Harker Heights (3-4, 3-2) at Midway (4-2, 4-0)
Radio: 7 p.m., 1660 AM/92.3 FM (online stream)
What’s at stake: The Panthers don’t want to let anyone stick their foot in the screen door to the District 12-6A title. A Midway win would give the program its 39th straight district victory.
Breakdown: Coaches don’t like it when the bye week stunts their momentum, but Midway coach Jeff Hulme believes his open date came at just the right time. Coming off that week off, the Panthers zipped past Copperas Cove behind a battery of big plays.
Hulme called it “the most complete game we’ve had all year, offensively and defensively.”
The Panthers will try to keep that momentum building against a Harker Heights team that is deservedly feeling good about its own progress. The Knights have won their last three in a row.
“Jerry (Edwards) and those guys do a good job. They’re well-coached,” Hulme said. “They don’t make a lot of mental mistakes, they just line up and play football. They’re not going to try to out-tricky you.”
Harker Heights QB Shaun West paced the Knights’ second-half surge against Waco High last week. Midway will also need to be cognizant of the whereabouts of the Knights’ ball-hawking senior safety Malik Wilson.
Midway seems to be gaining more comfort with who it is as a football team with each passing game. Jared Moore, Will Nixon and Zach Stewart have all shown an ability to deliver a big-play knockout blow.
A little more than two years ago, Will Nixon arrived at Midway as a new student looking to find his place at a big school.
“Early on we were so inexperienced in so many places,” Hulme said. “We have several sophomores, but we also had some juniors who were getting their first action under the Friday night lights. … We’ve figured out what we do good, what we still need to improve on. That’s the biggest thing, just us taking care of ourselves.”
It’s also homecoming for Midway, so Hulme’s message to his players has been “keep the main thing the main thing,” meaning, “let’s just worry about winning the game.”
Shoemaker (4-2, 3-1) at Waco High (0-6, 0-4)
Radio: 7 p.m., 101.3 FM (online stream)
What’s at stake: With only one district loss, the Grey Wolves still have designs on a district title, while Waco High is looking to play spoiler and get in the win column for the first time in 2019.
Breakdown: Four more chances. The Lions have more four more chances to get on the board and start building some positive momentum for 2020.
That starts this week when Shoemaker visits Waco ISD Stadium. The Grey Wolves trailed 28-14 early in the fourth quarter to crosstown rival Ellison last week, but decided to go out howling rather than whimpering. Devin Brown scored on a 6-yard touchdown run with just over eight minutes to play, and then at the 1:47 mark Vontez Martin capped off a drive by hitting Ty Bell on a 10-yard score that made it 28-27. Shoemaker’s ensuing two-point try was good, giving the Wolves a happy homecoming.
Waco High hasn’t experienced such good fortune yet this year. However, Kwame Cavil’s Lions did close last week’s game against Harker Heights with a flourish. Earnest Ware and Devion Long got loose for fourth-quarter touchdown runs as the Lions cut a 25-point deficit down to only 10.
Waco High defensive lineman Trent Freeman hears the stories of the Lions’ glory days all the time.
University (4-2, 2-2) at Burleson Centennial (6-1, 4-1)
What’s at stake: The Trojans will try to win their third straight District 5-5A Division II game against powerful Centennial.
Breakdown: After opening district play with a 52-13 loss to Burleson and a 41-29 loss to Cleburne, the Trojans have rebounded with a nail-biting 30-27 win over Joshua and last week's defensive statement against Seguin.
Now they hope their second game against a Burleson school goes their way. But it will be a huge task since Centennial’s only loss this year was the district opener against No. 1 Aledo, 63-30.
Since then, the Spartans have reeled off four straight wins, including last week’s 56-55 overtime shootout against Cleburne. Jaylon Jackson and Jeff Kirvin lead a powerful Centennial running game.
“They run the triple option and have some really good athletes, and it will be a big test for the Trojans,” said University coach Rodney Smith. “It’s very hard to prepare for. We’ll see it with them and Midlothian. You’ve got to trust your keys and your eyes.”
University quarterback Jacob Bryant has been a consistent threat all season with 748 yards passing and five touchdowns while Jeremiah Stroupe is one of Central Texas’ top rushers with 857 yards and nine scores.
“I just think we’re getting better at the right time,” Smith said. “But the tougher part of the schedule is coming up. If we can get better at what we do, it will give us a chance.”
University’s 47-game losing streak had grown to monstrous proportions, consuming the thoughts of Rodney Smith’s coaching staff and players.
No. 3 La Vega (5-1) at Stephenville (4-2, 1-0)
Radio: 6:30 p.m., 94.5 FM, centexbeat.com
Last week: La Vega had a bye; Stephenville defeated China Spring, 21-0
What’s at stake: The Pirates-Yellow Jackets matchup will have a big impact on playoff seeding. La Vega has a 22-game winning streak in district games that’s in jeopardy with a large group of players serving suspensions.
Breakdown: La Vega’s unfortunate road trip to play Texarkana Liberty-Eylau two weeks ago will have a residual impact on this game as 12 Pirates will be suspended for either half the game or the full game.
Earlier this week, La Vega coach Don Hyde declined to give the names of the players suspended for their part in the brawl that ended the La Vega vs. Liberty-Eylau game and, in turn, Hyde didn’t say who or how many players were serving half or full game bans. So it’s hard to know what to expect in this game.
Hyde did say he had confidence in his team’s toughness through adversity.
“These kids are resilient,” Hyde said. “That’s why we’re successful.”
Stephenville played a tough nondistrict schedule that included a pair of common opponents with La Vega — Argyle and Midlothian Heritage. Like the Pirates, Stephenville lost to top-ranked Argyle early in the season.
Hyde said every district game is important, but his team isn’t prioritizing a perfect run through the loop. He said their goal is to get into the playoffs and go as far as they can in November and possibly December.
La Vega has suspended 12 players for their District 5-4A Division I opener at Stephenville on Friday as a result of the brawl that took place …
China Spring (2-5, 0-1) at Gatesville (0-7, 0-1)
What’s at stake: Possibly a playoff berth. Four of the five teams in 5-4A DI will qualify for the postseason, so struggling Gatesville could still get in the hunt by winning this one.
But the Cougars have struggled to find the right formula for the last month as they have lost five straight. Stephenville shut down the China Spring offense last week in the district opener.
It’s not too late to turn things around though and China Spring might be able to regain some positive momentum against a winless Gatesville team.
The Hornets have been outscored 153-6 in their last three games.
Anyone who has traveled in downtown Waco knows how frightening it can be when you spot someone driving the wrong way down a one-way street.
No. 1 Connally (7-0, 3-0) at Mexia (3-2, 2-0)
What’s at stake: First place in 8-4A DII and the clearest path to the district championship.
Breakdown: With each passing win, the accolades and pressure are building for Connally, which has ascended to the top of the 4A Division II rankings.
The Cadets have risen to the challenge so far, but this week looks like their toughest test yet, especially after Mexia handled Fairfield a week ago.
Connally coach Shane Anderson is especially wary of Blackcats QB Jaden Proctor.
“That kid’s the most dynamic kid in Central Texas,” Anderson said. “That’s the most shake and bake I’ve seen.”
In two weeks, Mexia has gone from sputtering into district play with a 1-2 record to a tie atop the 8-4A DII standings. Another win would send the Blackcats expectations soaring and probably fill up their bandwagon.
But the Mexia players and coaches are trying to stay grounded.
“This district can change in a heartbeat,” Mexia coach Frank Sandoval said. “Our kids know that. It’s been a normal week for us honestly. We haven’t been more hyped or less hyped.”
Anderson said Mexia’s front four on defense are so big and imposing that they look like they could be the starters for nearby Navarro Junior College. That will make for a strength-on-strength matchup as Connally’s stellar offensive line attempt to open up holes for RB Jay’Veon Sunday and QB Kavian Gaither.
The Connally Cadets are lined up to fill up highlight clips this fall.
Robinson (4-2, 0-2) at Madisonville (2-5, 0-2)
Radio: 7:15 p.m., 104.9-FM (online stream)
What’s at stake: Both Robinson and Madisonville are seeking their first District 8-4A Division II win.
Breakdown: After cruising through non-district with a 4-0 record, the Rockets have opened district play with a 31-28 loss to Salado followed by last week’s 42-21 loss to Lorena.
The Rockets obviously need to shore up their defense. They’ll have to contain Madisonville dual-threat quarterback Armando Juarez, who has passed for 615 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for 304 yards and four scores.
Robinson quarterback Joseph McHenry has passed for 1,187 yards and 12 touchdowns and has rushed for 547 yards and six scores. Jordan Rogers has been McHenry’s top target with 26 catches for 585 yards and nine touchdowns.
“We’ve got to get back to what we did the first four weeks and play as hard as we can and let the chips fall where they may,” said Robinson coach Tommy Allison. “We made too many mistakes the last two weeks and haven’t played the way we’re a capable. This district is really good and there’s very little room for error on Friday nights.”
Robinson seniors Malik Ford and Cade Allison have been around the Rockets’ varsity team long enough to see both sides of the high school footb…
Salado (4-2, 1-1) at Lorena (4-3, 1-2)
Radio: 7 p.m., lorenaleopards.com
Last week: Salado idle; Lorena defeated Robinson, 42-21
What’s at stake: The Eagles are currently fourth in the District 8-4A standings and the Leopards are fifth, so to suggest that this one could have playoff implications down the line would be fair.
Breakdown: Nothing like a win to give you a little more bounce in your step. Such was the case this week for the Leopards, following last week’s “must-win” triumph over Robinson.
“We needed to win, simple as that,” Lorena coach Ray Biles said. “We’d lost two district ball games and you can’t go 0-3 and expect to do much in the playoffs or even have an opportunity to be there. We had to get a win urgently, and the kids performed well.”
Lorena has benefited from some reinforcements from the training room, but still is missing safety Zane Grimm (50 tackles), who has been out since the Lampasas game. Fortunately for Lorena, defenders like Daylan Browder (team-high 80 stops) and Callan Weaver (74) have helped pick up the slack.
They’ll need to be well-read as Salado comes to town. That’s because if you fail to read the right key against the Eagles, things can go south in a hurry.
“They’re a slot-T, grind-it-out football team,” Biles said. “You’re not worried about them throwing the ball, but they block well, they execute well, and they’re very physical up front.”
One possible advantage for Lorena might be that it’s played a similar-style team earlier this year in Franklin. The Leopards won that Week 2 contest, 42-21.
Teague (2-4, 1-1) at McGregor (3-4, 1-2)
What’s at stake: As a pair of middle-of-the-pack District 9-3A teams squabble, this one feels significant, as it could play into a postseason tiebreaker later down the road.
Breakdown: McGregor did a lot of things right in its three-point loss to West last week. That includes not turning the ball over, which had been a point of emphasis.
So, it was a tough lump to absorb for the Bulldogs. Nevertheless, they had a feisty week of practice leading into this week’s game against Teague, said head coach Mike Shields.
“With the cooler weather, we’re all feeling pretty good, and it led to a good week of practice,” Shields said. “Hopefully that’ll result in something Friday night.”
One guy who certainly will command McGregor’s attention is Teague running back Nemier Herod. The nifty, 5-9, 188-pound junior rushed for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Lions’ blowout of Groesbeck last week.
“We’ve got to stop their running back,” Shields said. “He’s not the only guy who can run the ball for them, but he’s the key to their running game.”
Mike Shields has always thought of McGregor as a great football town.
Crawford (4-2, 1-0) at Goldthwaite (1-5, 0-1)
Last week: Crawford stopped Valley Mills, 21-12; San Saba blanked Goldthwaite, 60-0
What’s at stake: If the Pirates want to keep pace with the likes of San Saba and De Leon atop the 7-2A standings, they’ll need to take care of business.
Breakdown: Valley Mills made Crawford work for a win in last week’s district opener, including rolling out a pretty nifty game of keep-away.
“Coach (Sam) Moody knows us well. Their game plan was to shorten the game, and we ended up with only five offensive possessions,” Crawford coach Delbert Kelm said. “But we’re pleased to get the win, it’s dang sure better than starting out 0-1.”
Goldthwaite isn’t the Goldthwaite of old, but it does feature an old-school, slot-T attack. Kelm is impressed with the Eagles’ discipline, and labeled them “much, much better” than last year, when they trotted out a slew of freshmen on Friday nights.
“It’s very important that we stay extremely disciplined,” Kelm said. “They do a good job of mixing in some play-action, try to lull you to sleep. … Last week against Valley Mills we had trouble getting off the field in long-yardage situations. We can’t let that happen this week.”
West (2-5, 2-1) at Whitney (5-1, 2-0)
Last week: West defeated McGregor, 31-28; Whitney defeated Maypearl, 42-3
What’s at stake: Probably playoff seeding in 9-3A DI.
Breakdown: West took a big step toward the playoffs in this seven-team district by winning at home against McGregor last week. The Trojans have won back-to-back games and seem to be building momentum.
“You see a team that’s getting better and better,” Whitney coach Mark Byrd said. “Their offensive line is young, but they’re starting to click. They’re getting good at the right time.”
Byrd added that West’s ball carriers are a load to tackle, which will make his team have to play disciplined and physical football on defense.
On the flip side, West will face a Wildcats squad with a plethora of playmakers.
Whitney utility back Juan Saucedo didn’t do much on offense in the Wildcats’ victory over Maypearl last week. But in a close game, it’s a good bet he’ll be right in there with QB Devin Wilson, RB Dez Garner and WR Kolby Tanner giving the Trojans’ defense a lot to think about.
Wortham (5-1, 1-0) at No. 3 Mart (3-3, 1-0)
Radio: 7:30 p.m., web broadcast at mixlr.com/remo41869/
Last week: Wortham defeated Frost, 36-23; Mart defeated Meridian, 68-0
What’s at stake: Wortham can post a major district upset and stay in the hunt for a district title, while Mart will try to keep rolling.
Breakdown: For five of the teams in 11-2A D-II, the regular season breaks down into three parts: nondistrict, district and the week they play Mart.
This week, the bell tolls for the Wortham Bulldogs.
“This is one of those games that’s a spotlight game for us,” Wortham coach Chad Coker said. “We told our kids, ‘This is a chance for you to prove what you can do because the whole state is watching Mart.’ ”
The ring says it all.
Win or lose against Mart, the Bulldogs are showing progress. After going 4-1 in nondistrict play, Wortham beat Frost last week to snap its 12-game district losing streak.
This district clash features a good QB matchup as Wortham’s Brandon Coker will duel with Mart signal caller Kyler Martin.
Week 8: Trib staff high school football picks
|Harker Heights at Midway||Midway||Midway||Midway|
|Shoemaker at Waco High||Shoemaker||Shoemaker||Waco High|
|Temple at Ellison||Temple||Temple||Temple|
|DISTRICT 5-5A DIV. II|
|University at Burleson Centennial||Centennial||Centennial||Centennial|
|DISTRICT 5-4A DIV. I|
|La Vega at Stephenville (7 p.m.)||La Vega||La Vega||La Vega|
|China Spring at Gatesville (7 p.m.)||China Spring||China Spring||China Spring|
|DISTRICT 4-4A DIV. II|
|Venus at Hillsboro||Hillsboro||Hillsboro||Hillsboro|
|DISTRICT 8-4A DIV. II|
|Connally at Mexia||Connally||Connally||Connally|
|Salado at Lorena||Lorena||Lorena||Lorena|
|Robinson at Madisonville||Robinson||Robinson||Robinson|
|DISTRICT 9-3A DIV. I|
|West at Whitney||Whitney||Whitney||Whitney|
|Teague at McGregor||Teague||McGregor||Teague|
|Grandview at Groesbeck||Grandview||Grandview||Grandview|
|DISTRICT 10-3A DIV. I|
|Academy at Cameron Yoe||Yoe||Yoe||Yoe|
|Rockdale at Troy||Rockdale||Troy||Troy|
|DISTRICT 8-3A DIV. II|
|Clifton at Lexington||Clifton||Clifton||Clifton|
|Rogers at Hamilton||Rogers||Rogers||Rogers|
|DISTRICT 7-2A DIV. I|
|Crawford at Goldthwaite||Crawford||Crawford||Crawford|
|Valley Mills at De Leon||Valley Mills||Valley Mills||Valley Mills|
|DISTRICT 8-2A DIV. I|
|Italy at Axtell||Italy||Italy||Axtell|
|Moody at Bosqueville||Bosqueville||Bosqueville||Bosqueville|
|Riesel at Bruceville-Eddy||B-Eddy||B-Eddy||B-Eddy|
|DISTRICT 13-2A DIV. I|
|Rosebud-Lott at Holland||Holland||Holland||Holland|
|Marlin at Thrall||Marlin||Thrall||Marlin|
|DISTRICT 11-2A DIV. II|
|Wortham at Mart||Mart||Mart||Mart|
|Dawson at Meridian||Dawson||Dawson||Dawson|
|Hubbard at Frost||Hubbard||Hubbard||Hubbard|
|DISTRICT 13-2A DIV. II|
|Granger at Bremond (7 p.m.)||Bremond||Bremond||Bremond|
|Chilton at Iola (7 p.m.)||Chilton||Chilton||Chilton|
|DISTRICT 10-1A DIV. I|
|Covington at Blum||Blum||Covington||Blum|
|Gholson at Abbott||Abbott||Abbott||Abbott|
|TAPPS DIST. 2 DIV. I SIX-MAN|
|Vanguard at Round Rock Christian||Vanguard||Vanguard||Vanguard|
|TCAF DIST. 1 SIX-MAN|
|Parkview Christian at Methodist Home||MCH||MCH||MCH|
|Cumby at Texas Wind (7 p.m.)||Cumby||Cumby||Texas Wind|
|Williamson County Home School at Cranfills Gap||Gap||Gap||Gap|
|Temple Centex Chargers Home School at Eagle Christian||ECA||ECA||ECA|
|Season to date||238-78||233-83||213-103|