By Omar Muhammad
As the regular season comes to a conclusion for many teams across the Midwest, there will be some terrific league championships games, in addition to great playoff matchups occurring all over the region. The top game to keep an eye on will be No. 1 The Woodlands against a talented Lufkin team and its top-notch defense. The playoff game to watch may be in Illinois, where two high-powered offenses go head-to-head when No. 7 Loyola Academy takes on No. 10 Glenbard North in an 8A showdown. Should be a thrilling weekend.
Lufkin Panthers (3-4, State PR: 58.64, Rank: 29) vs. The Woodlands Highlanders (7-0, State PR: 97.08, Rank: 4): Lufkin is coming off a big conference win against College Park last week, and looks to knock off a Highlanders team that is at the top of the district standings. The athleticism of DT Jamarkus McFarland, who is the top five recruit in the country, and all-district DB Carrington Byndom, will certainly challenge the high-powered offense of the Highlanders. Woodlands has been on a roll thanks in part to an offense averaging 40 points a game.
Hebron Parkway Christian Hawks (5-3, State PR: 64.92, Rank: 69) vs. Southlake Carroll Dragons (6-1, State PR: 88.29, Rank: 16): The Hawks are at the #1 spot in District 6-5A play despite starting the season at 0-3. The squad hasn't looked back since, reeling off five-straight wins. Hebron's defense will have its hands full against Carroll’s well-coached offense, but top returners DB Phillip Mitchell, DE Stansly Maponga, NG Michael Odiari, and LB Michael Putman will make sure past mistakes don’t surface again. Meanwhile, the Dragons will contend for the top spot in the district 6-5A standings behind the force of Texas Tech recruit DE Jackson Richards and SMU recruit QB Kyle Padron.
Alamo Heights Mules (6-2, State PR: 81.61, Rank: 8) vs. Tivy Antlers (7-1, State PR: 84.30, Rank: 6): The Mules were shocked by two early losses to Stoney Point and Clark High, but have been rolling as of late behind an explosive backfield headed by QB Drew Allen and RB Sergio Acosta. Tivy has a 7-1 overall record, and will also counter with an explosive offense of its own in order to break this District 27-4A conference tie. The Alamo Heights defense could have trouble containing running backs Alex Jackson and Quincy Kibbet, who are looking to combine for another 1,000-yard season.
Neville Tigers (6-2, State PR: 74.42, Rank: 11) vs. Byrd Yellowjackets (7-1, State PR: 82.39, Rank: 9): Neville will look to rebound from its 22-10 defeat to national power Bastrop last week. The Tigers can’t afford another loss in district two, which could lead to a non-showing in the playoffs. But Neville will be a hard contender considering they have a 3-0 record on the road. After a loss to West Monroe in the beginning of the season, the Jackets have embarked on a five-game winning streak. Look out for the Yellowjacket defense headed by Div. I recruit at linebacker Jonathan Stewart.
Bartlett Hawks (9-0, PR: 92.38 Rank: 4) vs. Notre Dame for Boy (Niles) (5-4, PR: 60.54 Rank: 32): No. 1 Bartlett battles against No. 16 Niles in what should be an interesting opening round game. The Hawks went 9-0 in regular season play and was crowned champs in the Upstate Eight standings. The Hawks' offense will look to experienced WRs Alex Van Ness and Cory Brown to come up with big points when needed. Meanwhile, Niles will have newcomer QB Eric Hennessey to find a way to come out with a win, but a lack of experience on defense will have them clawing for a win.
Loyola Academy Ramblers (7-2, PR: 81.33 Rank: 11) vs. Glenbard North Panthers (6-3, PR: 74.57 Rank: 21): The No. 7 Ramblers had no problem getting into the playoffs with a 7-2 record and hope to expand on their two-game winning streak here in the first round. QB Lucas Ruske has had plenty of time to throw for scores as every time the signal-caller throws for two touchdowns or more, the Ramblers come out with a win. But the Panthers are also riding high, coming in on a four-game run. All-state QB and Northwestern commit Evan Watkins will have to make plays with his arm and legs for the Panthers to have a chance in this one.
Merrillville Pirates (6-4, PR: 64.67 Rank: 3) vs. Munster Mustangs (7-3, PR: 68.68, Rank: 3): The Pirates crept into the playoffs by posting their last three wins in conference play at the end of the regular season. Merrillville have experienced players in QB Dolapo Macarthy, LB Dionte Day, all-state K Ryan Stokes, and Central Michigan commit DE Aaron Kaczmarksi to help on both sides of the ball for this sectional showdown. Even though Munster has the better record in this contest, look for turnovers to be the difference in the game.
Center Grove Trojans (9-1, PR: 92.49, Rank: 1) vs. Bloomington South Panthers (8-2, PR: 78.97, Rank: 2): The Trojans aim to advance in the playoffs this year after a second round knock out in the 5A postseason in '07. With all-state QB Jordan Luallen and 16 returning players, the Trojans should be considered favorites. But don’t look for these Panthers to lay down easily. Bloomington South has proven by its 8-2 mark in a tough conference that they can compete with the best.
Oakridge Eagles (9-0, State PR: 87.29, Rank: 3) vs. Kelloggsville Rockets (6-3, State PR: 63.72, Rank: 54): The Eagles are coming off a close one-point OT win against a formidable Orchard View squad. These Eagles are ready to track down a fourth-straight West Michigan Conference championship behind standouts Matt Eacker and Michael Shoop at running back, and wideouts Austin Stordahl and Kyle Pascavis. The Rockets will look to rely on their potent offense which is averaging more than 40 points per game.
Everett Vikings (7-2, State PR: 76.25, Rank: 23) vs. Lowell Red Arrows (9-0, State PR: 98.00, Rank: 1): The Vikings have two losses in conference play but both have been by just three points combined. The Viking offense will be lead by QB Reggie Williams and RB Devon Beuford, who are two of the most dynamic players in the state at their positions. Meanwhile, the Red Arrows haven’t looked back since last year when they made it to the semifinals of the state playoffs. Lowell has the advantage heading in, but the Vikings possess the potential to notch an upset.
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