DUNCANVILLE WEEK: Early adversity has The Woodlands prepared for state power
The Woodlands Highlanders have advanced to the Regional Semis for the first time since 2020 after two blow-out wins over Nimitz and Klein Cain in the opening rounds.
As the playoffs whittle down, the competition gets incrementally tougher. For the Highlanders... it's Duncanville week.
This Highlanders are staring facing a similar situation as playing defending State Champs North Shore on live television in Week 1. Now, the stakes are higher facing Duncanville, who has made it to four-straight Final Fours. While the loss to North Shore (49-21) was harrowing, it prepared the Highlanders for this Duncanville matchup.
"For a long time, we have talked about 'keeping the wolves away' and not worrying about outside influences that we can't control and that really have no idea what goes on within a team," coach Jim Rapp said. "All that really matters is what we believe. Our team has improved throughout the year, and I don't think we have played our best game yet. Duncanville has a quality team. We scrimmaged Atascocita and played North Shore this year. We learned a lot from those matchups. We will be ready to play on Saturday."
"The whole team has grown from our losses to North Shore and New Caney. We just got refocused," said star junior QB Mabrey Mettauer, who has thrown for 2,468 yards and 31 TDs this year while also rushing for 537 yards and 7 TDs. "Honestly, we just all started focusing on us and nothing else. It's about wanting it more than anyone else on that field. That’s why I think we've been successful."
The turning point of the season has been the insertion of Arkez Gomez at RB. Gomez was an all-district athlete at New Caney last season, but has committed to running the ball in the second half of the Highlanders run in 2023.
"Our thoughts going into this game is to dominate and play fast, physical and fearless," Gomez said.
Gomez has been on a hot streak in the playoffs with five rushing touchdowns. His play has opened up the passing game, led by WRs Quanell Farrakhan Jr., Patrick Rabel and Branson McShaffry.
Defensively, The Woodlands will have to match the Panthers' speed and athleticism.
"We are amped up for this matchup," senior DB Cooper Starcke said. "The playoffs have a different feel to it and we know everything is on the line every week. Duncanville is a very good team and has had so much success, but we know we are a good football team as well. We are playing for each other at the perfect time."
Up front, Mitchell Blakeslee (Air Force-commit) and Steele Herndon will keep the linemen of their LBs Tommy Kratt , Jacob Pondant and JT Goff. Brady Carlin, Wei Wei and Luke Jones will need to contain the Panthers' receivers.
The special teams play is also a strength with Scott Starzyk punting and kicking. He's automatic.
"First and foremost, we will need to be fundamentally sound in all three phases of the game," Rapp said. "We need to continue to play solid defense and tackle well. Offensively, we will need to spread the ball around, be explosive, and be able to run the football when necessary. Next, we will need to be solid in special teams, to cover and tackle, to protect and block, and make quality kicks. If we accomplish that, it is going to be a heck of a game.
The North Shore experience, refocusing and a renewed confidence has The Woodlands looking for an upset against one of the biggest brand in Texas. Now, it's time to play ball.
It's Duncanville week.