Playoff Primer: 5 Biggest Questions heading into Regional Finals Weekend
The "Elite Eight" is here for the 2019 Texas high school football playoffs, better known as the Regional Finals.
Two more wins and teams will get to book their trips to AT&T Stadium for the UIL State Football Championships in a couple of weeks. The dream of reaching state is really within grasp now.
Heading into this weekend there are some heavy-weight matchups. Some rematches from earlier this season, and some magical fourth-seeded teams still playing. So what are the biggest, most burning questions heading into this weekend? Here they are!
Can North Shore stop Atascocita's ultra-talented wide receiver corps?
Early on in the season we knew Atascocita was talented in that position. Led by University of Houston-commit Dylan Robinson, the group knew they could be not just good but great. What makes them so good is you can't key in on stopping one guy. Even if you put your best defender on their best receiver, a guy like Landen King will torch you for 181 yards and a touchdown.
Don't get me wrong, Robinson has averaged 97.6 yards per game receiving throughout the playoffs. So, he has been a factor. Robinson enters this week with 58 catches for 1,073 yards and 13 touchdowns for the year. Just behind him King and Darius Edmonds - King with 703 yards, while Edmonds has 709 yards.
A.J. Bobb has been another threat for the Eagles this season but has been hurt. Hence the emergence of King, who by all standards is built like a Division I wide receiver with amazing hands.
What makes this group even more dangerous is the work by Brice Matthews at quarterback. There is a reason Matthews has thrown for 3,598 yards and 39 touchdowns this season. He knows how to work the ball to both sides of the field and get it into the hot hands of the day. Against Tompkins, that was King.
The Answer: North Shore's secondary will have its hands full with this group. The strength of North Shore's defense is in the linebacker position and up front. Upton Stout is a talent back there but I don't think North Shore's defense has enough to stop this nearly four-headed monster of a receiver crew. Offensively, North Shore has the pieces to win this game but it will be tough to stop this crew.
Can FB Marshall get by on just Devon Achane again?
Fort Bend Marshall has really ridden the back of Devon Achane and their defense this playoff run.
Eventually, he may have a down game, which for him might be rushing for 150 yards instead of 230, like he's been averaging per game during the playoffs. So, what then?
The Buffs have to be able to lean on Malik Hornsby at quarterback.
During the playoffs, Hornsby has had some ups and downs. The downs? He finished 7 of 16 for 61 yards, two interceptions and a touchdown and rushed for only nine yards against Huntsville last week. The week prior, against A&M Consolidated, Hornsby struggled throwing completing just eight passes for 79 yards - two of which went to Achane for 51 yards - and no touchdowns.
Hornsby's best game of the playoffs thus far came against Port Neches-Groves in the Bi-District round. Hornsby went 6 of 10 for 57 yards, 1 TD and rushed for another 110 yards and two scores.
That's the Malik Hornsby that needs to show up on Saturday, if the Buffs want to advance. You can't make the mistakes he's made in recent games against Manvel. The Mavericks will exploit them and in turn score points off them.
The Answer: FB Marshall cannot keep depending on Devon Achane to have unbelievable games, the rest of the offense has to click
Can Shadow Creek end Manor's Magical Season?
Manor entered the 2019 playoffs as a fourth-seeded team out of District 11-5A-DI, going just 3-3 in district play and 5-5 overall this year. But don't tell the Mustangs that they were supposed to be knocked out three weeks ago.
Manor has beaten Dripping Springs (28-27), Porter (45-6) and Cedar Park (17-14) to get this week's showdown with 2018 State Runner-Up Shadow Creek. The Mustangs are led by Texas Tech-commit Tahj Brooks in the rushing attack as he has nearly 1,000 yards this season.
What this game does give us is a look at two of the better defensive ends in the Class of 2020 - Princely Umanmielen (Manor - 11th best Strong Defensive End in the country according to 24/7) and Alec Bryant (Shadow Creek - 12th best Wide Defensive End in the country according to 24/7).
Too bad we won't see them battle one on one in the game.
Umanmielen and Bryant are both four-star prospects with major offers from all over the country. Bryant recently decommitted from LSU opening up his recruitment again just weeks before early National Signing Day and most recently got an offer from USC, which has retained head coach Clay Helton.
The defense is what is going to give Manor problems. Along with Bryant to stop, there is Jeremiah Harris (Inside Linebacker - Kansas State-commit), Ronald Triplette (Defensive End - Kansas State-commit) and linebackers Warren Shankle and Courtney Brown.
That will be the difference in this game. The Sharks' defense has a strong bite and will be too much for Manor.
On top of that, the Shadow Creek offense is led by Kyron Drones with 2,784 yards and 40 touchdowns with only eight interceptions, while Kelvon Brown has rushed for 824 yards and 10 touchdowns and Seth Jones is leading the team with 586 yards and eight scores.
The Answer: Unfortunately, Manor's Magic is over this weekend as Shadow Creek will have too much on both sides of the ball.
Is Katy Taylor's Trevor Woods among the best defensive player left in the playoffs?
How does the football recruiting world not know about Trevor Woods?
The dual-sport athlete, also playing baseball at Katy Taylor, is having an absolute breakout junior season and we are all witness to it.
As a sophomore, Woods finished with 64 tackles and two interceptions in 10 games. This year has been a completely different story.
Woods has graced the VYPE Player of the Week poll numerous times this year alone and for good reason. Woods enters the Regional Finals - the deepest Katy Taylor has ever been - with an amazing 137 tackles, more than doubling his number from a year ago and producing six double-digit sack performances, seven sacks and three interceptions. Woods' season-high for tackles in a game is 17, which came against Mayde Creek.
In two of their three playoff games, Woods has helped put points on the board with a 33-yard pick six against Fort Bend Elkins and then a 90-yard pick six against Humble last week. Earlier this year, Woods had a 100-yard pick six against Deer Park.
The Answer: Yes. Woods is a disruptive on defense and offensive coordinators should be definitely planning to stay away from No. 43 on the field and college recruiters should be picking up the phone right about now.
Can Westfield break through past the Regional Finals?
Westfield has been known to get to play into December. In fact, the Mustangs have made it a bit of a regular occurrence - playing int their sixth Regional Final this weekend since 2011.
Now, can Westfield get to the State Semifinals?
The last time Westfield got to that round it was 2014. If the Mustangs are able to beat Dallas Jesuit, who is making their first-ever Regional Finals appearance, inside NRG Stadium this weekend it would punch their ticket to the program's fourth-ever State Semifinal. Westfield has been in the State Semis in 2004 (Advanced to State Title game), 2005 (Lost to Converse Judson 17-14) and then in 2014 (Lost to Cedar Hill 64-33).
But first they have to get past Dallas Jesuit.
The Mustangs are paced by sophomore quarterback Cardell Williams, who has passed for 2,424 yards and 26 touchdowns, while Kendal Taylor has rushed for 1,316 yards and 18 scores. Taylor has recorded eight 100-plus yard performances this season led by his 154 yards and a score last week against Waco Midway. Ashton Callaway is also a threat in the passing game, leading the team with 742 yards.
Dallas Jesuit's big playoff moment thus far is knocking off defending Class 6A Division II State Champion 27-25 a couple of weeks ago. Then, last week, the Rangers downed Klein Collins. This is a historic run by the Rangers, but can it continue?
The Rangers are led by four-star running back EJ Smith - the son of NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith - who has been running all over defenses the past couple of weeks. What's crazy is just over a week before their playoff opener against Lakeview Centenniel, Smith had had surgery to repair a broken third metacarpal in his left hand, which he suffered against McKinney on Nov. 1, according to The Dallas Morning News.
In the last two games, Smith has been unstoppable, scoring all eight touchdowns for Dallas Jesuit.
Outside of Smith, the Rangers are led by Jake Taylor in the backfield and wide receiver Wyatt Garrett, who is a cover problem for defenses because of his size.
So, can Westfield beat this? Can Westfield get to its first State Semifinal since 2014?
The Answer: It's a lot of weapons that Westfield has to stop but the Mustangs have been always known for a stout defense. I think the Mustangs' defense will be enough paired with the Williams and Taylor show on offense.