HOUSTON - "Just proud."
Those were the first two words Fort Bend Marshall's James Williams thought of. Standing on the grass with the fading Texas A&M logo in the middle of Kyle Field on Saturday evening, Williams watched as his team celebrated. Fort Bend Marshall for a second-straight year had punched its ticket to the 5A Division II State Championship game.
But the Buffs won't be alone carrying the H-Town banner up to the Metroplex come Friday.
Shadow Creek, which improved to a remarkable 30-1 over the first two years of its varsity program is also going back, along with defending 6A Division I Champion North Shore.
"Houston plays great football," Williams said. "It has a lot of great kids and great coaches. Excited for all of them."
When the year started we thought these three teams could go all the way. They had the talent back - Dematrius Davis and Zach Evans (North Shore), Malik Hornsby and Devon Achane (Fort Bend Marshall) and Alec Bryant and Xavion Alford (Shadow Creek). They had the "been there and done that" factor and were ready to go since January.
The talent was put on display throughout the playoffs as each of these teams looked stronger and stronger as the weeks progressed. The groups stayed healthy, which is key at this time of the year and left little doubt in each of their wins.
Unlike last year, this won't be Fort Bend Marshall and Shadow Creek's first time to walk in and play inside the shiny palace of AT&T Stadium. They've been there and you can tell.
Shadow Creek's Brad Butler calls his current Sharks' team "one of the most mature" he's ever coached. Williams echoes the same sentiment when talking about "unfinished business" with his crew. Both are motivated and ready for revenge, even though Shadow Creek won't get its shot against Highland Park like Fort Bend Marshall will against Aledo come Saturday morning.
The pressure though is probably most on North Shore.
The Mustangs are in back-to-back state championship games for the first time in program history. North Shore enters this week carrying an all-time record of 3-0 in title games with a legitimate shot at No. 4 this weekend against a Duncanville team which lost its starting quarterback to injury on Saturday.
The last team to win back-to- back state titles from Houston was Katy back in 2007 and 2008, which went to state three-straight years from 2007-2009.
What is truly remarkable is Houston is sending the exact same three teams to the final weekend of the season for a second-straight year. Which is extremely rare in high school football, considering the turnover with each graduating class, injuries and other outside factors that affect a group of 15-18-year-old kids.
Prior to last year, Houston had sent three teams to the state title games in the same season just twice since 2011. That year, Dekaney, Fort Bend Hightower and Manvel went, when the highest classification was still just 5A. Dekaney was the only team to win a title that year.
In 2015, when Houston hosted the state championships at NRG Stadium, the Bayou City sent three again. George Ranch, North Shore and Katy all went and won state titles.
Could 2019 be a repeat of 2015?
Shadow Creek, North Shore and Fort Bend Marshall seem to be the group that could do it. But Denton Ryan, which knocked off No. 1 Frisco Lone Star in the state semis, Aledo, which will seek its state record ninth state title, and Duncanville, which is seeking revenge for last year's loss, stand in the way.
It's Houston vs Dallas all over again.
There's something about that rivalry that gets people fired up, especially on social media and especially when it comes to playing for football state titles.
Last year, Dallas took two of the three title games in the state's largest classifications and it took a last-second Hail Mary for Houston to bring home theirs in 2018 to prevent a clean sweep.
So, Houston pride is on the line for a third time in the last four seasons. Can the Creek Boys, M-Block and the Beasts of the East bring home the hardware?
What we're watching right now is special and I hope fans can see that. In years to come when we reflect on the runs of the Buffs, Sharks and Mustangs we will remember the players. We will reminisce about the special moments. But what will truly etch this trio of teams into the history books forever?
The Hightower Hurricanes will meet Shadow Creek Thursday night at Hall Stadium – it's a critical football game for the Hurricanes (5-3 overall and 4-1 in District 10-5A Div. 1) and their playoff hopes. The game will be broadcast live on vypefortbend.com starting at 6:45PM.
It's fitting that the game is on Halloween, because Shadow Creek is scary. The Sharks are, 8-0 overall, 5-0 in district play, and ranked 2nd in the state. In their second varsity season, the Sharks' only loss was last December in the state championship game vs. Highland Park.
The Hurricanes (5-3) are having a remarkable season in their first year under new head coach Joseph Sam. However, they might have been looking ahead to the Shadow Creek game when they played one of their worst games of the season Friday night, losing 21-2. Hightower was 4-0 in district play entering that game, but now they finish the season with games against Shadow Creek and 3-2 Richmond Foster, which battled hard in a 24-17 loss to Shadow Creek Thursday.