By Chris Boothe
Two-A-Days are done. Scrimmages are a thing of the past. Non-District has come and gone. District play is over and done, with only the strongest surviving. Now, a new chapter of the 2017 season rolls around, and arguably the most exciting time of the year. Teams kick off the final leg of their pursuit for a State Championship, and it all starts this week. The Bi-District round of the playoffs is here, and here is a look at this week’s action.
Grapeland Sandies (6-4, 3-2) vs. Evadale Rebels (7-2, 4-1)
Friday, November 17, 7:00 pm
Berton A Yates Stadium, Willis, TX
Last season the Grapeland Sandies a playoff spot, but saw a quick exit at the hands of the Iola Bulldogs. This year, the Sandies improved their seeding, but will still see a stiff test in the Evadale Rebels. The Rebels finished second in district 12-2A-DII, with their lone loss coming from those same Iola Bulldogs that slipped past Grapeland a year ago.
Evadale was a force throughout the season, dropping just two games all year. A non-district loss to Hemphill (34-6) and a district loss to Iola (20-14 OT) are the only blemishes to their record. Outside of that loss to Iola, the Rebels were outright dominant in district play, winning games by an average of 44.8 points per game. The closest of those wins was a 42-0 shutout of Sabine Pass to wrap up the regular season.
Evadale features a very talented backfield offensively. Senior quarterback Tyler Torres passed for 2372 yards and 39 touchdowns a year ago. Torres has a valuable weapon in the backfield in senior Coy Williams. Williams is a dynamic playmaker that is an All-State caliber talent. Last year Williams finished the year with over 2500 all-purpose yards (1661 rushing; 689 receiving), and 34 touchdowns.
Lovelady Lions (6-4, 4-1) vs. Alto Yellowjackets (4-6, 3-2)
Friday, November 17, 7:00 pm
Panther Stadium, Palestine, TX
When distict’s 11 and 12 get together in the playoffs, it is almost a guarantee that there will be a good game on deck. This year is no different with four powerhouse matchups in the first round of the playoffs. The first of those matchups on deck feature the Lovelady Lions and Alto Yellowjackets meeting up for a highly anticipated playoff showdown.
The last matchup between these two teams came back in 2011 when the Lions shocked the Yellowjackets 36-21 on a cold night at Monte Jack Driskell Stadium in Crockett. This time, Alto enters as the underdog after finishing the year with a 4-6 record. Don’t let that record be deceiving, as the Jackets dealt with a rash of injuries that hampered Alto throughout most of the season.
Lovelady on the other hand was able to stay healthy and cruised through the majority of their season. Lovelady ended the season winning four of their last five games. That lone loss came in the season finale when the Groveton Indians shocked Lovelady 28-20.
Groveton Indians (6-3, 4-1) vs. Carlisle Indians (7-3, 2-3)
Saturday, November 18, 7:30 pm
Eagle Stadium, Rusk, TX
In another of those highly anticipated 11-2A vs. 12-2A matchups, the Groveton Indians will take their newfound momentum into a playoff showdown against a Carlisle team that ended the season losing back-to-back contests. This will be a battle of two teams that have had two very different runs to end the season.
Groveton sputtered early, but caught fire late and ended up cruising in district play. Their only slip up game in an overtime upset loss to Centerville. Carlisle on the other hand started the season red hot. Very few teams could compete with the numbers that the Indians were putting up, winning six straight to start the year. Unfortunately, the final gauntlet stretch of 12-2A would bite Carlisle, as the Indians lost two of their final three games.
Carlisle is a physical team that likes to run the ball, but isn’t afraid to air it out. Quarterback Tristan Craig leads the offense, but isn’t the only weapon that Indians feature. Gerald Turner is solid on the ground with Jay Price providing a nice target on the outside. That trio of playmakers will be key to any success the Indians will or won’t have on Saturday afternoon.
Trinity Tigers (3-7, 3-3) vs. Hitchcock Bulldogs (6-3, 5-0)
Friday, November 17, 7:30 pm
Waller ISD Stadium, Waller, TX
It wasn’t the prettiest start to the season by the Trinity Tigers. Losses in six straight games didn’t inspire a lot of excitement for the Tiger faithful. That said, patience was key, as the Tigers picked up the wins when it counted most, winning three of their final four games to pick up their fifth playoff berth in six seasons. Awaiting the Tigers will be a Hitchcock Bulldogs team that breezed through their district.
In fact, much like Trinity, the start of the season was not very favorable for the Bulldogs. Hitchcock opened the season dropping three of their first four games before winning five straight to end the season. Defense led the way during that final stretch with the Bulldogs holding their opponents to eight points or less in four of those five wins.
The only night they allowed more than eight points, the Bulldogs cruised to a 44-24 win over East Chambers.
Hitchcock will lean on players like Tyger Turner at running back and sophomore Pacey Jones at quarterback. Don’t look for the Bulldogs to air the ball out much, as Hitchcock is much more comfortable running the ball and controlling the game clock.
Centerville Tigers (7-3, 4-1) vs. Joaquin Rams (8-2, 4-1)
Friday, November 17, 7:30 pm
Mewbourne Field, Tyler, TX
Here is another example of these 11-2A/12-2A matchups that have area fans salivating. On Friday night in Tyler, the Centerville Tigers will have the chance to continue their recent roll and take on a Joaquin Rams team that already has a win over Lovelady under their belt. This is one of the most highly anticipated games, as the Rams powered through most of the season, falling just twice, while Centerville opened the season highly touted with just a trio of slip ups along the way.
Joaquin got here by using their power and speed to run past their opponents. Literally, that is the recipe for success for the Rams. Joaquin enters the playoffs averaging just 32 yards per game passing, while rushing for 352 yards per game. That rushing attack isn’t limited to just one player either.
Senior Kase Yates leads the way with 1129 yards and 18 touchdowns. Yates has been by far the biggest producer in the backfield, in a backfield that has produced some solid numbers this year. Junior Hunter Gates has added 969 yards and six scores this year while Tray Wilkerson has added 535 yards and 10 trips to the end zone.
Defensively the Rams get after opponents and swarm to the ball. There is no, one outstanding player for the Rams, as Joaquin truly uses a team effort to shut down opponents offensively. However, if there is a team built to handle a team like Joaquin, it would be a Centerville team that seems to be picking up steam at the right time.
Madisonville Mustangs (9-1, 4-0) vs. Hardin Jefferson Hawks (2-5, 1-3)
Thursday, November 16, 7:30 pm
Wildcat Stadium, Splendora, TX
Outside of their lone setback to Rusk, the Madisonville Mustangs have been more than impressive this year. Madisonville won four straight to end the regular season, and capped off that streak with a resounding 70-0 win over Tarkington on Friday night, propelling the Mustangs to a district championship.
With over 350 yards a game on the ground, the Mustangs will use their running back by committee system again in the playoffs. Cornelius Merchant leads the Mustangs with 1006 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns. Uriel Willis (533) and Kendell Moffett (503) each have over 500 yards rushing this season, keeping the pressure off of Merchant in the backfield.
For Hardin Jefferson it was an emotional season as Hurricane Harvey wrecked the opening of the year for the Hawks. That seemed to be a cloud that hung over the Hawks heads throughout the season, with Hardin managing just two wins this year, and just one in district play. However, with just five teams, it took just one win to be playoff eligible.
That said, Hardin Jefferson is balance offensively with 142 passing and 224 yards rushing a game. Senior quarterback Brayden Pelt finished the regular season with 1021 yards passing and eight touchdowns to five interceptions. Pelt was second on the team in rushing with 449 yards and three touchdowns, just behind Mason Murray who finished the regular season with 470 yards and five touchdowns.