Friday December 16, 8 p.m.
Phil Danaher is a coaching legend. You don't become the winningest coach in Texas history without being real good and coaching for a long time. Danaher's done both. He's coached at Dilley, Hamshire-Fannett and Calallen. The latter since 1984, the end of the first Reagan administration. This is the Wildcats' second appearance in the state finals. They've appeared in 11 state semifinal games, winning two and losing six in the last minute. The Wildcats run the Wing-T and have a three headed rushing monster in sophomore running back Alec Brown, junior running back Zach Hawkins, and senior quarterback Gaige Lamb. Lamb and Brown are each over 1,000 yards on the season and Hawkins isn't far behind.
On defense the 'Cats are dominant, allowing just over 6 points a game and less than 150 yards an outing. Lawrence Mann and Rayce Deal provide stick at linebacker while DT's Kenese Leomiti and Justice Escobar shore up the middle. Calallen's offense hogs the ball and keeps offenses off the field which helps the defense, but the Wildcat defense certainly holds it own.
Just 30 minutes away from AT&T sits Aledo, a superpower in the state. The Bearcats have won six state titles, all since 1998. This year Aledo looks like, well, Aledo - physical run game out of the spread and a solid defense. On offense Dillon Davis runs the show at quarterback, he's a true dual threat and has accounted for almost 50 touchdowns. He'll hand the ball to Jase McClellan who's emerged as a real asset in the running game. Just a freshman, McClellan will be a feature back for years to come. Aledo's offensive line might be the best in the state with two four star recruits among the five maulers up front. Wes Harris a TCU commit plays guard and Chuck Filiaga at 6'6 330 pounds hold offers from USC, Alabama, and almost everyone else.
Aledo's defense is led by Will Trawick and Aaron Hale at linebacker. Up front defensive tackle Wes Harris leads the team in tackles for loss. He and James Williams are a formidable duo in the middle of the defense. The Bearcats are ball hawks with 10 players combining for 20 interceptions.
Saturday December 17, 11 a.m.
Highland Park 13-2
You're going to hear a lot about Highland Park's quarterback, John Stephen Jones. His grandfather owns the stadium and the Dallas Cowboys. Jones can play and he's helped Highland Park get to biggest stage in the State. Again. Highland Park has won three titles, most recently in 2005. Jones is a bigger threat with his legs than his arm, he and the rest of the Scots offense are a methodical bunch. They rely on execution over explosiveness. Running back Paxton Alexander was third on the depth chart a couple weeks ago, now due to injuries he's playing and producing. Alexander scored four touchdowns against Denton Ryan in the semifinals.
Defensively the Scots are pretty hard to deal with. Turner Cox at nose guard is a great run stopper and funnels plays to Virginia commit, linebacker Matt Gahm. The Scots create turnovers on the defensive end as well this season, having forced 24 heading into the finals. In a three game playoff stretch, Highland Park held three teams with a forty plus points per game average (Frisco Independence, Mansfield Legacy, and Mansfield Lake Ridge) to 37 points total or 12 points a game.
The Wildcats last won state back in 1992 under then coach Bob McQueen. This year's version of the Wildcats or Temcats have taken a difficult road to state, beating 5A favorite Manvel in the quarters and taking out undefeated Richmond Foster last week. Wildcat quarterback Reid Hesse is feast or famine on offense. He's thrown for over 3,500 yards and 23 touchdowns, but he's also thrown 16 picks. Temple running back Jemiyah Franklin may be the most consistent offensive threat for the Wildcats with over 1,000 yards this season.
On defense the Wildcats rely on defensive end and Texas commit Taquon Graham who's got the size and speed to dominate games from the line of scrimmage. Linebacker Rogers Franklin has 157 stops for the Wildcats, including 16 against Foster last week. The Wildcats lost a heartbreaker to Aledo in the 2014 title game, losing in the last minute. They'll look for their third state title on Saturday.
One thing you'll note about Temple is their iconic pants. Blue on the front, white on the back. Can pants be iconic? You bet, it's a signature look that sets Temple apart from almost every team in the country.