5 storylines heading into the 2023 UIL High School Football playoffs


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Head coach Chad Dunnam and Amarillo High travels to El Paso to face Bel Air in a Class 5A Division I bi-district game at 7 p.m. on Friday night. [Tom Carver/ Press Pass Sports]

What are the expectations for Amarillo ISD?

The storyline is the same at some levels for the Amarillo ISD schools with the start of the postseason. Just like last year, Amarillo High and Tascosa will represent AISD in Class 5A Division I while Palo Duro will do the same in 5A Division II.

What seems different this time around is the anticipation surrounding those schools. In the past, Tascosa and/or Amarillo High would get one of the top two seeds in the district (in this case, District 2-5A Division I) and the right to host a playoff game against an El Paso opponent in bi-district. This year, though, both AHS and Tascosa will open the playoffs far from home in El Paso as Nos. 3 and 4 playoff seeds respectively.

That’s a change for Tascosa (4-5), which will open the postseason as the No. 4 district seed at El Paso Del Valle (9-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Conquest Stadium. This year the Rebels aren’t entering the playoffs as a prohibitive favorite over an El Paso school at Dick Bivins Stadium. They don’t boast an offensive gamebreaker like Major Everhart or a defensive stud along the lines of Avion Carter or LB Moore.

What they have is some playoff tradition, as they’ve won at least one playoff game in each of the last five seasons. Tascosa enters this week with some confidence after a 56-34 win at Lubbock Coronado to clinch a playoff spot. The good news is that running back Treshaun Wilson, who ran for over 1,000 yards last year but was unavailable after week one because of a major leg injury, played last week and should be available.

Amarillo High (5-5), on the other hand, has been a pleasant surprise. The Sandies clinched the No. 3 seed outright by routing Lubbock Monterey 61-28 last week and will play at El Paso Bel Air (8-2) at 7 p.m. Friday.

While AHS is also used to winning in bi-district, the Sandies now have to do so in hostile territory. Quarterback Will Flaming and running back Pius Vokes are senior playmakers who have developed throughout the season and should be prominently featured this week.

What is a repeat of last year is how Palo Duro (4-5) made the playoffs. The Dons needed to beat Plainview for the second year in a row to claim the 2-5A Division II No. 4 seed and they did so convincingly in a 41-14 win. And for the second straight year they’ll play Canutillo (8-2) in bi-district at 3 p.m. Friday. Canutillo is the same team who eliminated PD last year in bi-district 28-0.

However, the Dons now boast a dual threat quarterback who presents problems in sophomore Darien Lewis, who threw three touchdowns and ran for three others against Plainview.

– Lee Passmore 

The West Plains Wolves face Clint in a Class 4A Division II game at 7 p.m. Thursday in Seminole. [Roy Wheeler/ Press Pass Sports]

How legit is West Plains?

On paper, the area team in the upper two classifications with the best shot of advancing a ways would be West Plains. In only their second year as a program, the Wolves are living beyond the hype, as they finished 9-1 and were undefeated in District 2-4A Division II and carry a nine-game winning streak into the playoffs.

They’ll open the playoffs as a heavy favorite, taking on Clint (4-6) at 7 p.m. Thursday in Seminole. A win, and West Plains will equal last season’s success of reaching the area round in the first year as a varsity team.

This is something which figures to be a regular occurrence for the Wolves under head coach Adam Cummings. Sophomore quarterback Reid Macon appears to be unflappable and by the time he graduates, he might have more playoff experience than any other quarterback in the Panhandle.

However, this year the Wolves will face a tougher path if they just want to make it to the third round. They will likely play a one-loss Graham (9-1) team in the area round, then possibly face unbeaten Monahans (10-0) in the regional round.

West Plains has postseason company from the other two Canyon ISD schools, playing in Division I. Canyon (8-2) enters the postseason as the No. 1 seed from District 3-4A Division I and will play Wichita Falls (2-8) at 7 p.m. Thursday in Childress.

The Eagles clinched the No. 1 seed by routing Pampa 44-17 last week, bouncing back from a heartbreaking 45-42 loss to Dumas the week before. Their punishing running game will determine how long they last beyond this week.

Randall (6-4) is the No. 2 seed behind Canyon and the Raiders will host Burkburnett (3-7) at 7 p.m. Friday in Childress. The Raiders have shown a knack for winning close games this season, which should help in the playoffs.

Hereford (7-3) is the No. 3 seed from 3-4A D-I and could have one of the best first round matchups against Springtown (7-3) at 7 p.m. Friday in Snyder. No. 4 seed Dumas (4-6) faces a tougher task at 7 p.m. Thursday against Decatur (6-4) in Snyder.

In 2-4A D-II, the other local schools besides West Plains figure to face tougher sledding to make it past this week. Borger (4-6) faces Monahans (10-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday in Frenship, and Perryton (3-7) takes on Fort Stockton (9-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Lubbock-Cooper.

– Lee Passmore

Quarterback Camren Cavalier and the Canadian Wildcats square off with Littlefield in the Class 3A Division II bi-district round at 7 p.m. Thursday. [David Erickson/ Press Pass Sports]

Are we looking at Canadian vs. Gunter VII? 

To get through Region I has meant going through the Canadian Wildcats going for a decade now. The small school blueblood, that boasts three UIL state championships since 2014, have won eight of the last nine regional titles including last season when the Wildcats broke through Wall 45-10.

This season doesn’t seem to be any different after the No. 2-ranked Wildcats completed a perfect season at 10-0 for the first time since 2019 behind first-year head coach Andy Cavalier who has kept the tradition well alive for the recently retired Chris Koetting.

Canadian has been flat out dominant during the regular season that has seen wins over state-ranked Bushland from Class 3A Division I, 55-35, and Class 4A Division I Randall, 69-28, in a contest that wasn’t as close as that score looks. In fact, the Wildcats have been so impressive they’ve outscored all 10 opponents in the first half by an eye-opening 460-40.

Canadian opens the playoffs against Littlefield (6-4) on Thursday night at Dick Bivins Stadium. If the cards play like most expect, we’re looking at a seventh meeting between Canadian’s biggest rival since 2016 in Gunter (10-0) in the state semifinals once again. The Tigers lead that series over the Wildcats 4-2 all-time including a thrilling 21-20 victory last year.

Childress (7-3) sits on the other side of the bracket as does Wall (8-2). Those are two likely opponents for Canadian in the state quarterfinals.

In Division I, No. 4-ranked Bushland enters the playoffs playing as well as anyone in the state. The Falcons (9-1) soared through District 2-3A Division I beating Muleshoe, River Road, Shallowater and Dalhart by 28 points a game. Region I is never easy, and the Falcons will have to earn it like usual especially with Brock (7-3) sitting at the bottom of the bracket. The Eagles ended Bushland’s season last year 51-27. Before the Falcons can even think about Brock, Bushland will see a test in possibly a rematch with Jim Ned (8-2) from last year’s area round then No. 9-ranked Paradise (9-1) in the third round.

– Kale Steed

Quarterback Armando Lujan and the Sunray Bobcats open the Class 2A Division II playoffs taking on Wheeler at 7 p.m. Friday. [James Abel/ Press Pass Sports]

How loaded is 2A Division II 

When divulging through Region I there isn’t better depth across the Texas Panhandle and South Plains than Class 2A Division II. It’s flat out stacked and whoever comes out of it is going to have to run a gauntlet.

Three teams out of the top 10 in the state reside within 240 miles of each other. Reigning Region I champion, and No. 3-ranked New Home (10-0) is back and even better than last year. District 1-2A champion and No. 8-ranked Gruver (8-2) has proven to dangerous and then there is No. 10 Sunray (8-2) who totes the talented QB Armando Lujan.

Let’s not forget about upstart Clarendon (7-3). The Broncos put their name in the conversation last week taking the outright 2-2A championship by handing Wellington a 36-20 loss. After an 0-3 start to the year, Clarendon has turned it on behind do-it-all star Lyric Smith and won’t be a tough out. Let’s talk about those Skyrockets too. Yes, Wellington is under the radar at 7-3, however, head coach Greg Proffitt’s team has been the staple from the Amarillo-area winning six regional championships over 12 years.

Here’s some possible matchups to look forward to also over the next month. New Home vs. Sunray in the area round. Gruver vs. Clarendon on Thanksgiving weekend, and the Sunray-New Home winner vs. Wellington on that same Thanksgiving weekend.

In Division I, Stratford completed a perfect 10-0 season and are ramped up to avenge an early exit from a year ago when the Elks fell to Cisco in the area round. This Stratford team led by first-year head coach Jonathan Murphy has all the tools to once again play December football. The Elks open the playoffs on Friday night against Sundown at 7 p.m. in Canyon, then it’s a tough matchup with Stamford (8-1) awaits in the second round.

Panhandle (9-1) is also a team to keep an eye on. The Panthers are hungry and looking to make a move past the second round after getting thumped by defending state champion Hawley last season. If Panhandle gets past Tahoka in the bi-district round on Friday night, those same Bearcats (8-2) await in round two. This should be a very interesting few weeks.

Quarterback Haiden Thompson and the Warriors face Nazareth in the Class 1A Division I area round at 8 p.m. on Friday. [David Erickson/ Press Pass Sports]

Is this Miami’s year? 

Forgive the community of Miami if they are head over heels for this year’s version of the Warriors football team.

Prior to this season, the Warriors had gone 42-60 over the last decade. This year has been a special one with Miami as the Warriors (10-0 overall) are one of only three teams in the Amarillo-area (Canadian and Stratford) that went undefeated in the regular season. The Warriors also grabbed their first outright district title for the first time since 2012 and beat Follett for only the third time since 1998.

The No. 9 team in the state is led by one of the top spread backs in senior Haiden Thompson and his running mate, Luke Wheeler. The duo has helped Miami notch eight mercy-rule wins while giving up 96 total points on the season.

While all of that is impressive, Miami faces a very competitive Region I. They get Nazareth (4-6) in the bi-district round, a team the Warriors beat 48-0 earlier in the season, before No. 11 Springlake-Earth (7-3) or Valley (5-5) awaits.

On the other side of the bracket, Knox City (10-0), who has been ranked No. 2 for most of the season looms. The Greyhounds beat the defending state champions from Westbrook (9-1) in the first game of the year and have amassed eight mercy-rule wins in the process.

Perennial power Happy, ranked No. 10, is 9-1 and owns wins over both Springlake-Earth and No. 12 Follett (7-3). The Panthers will look to upset the Cowboys in round one and avenge an early season loss, 46-42, on their home field. The winner of this one will then be pitted against Knox City in the area round with the Greyhounds looking to wipe out any memories of last year’s lopsided loss in the same round to Happy.

For the second straight year, Silverton (8-2) and Groom (5-5) face an uphill climb to try and capture a Region I title in Division II.

The Owls have the best shot of making noise in the playoffs with an offense led by Sawyer Francis. The talented track star puts pressure on the defense to stop him at the line of scrimmage or risk him finding the edge and pay dirt.

Two Owls’ players, Carlos Alanis and Jace Alvarado are key for head coach Kevin Hurn if Silverton wants to make real noise. To make a run, Silverton will have to tangle with No. 7 Amherst (9-1) in the first round with No. 8 Balmorhea (8-2) the likely opponent in the area round.

On the other side of the bracket, Groom will have its hands full with No. 4 Whitharral (9-1) in the opening round. No. 3 Klondike (8-1), maybe the best team in this region, is also on that side of the bracket making a run for the Tigers a tall task.

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