game in the seven weeks before that, and will be looking to get rolling again behind the dual-threat talents of quarterback Jett Truss and the well-stocked weapons surrounding him.
“We’ve played some great teams the past few weeks and have been dealing with some injuries, but we’re coming home to McKamie Stadium, and it’s a special place,” Gatesville coach Kyle Cooper said. “Our seniors really want to close it out right.”
Lorena (3-6, 2-2) at Fairfield (5-4, 3-1)
Players to watch: Lorena: Greg Martinez, Thor Hoffmann; Fairfield: Chad Rushin, Avery Archibald
Key matchup: Chad Rushin vs. Lorena secondary
Breakdown: If Lorena doesn’t win against Fairfield, the Leopards are, most likely, out of the playoffs. If there was ever a time for Lorena to build off a two-game win streak, it’s now. After the win over Connally last week, head coach Ray Biles described his team as “fighters.”
And that’s what they’ve done all season long. Earlier this week, Greg Martinez was voted the defensive player of the week after he finished with 15 tackles against the Cadets. He and the rest of the Leopard defense will be tasked with containing a Fairfield team looking to secure a district title with a win Friday night.
Fairfield is led by quarterback Chad Rushin, who had a wealth of receivers to throw the ball to in Kolbe Branch, Avery Archibald, Kolby Adams and Kadarius Walker. The Eagles are currently tied for first in the district, alongside Salado, with a 3-1 district record.
Salado (8-1, 3-1) at Connally (3-6, 2-2)
Players to watch: Salado: Cade DePoy, Aaron Torczynski; Connally: Javion Sunday, Javion Dawkins
Key matchup: Salado defensive line vs. Connally offensive line
Breakdown: The playoff implications of this contest mirror those of the Fairfield vs. Lorena matchup. Salado is tied atop the district standings with a 3-1 record alongside Fairfield. Connally, meanwhile, is fighting for a playoff spot.
If the Cadets lose, their postseason chances are slim to none. After starting out district play 2-0, Connally has dropped its past two district contests. Both losses happened late in the fourth quarter.
Connally coach Shawn Anderson, after his Cadets started off district play 2-0, talked about the importance of his team putting together a full four quarters of play. For Connally to be successful against a Salado team – that can win district with a victory over Connally and a Fairfield loss to Lorena – the Cadet offensive line has to work hard to establish the run game early.
West (7-2, 5-1) at Eustace (6-3, 3-3)
Players to watch: West: Nathan Gerik, Romeo Hernandez; Eustace: Alejandro Sanchez, Clifton Johnson
Key matchup: Alejandro Sanchez vs. West defense
Breakdown: Alejandro Sanchez is the main component of the Eustace offense. He’s thrown for 609 yards and nine touchdowns in addition to running for 1,369 yards and 17 touchdowns.
He and the rest of the Bulldogs will come up against one of the better defenses in the district in West. Led by Romeo Hernandez with 61 tackles on the year, the Trojans have given up an average of 18.6 points in their seven wins this season.
Offensively, Nathan Gerik continues to lead the charge for the Trojans. The senior quarterback has completed 81 of 154 passes for 1,172 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s also run the ball for 613 yards and eight scores.
West is currently in a three-way tie for first in its district alongside Teague and Malakoff. It is guaranteed to make the playoffs. The only question is seeding.
McGregor (5-4, 3-2) at Troy (3-6, 2-3)
Players to watch: McGregor: RB Jared Lorenz, QB Michael Irons, WR Tayvon Thompson; Troy: OLB Anthony Avila, NG Alex Falcon
Key matchup: McGregor QB Michael Irons vs. Troy secondary
Breakdown: McGregor knows it has to win to reach the playoffs, and will have plenty of motivation against Troy in the regular season finale.
“Troy knocked us out of the playoffs last year, and we haven’t forgotten that,” said McGregor coach Judd Thrash. “If we don’t take care of business, we don’t deserve to make the playoffs.”
The Bulldogs are coming off a solid 35-12 win over Academy while Troy was rocked by Cameron Yoe, 35-0, last week. But Thrash believes McGregor needs to play its best game to beat a physical Troy squad.
“Troy is a physical team that will run right at you and they play great defense,” Thrash said.
#5 Mart (8-1, 4-0) vs. Bosqueville (5-4, 4-0)
Players to watch: Mart: Jace Terry, Tyrek Horne, Zamar Kirven; Bosqueville: Tyler Webb, Marcell Estell, Jacob Bravo
Key matchup: Mart offense vs. Bosqueville defense
Breakdown: Since Mart’s season opening loss to Class 3A’s third-ranked Lexington, 40-38, no one has been able to slow down the Panthers. Mart has averaged 55.3 points per contest since. The Panthers’ 490 points scored this season ranks third in the state. Defensively, the Panthers haven’t given up a single point since Sept. 29. So far, Mart has routed its district opponents by an average score of 59-0.
As was the case last season, the Panthers’ toughest district opponent awaits the final week of the regular season as Mart and Bosqueville, both 4-0 in district, battle for the title Friday night. Last year, Mart topped the Bulldogs, 26-21.
The Bulldogs are led by Tyler Webb and Marcell Estell. Webb is sixth in Central Texas as the quarterback is 115 for 216 for 1,780 yards and 17 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Estell is a threat all over the field as he has 85 carries for 856 yards and 13 touchdowns to go with 34 catches for 382 yards and five scores.
Bruceville-Eddy (4-5, 3-2) at Marlin (4-5, 3-2)
Players to watch: Marlin RBs Alik Brooks, Sir Charleston Lee
Key matchup: Marlin running game against Bruceville-Eddy front seven
Breakdown: The Eagles ended the longest playoff drought in Class 3A history and sixth longest in the state of Texas last week with a win over New Waverly.
It’s a battle of positioning in this one, as both teams sport 3-2 district records with the winner grabbing third place and a better seed in the playoffs.
For the Bulldogs, Brooks and Charleston Lee have combined for nearly 1,300 yards rushing, so expect Marlin to pound it to these guys in an attempt to control the game early.
Crawford (7-2, 4-1) at Hico (7-2, 4-1)
Players to watch: Crawford QB Gage Pearson, RB Trey Lacina, WR Charlie Adamick
Key matchup: Keeping defenses off the field
Breakdown: De Leon has District 7-2A Div 1 wrapped up and there’s no changing that. But Crawford and De Leon can have a say in second place, and that’s what they will play for Friday night in Hico.
The Pirates popped the Tigers by 48 a year ago, but both teams are admittedly different. During their four-game winning streak that has pushed them up the district standings, the Pirates have given up just 33 points.
There’s a kicker, though. Hico has the same winning streak and has allowed only 22 points to the same two teams. Expect a good one in Hico.
Lampasas (2-7, 1-3) at China Spring (6-3, 2-2)
Players to watch: China Spring’s Cayden Johnson and Tyrick James
Key matchup: China Spring offense vs. Lampasas defense
Breakdown: The top two seeds in District 13-4A Div. I are set. La Vega and Liberty Hill are in, but third and fourth places can get a bit murky.
It’s pretty simple for the Cougars. Win and you’re in. That’s it. Even if Gatesville beats Liberty Hill and China Spring wins, the Cougars own the tiebreaker. Lampasas can make things interesting with a win and a Hornet loss, taking all three teams to a 2-3 district mark.
The Cougars dropped a tough one last weekend to Liberty Hill and there’s more math needed in this district’s playoff equation, but the Cougars should find no problem at home with Lampasas. Take care of business and they’re playoff-bound.