It carries the same name as last season, but otherwise it’s a brand-new look for District 2-5A Division I starting Friday night.
While UIL realignment last February saw some teams fall by the wayside, some from other locales have joined in along with Amarillo and Lubbock ISD schools for the six-game district schedule. But to fully grasp the new vibe, local fans have to look no further than what’s going on in town this week.
Or more to the point, what isn’t going on in town. In an extremely rare occurrence, Dick Bivins Stadium, which is home to all four AISD schools (including the three in 2-5A DI), won’t be hosting a game this week. Friday’s 7 p.m. crosstown district opener between Amarillo High and Tascosa will instead be played at Canyon’s Buffalo Stadium on the West Texas A&M campus.
That’s intriguing enough as it is. On paper, Tascosa (3-1) is a district favorite, facing the emotional challenge of taking on rival Amarillo High (2-2) to start proving that. While Amarillo High has a 41-21-3 lead in the all-time series, Tascosa has won the last two games in the series and is a seven-point favorite.
So far, Tascosa’s been as good as advertised. The Rebels are only two points away from entering district play unbeaten, as their lone loss was a 13-12 defeat to Class 6A Odessa Permian.
Tascosa’s biggest stars are on the defensive side, led by tackle Avion Carter, who has committed to TCU, and linebacker Keevin LeDoux. Offensively, their ground-oriented flexbone attack remains prolific, as the Rebels are going more with a running game by committee this season.
Amarillo High got off to a tough start, as the Sandies gave up 47 points each in losing to Midland Legacy (whom Tascosa beat by 21 points) and Cleveland, N.M. to open the season. But the Sandies appear to have found their footing the last two weeks.
The defense stepped up in their first win of the season, a 27-8 victory at Midland High. Then Amarillo High scored a second straight win over a 6A Permian Basin school, routing Odessa High 42-17 to move to .500 on the season.
AHS displayed plenty of offensive firepower in the win, as Mason Graham had his best game yet at quarterback, completing 15-of-21 passes for 197 yards and four touchdowns, two of them to Jack Hoeksma. Pius Vokes is also establishing himself as a dual threat at running back, as he ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 78 yards and another score.
Despite a change in the longtime venue, that shouldn’t diminish the excitement and intensity of this longtime rivalry to start a new era in this district. But that’s far from the only story in 2-5A DI. Here are some other things to look at starting tonight.
Don’t knock the Rock
Tascosa isn’t the only AISD school in the district who’s one play away from an unbeaten season. Caprock (3-1) fell in the final minute to Canyon, 35-32 last week, as an interception in the end zone which Zy’Quavion Smith returned for an apparent game-sealing touchdown was wiped out by a controversial pass interference penalty, allowing Canyon another shot at a game-winning score.
Prior to that, Caprock had been as stingy defensively as anybody, giving up only 10 points in the first three games. That reputation took a bit of a hit last week, as the Longhorns couldn’t hold on to an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter.
They’ll have to bounce back quickly, as they’ll open district play at Lubbock Coronado (1-3) at 7 p.m. this evening. It might be an even more intriguing game in that it could separate a contender from a pretender.
The most interesting matchup will be between Caprock’s defense and Coronado’s offense led by quarterback Jett Carroll, possibly the district’s top quarterback. Coronado has played several close games and not been so fortunate, and this one might come down to a final play or two with each team’s toughness being tested.
The new kids on the block
While Palo Duro and Lubbock High dropped out of the district down to Division II for football, they were replaced by Abilene High and Lubbock-Cooper, which means a general rise in overall quality in the district.
The two schools come to the district from opposite directions. Abilene drops down from Class 6A (where the Eagles won a Division II state championship in 2009) while Cooper moves up from 5A Division II after reaching the state semifinal last season.
Abilene (1-3) will host Lubbock Monterey (0-4) at 7 p.m. as the Eagles will begin their 5A district era. They’ll bring back seven defensive starters from last season against a Monterey team looking to rebuild, not to mention get the Plainsmen in the win column when it counts the most.
Cooper (3-1) figures to challenge just as much if not more. The Pirates draw the district’s open date this week and will have an extra week to prepare before opening district by hosting Coronado next week.
Big week at Bivins
Bivins may be dark this week but will be at the center of the district universe next week with a pair of games which could say a whole lot about what happens in the next four weeks.
Next Thursday will be an all-AISD matchup between Amarillo High and Caprock. Depending on what the two schools do in their openers this week, this one could result in picking up anything ranging from a share of the district lead to slipping quickly into desperation mode.
Friday night might be the most anticipated matchup of the season so far at Bivins, as Tascosa will host Abilene in a clash between early district favorites in what represents the district’s longest road trip of the season. These two teams have met a few times before during Tascosa coach Ken Plunk’s 14-year tenure, but they’ve never been on as even a footing as they are now.
And that’s just the first two weeks. Looks like it will be a fun, if fairly bumpy, ride through November.