There are just three weeks left in the 2023 Texas high school football season and only the truly elite teams in the state remain in the playoffs. The regional final round will bring some tantalizing matchups and a pair of district rematches in the metroplex. We can also start better envisioning what state championship weekend will look like in Arlington. 14 weeks into the season and the teams that are still alive need just two more wins to make it to Arlington. Let’s put a bow on the regional semifinals and preview the first weekend of December football.
Lancaster eliminates Longview
Lancaster eliminated Longview 27-24 and will play December football this weekend. It shouldn’t be understated how hard it is to win three playoff games, especially as a four seed. A field goal from Andres Castro powered Lancaster to the regional final and ended Longview’s season in November. The win avenged a Tigers loss to the Lobos back in September. Continuing the theme of facing district rivals in the playoffs, Lancaster will get a shot to avenge another one of its five losses this season in the regional final. More on that below in the games to watch section.
Lancaster quarterback Carter Jones completed 19 of his 28 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Both touchdown passes went to leading receiver Kameron Robinson, who caught five passes for 85 yards. Ti’Erick Martin added five receptions for 22 yards. Kewan Lacy carried the Tigers on the ground with 22 carries for 177 yards and a score.
Longview quarterback Andrew Tutt completed five of his 10 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown pass went to Jaymerson Darensbourg from 30 yards out. Kelvin Washington led the Lobos in rushing with 19 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown in the absence of Taylor Tatum. Mason Washington added 81 yards on nine carries.
Don’t let Lancaster’s 8-5 record fool you. The Tigers played one of the tougher non-district schedules in the area before getting into a tough district schedule. District 7-5A DII had three teams qualify for the regional semifinal and two remaining in the regional final. Because those two teams play each other, at least one team from this district will play in the state semifinal.
South Oak Cliff eliminates Midlothian Heritage
I mentioned last week that South Oak Cliff has earned its respect as a championship caliber program. The Golden Bears eliminated Midlothian Heritage 42-31 after falling behind 14-0 (and later 21-7) to start the game. That is exactly the way a championship team responds to adversity against a really talented team.
South Oak Cliff quarterback William Little completed six of his eight attempts for 90 yards and a touchdown. Rickey Evans got the majority of the production from the receiving corps, catching three passes for 53 yards and a score. The Golden Bears dominated this game on the ground with two 100-yard rushers. Khalil Ewell led the way, carrying the ball 18 times for 196 yards and a touchdown. Danny Green added 25 carries for 119 yards and four scores.
Midlothian Heritage quarterback Carter Rutenbar completed 10 of his 20 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Rutenbar also led the rushing attack with 80 yards and a score on 10 carries. Clyde Wilson chipped in 11 yards and a score on eight carries. Rutenbar’s favorite target was Stetson Sarratt, who caught three passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. Wilson caught the other touchdown pass from 43 yards out.
South Oak Cliff outscored Midlothian Heritage 42-17 over the final three quarters. A tougher test awaits the Golden Bears this weekend in a game that likely decides which team represents Region I and Region II in Arlington. Also, shoutout to former South Oak Cliff quarterback Kevin Henry-Jennings. He was the starting QB for the first of SOC’s back-to-back titles and will start the AAC championship game this weekend for SMU against Tulane.
Southlake Carroll eliminates Highland Park
Finally, the game I attended last Friday. Highland Park never really stood a chance in a 45-14 loss to Southlake Carroll. The Dragons dominated from start to finish, jumping out to a 28-0 lead in the first half and never looked back. Southlake Carroll, like Lancaster and a few other metroplex area teams, gets a shot at avenging a regular season loss in the regional final. More on that below.
Southlake Carroll quarterback Graham Knowles completed nine of his 16 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Riley Wormley led the receivers with two receptions for 40 yards. Jack Van Dorselear caught a touchdown pass from 33 yards out to open the game and Brock Boyd caught four passes for 38 yards and a score. Davis Penn led the rushing attack with 14 carries for 210 yards and three touchdowns while Wormley added 125 yards and a score on 10 carries. The Dragons opted to do more work on the ground than through the air, and I can’t blame them. The Southlake Carroll offensive line was opening gaps the size of the grand canyon and it resulted in several long touchdown runs.
Highland Park quarterback Parker Thompson completed 14 of his 32 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. Canon Spackman caught five passes for 57 yards and a score to lead the receivers. Wilson Axley led the ground game with five carries for 77 yards, but was held out of the end zone. The other touchdown was courtesy of quarterback Cade Trotter connecting with Benton Owens for the only points of the fourth quarter.
Southlake Carroll was simply the more talented team in this one. It doesn’t have to be much more complicated than that. It all sets up a shot for the Dragons to avenge their only loss of the season, something Knowles and Penn told me after the game would mean a lot to this team to accomplish.
Games to Watch
Friday, December 1
Colleyville Heritage (12-1) @ Frisco Emerson (11-2)
At this point in the season every game is a game to watch so treat this more like a viewing guide to the weekend. Colleyville Heritage takes on Frisco Emerson at the Star in Frisco on Friday night at 7 p.m. Frisco Emerson is coming off a 55-42 win over Wichita Falls Rider and Colleyville Heritage advanced by way of a thrilling 38-34 win over Argyle. The Argyle Eagles just so happen to be the one opponent these two teams have in common, with Frisco Emerson losing to Argyle 41-34 in district play. That doesn’t mean much to me, but I am still going to take Colleyville Heritage to win this one. I don’t love how I feel about that pick and I think this game is a toss up, so that is why I picked the program with more history and tradition.
Cedar Hill (8-5) @ DeSoto (12-0)
The Battle of Beltline meets the playoffs. DeSoto faces Cedar Hill on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Kincaide Stadium in Dallas. DeSoto beat Cedar Hill 35-13 in district play, its lowest scoring output and one of its slimmest margins of victory all season. If that result surprised you then, don’t be surprised now. The Longhorns are for real and have recovered strong from a slow start to the season. DeSoto just eliminated one of the best teams from the Houston area, Willis, 65-31. Cedar Hill advanced by beating Tomball 28-7. Cedar Hill has had a great season, but DeSoto is one of the best teams in the country, let alone the state. I expect DeSoto to win this one by double digits.
Lancaster (8-5) @ Forney (12-1)
Another district rematch featuring an 8-5 team, Forney takes on Lancaster at Wilkerson-Sanders Memorial Stadium in Rockwall on Friday night at 7 p.m. Forney defeated Lancaster 21-20 back in October. Lancaster absolutely has the means to win this game and advance to the state semifinal as the four seed. The Tigers just bounced Longview from the playoffs, as outlined above. However, Forney is playing really good football right now and boat raced a good Richland squad 61-40 last weekend. It’s really hard to beat a good team twice in the same season, but I am picking the Jackrabbits to do just that in a one score game.
Saturday, December 2
Lovejoy (12-1) @ South Oak Cliff (11-2)
In what might be the game of the weekend, South Oak Cliff faces Lovejoy to kickoff a stellar double-header at Choctaw Stadium at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. This is the game to go to if you can only pick one game for the whole weekend. PSA: Leave the house early. The Big 12 Championship Game is sold out across the street at AT&T Stadium and should be ending around 2:30 p.m. Traffic will be crazy in Arlington leading up to kickoff. South Oak Cliff’s toughest 5A test yet comes this weekend against Lovejoy. Of course, the two losses came against Duncanville and DeSoto in non-district play. Lovejoy may be getting star receiver Parker Livingstone back from injury. That will make it that much harder on the Golden Bears defense. With that being said, I will believe it when I see as it pertains to South Oak Cliff losing in the playoffs. This is the playoff game South Oak Cliff is least likely to win, but I still like its odds. Give me the Golden Bears in a close one.
Byron Nelson (13-0) @ Southlake Carroll (12-1)
If you are willing to head over to Arlington but really don’t want to deal with the traffic, make sure to check out Byron Nelson’s rematch with Southlake Carroll on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at Choctaw Stadium. The Bobcats beat the Dragons 34-17 to claim the first district title in school history. A win that decisive should make this an easy pick, but it’s not. Southlake Carroll has had this matchup circled since the playoff bracket was published, and I guarantee you there is no team the Dragons would rather be playing this weekend. That being said, I am going with Byron Nelson by a field goal.
Allen (9-4) @ North Crowley (13-0)
Looking to avoid Arlington altogether? North Crowley takes on Allen at Dragon Stadium in Southlake on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. I respect Allen’s resiliency to bounce back from a slow start to the season and overcome an injury to the starting quarterback to qualify for the regional final. The Eagles have advanced by running the ball and being the more physical team so far. I think that streak ends against a really talented and tough North Crowley squad. Allen eliminated Midland Legacy 52-35 and North Crowley bounced Prosper 35-7 last week. I think North Crowley wins this one but Allen will keep it close.
Offensive Player of the Week
My Offensive Player of the Week is Byron Nelson quarterback Tom Von Grote! Byron Nelson eliminated Coppell 52-45 in a shootout but Von Grote’s performance kept Byron Nelson in control throughout the game. Von Grote completed 20 of his 34 passes for 280 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 85 yards and a score in the Bobcats win! Von Grote will need a similar performance to beat Southlake Carroll for the second time this season and take Byron Nelson to the state semifinal.
Defensive Player of the Week
My Defensive Player of the Week is Colleyville Heritage linebacker Madden Williams! Colleyville Heritage rallied to defeat Argyle 38-34 to advance to the regional final. Williams finished with eight tackles, 12 assisted tackles and a pass breakup in the Panthers narrow win over Argyle! Williams and the Colleyville Heritage defense face another tough test against a Frisco Emerson offense loaded with playmakers, captained by quarterback Mike Hawkins.