By Chris Boothe
Messenger Sports

There is a saying that has been going around, “Teams that get remembered, play in December.” Well, Friday is December 1 and there are three area teams still pushing forward into the playoffs. Each of these three teams will definitely be remembered at their respective schools, as one is making their first trip into December in a decade, while another is making their third consecutive trip to the final month of the year. Here is a look at this week’s matchups.

Grapeland Sandies (8-4, 3-2) vs. Timpson Bears (10-2, 4-1)
Friday, December 1, 7:00 pm
Eagle Stadium, Rusk, TX

There will be nothing unfamiliar about the Grapeland Sandies opponent in the third round of the playoffs. For the first time since 2007, the Grapeland Sandies will play for a chance to reach the Regional Finals, and in their way is a district foe. The Sandies will meet up with the Timpson Bears for a chance to go deeper into the playoffs, than any of the current Sandies have seen in their lifetime.

Everyone knew that 11-2A-DII was a tough district coming into the season. What wasn’t expected was how tough the district would end up being. Here in the third week of the playoffs, three of the four remaining teams in Region III come directly from District 11 (Tenaha, Timpson, Grapeland).

This will not be the first meeting between these two teams this year. In the third week of district play, the Bears picked up a resounding 44-20 home victory over the Sandies. Timpson would put the squeeze on the Sandies early and often, jumping out to a 30-7 lead after three quarters.

Timpson has rolled into the third round of the playoffs after wins over Hull Daisetta (57-36) and two-time defending State Champion Bremond (14-11). A lot of that success comes on the legs of junior running back Jordan Osby and senior running back Jaden Johnson. The duo have proven to be a headache for opposing defenses throughout the year. Add in quarterback Jon Groan and wide receiver Kaeson Gentry, and the Bears can force teams to respect their passing attack, and keep defenses from loading up front.

Grapeland on the other hand is clicking on all cylinders offensively. The Sandies finished with 370 yards of total offense, and were extremely balanced doing so. Brannon Bedre rushed for 145 of the Sandies 186 yards on just 13 carries. Rick Frauenberger completed 10 of 17 passes for 184 yards and two scores, with freshman BJ Howard being a recipient of one of those scores.

Perhaps the bigger story this year has been the Bears defense. Holding Bremond to just 11 points was huge, as it was by far their lowest point total of the year. Bremond entered the game averaging 39 points per game. Whether it is Nictaeo Scourton in the trenches, Jarrett Page at linebacker or Johnson in the secondary, the Bears have plenty of weapons to be weary of on the defensive side of the ball.

While the Sandies have become known for their offense, it has been their defense the last two weeks that have been most impressive. Grapeland forced five turnovers, and scored two defensive touchdowns courtesy of Brayden Cheatham. While the yardage wasn’t pretty against Cumby, the majority of the Trojans success came late with the game already in hand. The defense will need to prepare for 48 minutes of physical football, and do their best to limit the Bears big play ability.

Centerville Tigers (8-3, 4-1) vs. Bogata Rivercrest Rebels (12-0, 5-0)
Friday, December 1, 7:30 pm
Bruce Field, Athens, TX

While this is uncharted territory for Bogata Rivercrest, this is just another week for the Centerville Tigers. A year ago the Tigers found themselves playing in the State Semifinals, the year before Centerville was in the Regional Semifinals, and the year before that the State Semifinals again. This is the sixth consecutive season the Tigers have reached the third round of the playoffs, while Rivercrest is coming off just their second playoff win in school history.

Centerville does nothing flashy when it comes to their offense. The Tigers line up and punch opponents in the mouth, and pound the ball away. That all starts with the physical and bruising play of senior Brandon Madison. Madison is an absolute load to take down in the backfield, and sets the stage for the quicker and shiftier backs like Tay McCarty and Roland Davis to clear the edges and get down the field quickly. Quarterback Hunter Free is smart with the ball, and has the ability to run or throw, looking for Cade Pate sneaking behind the opposing secondary.

Rivercrest on the other hand is led by quarterback Lucah Strickland. Strickland is a load in the backfield at 6’3” and 195 pounds, while showing off the burners with a modest 4.7 40-yard dash. The senior signal caller is much more than a runner, as Strickland has a good arm and an outstanding receiver in Jayden Townes. Townes is a big target on the outside that can do a variety of things, but most importantly is a mismatch with his size.

Centerville has a strong secondary and a physical line that should match up well with the Rebels offense. Look for Pate to step up in the secondary and be near Townes most of the night. Sergio Villarreal and Calvin Gunselman will man the interior of the defense.

Rivercrest had looked solid most of the year defensively, but were exposed by the Lions during their playoff win a week ago. This was just the fourth time all year a team had hit the 20-point mark against the Rebels this year. Unfortunately, no team has managed to outscore the Rebels, as it will come down to the Tigers defense doing just that. Lovelady gave the blueprint, holding Rivercrest to a season low 22 points.

Madisonville Mustangs (11-1, 4-0) vs. West Orange-Stark Mustangs (10-0, 4-0)
Friday, December 1, 7:00 pm
Texan Drive Stadium, Porter, TX

Madisonville has been outstanding all year, but on Friday night, the Mustangs will face by far their biggest test yet. The Mustangs will travel to the suburbs of Houston to face the two-time defending State Champion West Orange-Stark Mustangs. Winners of 37 consecutive games, and 41-1 since the start of the 2015 season, the Mustangs are once again contenders for a state championship. Madisonville however, has plans of their own.

Madisonville is already in a new territory. A year after finishing 3-8, their fourth consecutive losing season, the Mustangs are rolling. Sitting at 11-1 on the season, their second under coach Rusty Nail, the Mustangs are playing in the Regional Semifinals for the first time during any of the current player’s lifetimes.

West Orange-Stark will need to prepare for a physical ground attack that is averaging 351.3 yards per game. Cornelius Merchant leads the way for Madisonville with 1473 yards and 27 touchdowns, but the Mustangs use a running back by committee approach. Uriel Willis (604 yards, 7 touchdowns), Kendell Moffett (553 yards, 10 touchdowns), Aaron Nellums (426 yards 8 touchdowns), and Johnny Simpson (367 yards, 2 touchdowns) are all more than capable of carrying the ball.

Not to mention, quarterback Ben Phillips is a capable runner with 321 yards and four touchdowns to his credit. Phillips has also completed 64 percent of his passes for 818 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions.

That said, the Mustangs will have to stop an offense that is chalked full of playmakers from WOS. While WOS only returned three starters from a year ago offensively, they are still very talented. Senior Chaka Watson leads the way at quarterback and is joined by juniors Kavyn Cooper and Justin Sibley in the backfield. Cooper and Sibley combined for over 1000 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago.

Defensively the Mustangs were among the best in Texas history last year, giving up just 59 points through 16 games with eight shutouts. This isn’t the same defense. WOS returned just three starters, and features a pair of outstanding defensive backs in Jarron Morris (SMU Commit) and safety Demorris Thibodeaux. It will be senior linebacker Davien Teate and nose tackle Jerrick Spencer that will be tasked with slowing down the Mustangs running attack.