5 storylines heading into the 2022 UIL High School Football playoffs


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Tascosa head football coach Ken Plunk has guided the Rebels to a 15-9 overall record in the playoffs over his 14-year tenure. [Joe Garcia III/ Press Pass Sports]

Will Tascosa make it all the way to Jerry World?

Tascosa put together an impressive regular season going 9-1, securing its first outright district title since 1988 and coming two points away from an undefeated season. That’s all nice and dandy.

But that’s not what this Tascosa program is about. The Rebs under 14-year coach Ken Plunk are all about the playoffs. Plunk and his Rebs have won 10 playoff games the past four years, the highlight reaching the state semifinals in 2018. To play for the Texas Class 5A Division I state championship in Jerry’s World in December No. 6-ranked Tascosa will have to handle a tough side of the bracket and find a way to get past Metroplex schools. No. 3 Aledo, No. 6 Midlothian and No. 9 Burleson Centennial each sit in Region I with Centennial awaiting Tascosa in the second round. So, the Rebs have one cupcake out of the gate in bi-distict and the rest of the playoffs are nothing short of brutal.

Tascosa has so many strengths and will be a tough out for any opponent if it keeps its composure late in games. Those strengths include a triple option offense capable of grinding out time consuming drives under the guidance of senior quarterback Hudson Farris, outscoring its 10 opponents 133-31 in the first quarter, and a defense capable of suffocating the opposition proven by allowing 14 or fewer points in eight of its 10 games.

Although throwing the football is hardly a concern for defenses facing Tascosa, the Rebs will have to find sophomore sensation wide receiver TJ Tillmon for big plays if a deep playoff run in their future. Tascosa has played to the level of its opponents all year long. That’s been a good thing and not such a good thing. With the playoffs here if Tascosa plays to the level of its opponents don’t count out a trip to Jerry World’s for a chance to win Amarillo ISD’s first state championship since 1940.

– Lance Lahnert

Arian Bilson of West Plains runs out with the Texas flag during a game earlier this season. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]

Could Canyon ISD stick around awhile?

It’s no real surprise that in Class 4A Division I that perennials Randall and Canyon are still playing. But they’ve got some company from their neighbors.

Randall (7-3) and Canyon (9-1) are district co-champions and both open bi-district play at 7 p.m. Friday. Both are favored as Randall faces Springtown (3-7) at Snyder and Canyon takes on Burkburnett (7-3) at Childress. Yet, both schools have some questions marks heading into bi-district. Randall drew the open week in District 3-4A Division I to close the regular season after losing to previously winless Hereford two weeks ago. Is that a negative sign of things to come or a much-needed wake-up call for the Raiders to get them postseason ready?

Canyon has showed grit the last two weeks in beating Dumas and Pampa to secure the district’s No. 2 seed. The Eagles are still adjusting to the loss of quarterback Derrek Clements to a shoulder injury and have used four different quarterbacks in that time, with Boston Bell and Noah Sanchez the passers and Javin Cash and Chris LaBue serving as the runners out of the wildcat. Coach Todd Winfrey said the Eagles will continue rotating quarterbacks in the playoffs.

The most interesting CISD story, though, is happening in 4A Division II. First-year school West Plains (6-4) not only made the playoffs from District 2-4A Division II, but the Wolves are the No. 2 playoff seed and will be the first CISD team out of the gate, taking on Pecos (4-6) at 7 p.m. Thursday in Seminole. Coach Adam Cummings, a former Canyon assistant, deserves major credit for molding a team of mostly underclassmen into a winning program right off the bat. The Wolves are also heavily favored this week, and on paper, might be the most likely to advance.

Also, in 4A Division I, Dumas (6-4) doesn’t look as powerful as in years past, but the Demons have been here before under coach Aaron Dunnam and are a good bet to get to at least the second round. Pampa (5-5) got a tougher draw in Decatur to open the playoffs and will find it a challenge to advance.

In 4A Division II, Perryton (3-7) opens against Fort Stockton (9-1) but the records are misleading. Perryton has played a tough schedule and gave 9-1 Seminole all it could handle to end the regular season last week.

– Lee Passmore

Chris Koetting boasts a postseason record of 45-9 over his 13 years as the Canadian Wildcats head football coach. [Joe Garcia III/ Press Pass Sports]

Does Canadian have its mojo back, can the Falcons soar? 

Canadian has had a stronghold on Region I for a near decade winning seven of the last eight regional championships that’s led to three UIL state championships since the 2014 season.

Many Canadian fans considered the 2021 campaign a “down year” following an exit in the third round of the playoffs with a young, beat-up squad. However, expectations around town are back to normal and December football is in sight.

After a slow 1-2 start to the year, the small school blue blood has kicked it into another gear winning seven straight games that include impressive victories over Randall, 56-21, and District 3-3A Division II rival Childress 62-28. The offense is cruising averaging over 40 points and near 500 yards a game. Canadian, which is making its unprecedented 21st straight appearance in the postseason, has the pedigree behind Chris Koetting and veteran coaching staff that boast an overall record of 161-23 in 13 years and even more eye-popping number of 45-9 in the playoffs in that time. Canadian (8-2) opens the playoffs against Lubbock Roosevelt at 7:30 p.m. Thursday night in Canyon. The Eagles (4-6) are the with the only other team to win a regional title in Class 3A since the Wildcats made the jump back up in 2016. When looking through the region a second-round matchup with Early (6-4) seems likely. Childress (6-4) sits on the other side of the bracket as does No. 10-ranked Wall (9-1). If No. 4-ranked Canadian does get through Region I, a sixth meeting in seven years could await with familiar rival Gunter (10-0) from Region II in the state semifinals.

In Division I, Bushland has been the talk of the Texas Panhandle since a Week 2 blowout win 47-21 over Canadian. After an 8-0 start that talk quickly cooled off when Shallowater galloped into town and took the District 2-3A Division I title and the Falcons unblemished record away with a 43-28 victory. But that doesn’t change the No. 6-ranked Falcons (9-1) expectations. Bushland hasn’t played for a state championship since 2009. Bushland’s last shot at a regional title came in 2017 when the Falcons fell to Graham in a Class 4A Division II regional final 69-41.

This Bushland team has all the capabilities to be playing in Arlington in mid-December. The offense is potent under quarterback Dawson Jaco, and the defense is an 11-man unit that flies to the football. But the loss to Shallowater put the Falcons in a tough part of the bracket. Bushland opens with Kermit this Thursday. Let’s get real, no problem there. Then it’s Jim Ned (7-3) in the second round. An Indians team that’s healthy and two years removed from a state championship. Win that game, and its powerhouse and Texas Panhandle killer Brock, which has massive respect being ranked No. 7 with a 6-4 record. If Bushland gets by those two, it could be a rematch with No. 4-ranked Shallowater for a chance to win the region.

– Kale Steed

The Stratford Elks have won 22 straight games dating back to last season. [David Erickson/ Press Pass Sports]

Stratford has its eyes on the prize

Stratford is the reigning UIL Class 2A Division II state champions, but now the Elks have their eyes set on winning the Class 2A Division I crown since making the jump this fall. Like Canadian, Stratford is a small school blue blood in these parts winning four state championships – 2000, 2005, 2008, 2021 – sitting tied for second with Amarillo High, and one behind Canadian for the most in Texas Panhandle history.

Stratford is making its 11 straight trip to the playoffs and its 24th in the past 25 years. Head coach Matt Lovorn, who is 88-21 in eight seasons at the helm of the Elks, knows this is going to be a much different path than years past if his Stratford squad wants to make it back to Arlington. Yes, Stratford is 10-0. Yes, Stratford has won 22 straight games dating back to last season and has the reputation as a more complete team than last year. But to get out of this region, the Elks are going to have to run a gauntlet. Three of the state’s top 10 teams reside in Region I. Stratford is No. 5, Cisco (8-2) is No. 8 and last season’s state runner-up Hawley (10-0) is No. 2. The Elks open with Sundown on Friday night, then it looks to be a battle with Cisco in a highly anticipated area round clash. Survive that test, and there’s New Deal most likely in the third round, and Hawley in the regional final unless Panhandle (8-2) makes some noise against the Bearcats in the area round. Let’s just say these next few weeks will be very intriguing.

Over in Division II, is there anyone who can compete with the No. 3-ranked Wellington Skyrockets. Losing Stratford, Wink and McCamey, Region I lost a lot of luster and let’s be honest a little bit of respect compared to the rest of the state. Wellington (9-1) has always been a team the Amarillo-area relied on for a deep playoff run. The Skyrockets won the Class 2A Division II state championship in 2013, not to mention winning six regional titles over the past 11 years. Now in his fourth season, head coach Greg Proffitt has kept the Skyrockets in flight tallying 43-8 record and taking Wellington no less than the state quarterfinals in all four of those years. Wellington’s defense has been the story so far in 2022 allowing less than 10 points a game and only giving up 16 meaningless points throughout five district games. So, the question is who will step up and challenge the Skyrockets? Vega (6-4) closed the season on fire with five straight wins and can mash the ball. Sunray (8-2) has an air-raid offense that is scary good behind sophomore sensation Armando Lujan and though Wellington blasted Clarendon 44-8 last week, it’s hard to count the Broncos out. Look for a must watch matchup between Wellington and Vega in the third round over Thanksgiving.

– Kale Steed

Happy has amassed a 101-24 record over the past 10 seasons. [Joe Garcia III/ Press Pass Sports]

Happy or bust

It’s been an incredible 10 year run for Happy. The Cowboys have amassed an incredible record of 101-24 in that time, a playoff appearance in nine of those years, seven showings in the state quarterfinals, and have made it as deep as the state semifinals on three occasions.

Yet, the Cowboys have yet to make a trip to a state championship or bring home a state title. Can this version of Happy’s gridders break through and set foot in AT&T Stadium in mid-December? The No. 8-ranked Cowboys (9-1) are on a roll after falling to defending champion Westbrook in the season opener. A physical Happy squad owns seven mercy rule wins since with a 34-point win over Nazareth the closest game they have played. However, Region I is home to seven of the top 20 teams in the state, so the path won’t be easy.  A win over Miami on Friday would set up a likely matchup with No. 9 Knox City (8-2) in the area round. The Cowboys and Greyhounds have been pointing to that game since the middle of the season where the winner will be the favorite in the quarterfinal round. On the other side of the bracket all four teams are ranked in the top 15 with No. 10 Follett (9-1) looking to make noise as well. After falling to Happy in week two the Panthers have been rolling. Their first-round matchup with Nazareth (8-2) may be the best Six-Man game in the area this week as the winner could find itself in the state quarterfinals.

In Division II both district champ Groom (5-5) and state-ranked Silverton (7-3) face an uphill grind to claim a regional title. The No. 9-ranked Tigers, who started 1-4, face an Amherst (8-2) squad Groom lost to early in the year 64-27. Groom has been playing much better football since a close loss to Miami in Week 6. A win against the Bulldogs would net a matchup against No. 2 Balmorhea (9-1). The Bears are perennial contenders and the favorite to take this region. For No. 5 Silverton, a rematch against No. 4 Whitharral (9-1) looms. The Owls handed the Panthers their only loss on the season using a goal line stand to pull out a 34-30 victory. Despite that win, Whitharral is favored over Silverton but Kevin Hurn’s squad has been a surprise all season long so don’t count them out.

– Craig Sperry


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