ARLINGTON -- Players and coaches often talk about a desire to compete against the best, to measure themselves and be pushed to the limit.
Tonight, two of the top high school football teams in the area, Arlington Bowie (8-1, 6-0) and Arlington Martin (7-2, 6-0), will duke it out at Wilemon Field for the District 3-5A title, a top Class 5A Division I playoff seed and coveted bragging rights.
Arlington Bowie (8-1, 6-0) vs. Arlington Martin (7-2, 6-0)
7 tonight, KTXA/Ch. 21, Wilemon Field
At stake: District 3-5A title, top Division I seed, bragging rightsPlayers to watch
WR Eric Rivers (5-8, 170), Sr.: Dynamic athlete who leads the Volunteers in receptions (41) and receiving yards (609) to go along with 359 rushing yards and another six scores. Holds offers from Iowa State and Wake Forest.
RB/WR Brican Crossley (5-8, 175), Jr.: A gifted runner and receiver out of the slot position who has amassed 425 yards on the ground, 241 yards on 21 catches through the air for a total of 14 touchdowns.
CB Steve Wesley (6-0, 175), Sr.: The TCU commit is a shutdown corner who is physical at the line of scrimmage and possesses the speed to make up ground when taking chances.
DB Edwin Freeman (6-1, 190), Jr.: Has thrived since an early-season move from defensive back to linebacker. Has offers from Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia.
RB Don Jerry (5-10, 175), Sr.: Solid all-around back who has rushed for 736 yards, 12 scores and become a bigger part of the passing game in recent weeks.
RB Kyle Hicks (5-11, 195), Sr.: One of the top recruits in the state and best running backs in the country. The Texas commit has rushed for 1,105 yards, 22 touchdowns and passed for another 476 yards and six scores in eight games.
DE Myles Garrett (6-4, 235), Jr.: National recruit with offers from schools in the SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten. Leads the team in tackles with 56 and sacks with seven.
DB/QB Matt Waller (5-11, 200), Sr.: May be the most underrated player in the area with 55 stops, one interception, one fumble recovery, over 500 all-purpose yards with five scores. Plays on every special teams unit.
LB Jordan Avery (5-10, 200), Sr.: Man in the middle for Martin, who plays bigger than his size with 46 tackles, three sacks and an interception.
K Ben Grogan (6-1, 175), Sr.: 2011 All-State selection is a game-changing weapon who has 29 touchbacks this year and converted six field-goal attempts against North Crowley on Sept. 19.
"This has become a rivalry game that most circle on their calendar and say they don't want to miss and from that standpoint I think the city of Arlington, and for that matter the entire Metroplex, has the chance to go out and see two really good football teams," Martin coach Bob Wager said. "It's a preview of the future of Saturday afternoon football and, in some cases, Sunday football. I think we both have guys on our football teams who have the potential to play football as a career."
For all of the talent on display tonight in South Arlington, a 5-foot-8, 150-pound sophomore backup quarterback might decide the outcome and perhaps steal the show.
Bowie's Tony James moved from receiver to quarterback after starter Keaton Perry was lost to a torn knee ligament (ACL) in the second game of the season. In just his third varsity game, James steered the Volunteers to a 38-36 victory over Dallas Skyline, the No. 2-ranked team in the state at the time.
"If something breaks down on the car, you put in a new part and keep on going," said 6-foot-3, 250-pound offensive tackle Kristopher Thigpen. "Everybody has picked it up intensity-wise, effort-wise and tried to hold each other accountable in Keaton's absence. I was in similar shoes last year as a sophomore where I started and filled in.
"There were some nerves, but I knew a sophomore could step in and do the job as good as a senior can."
James is 7-0 as the starter behind the wheel of an offense that has averaged 50 points and 465 yards per game over that span.
He has also managed to stay even-keeled despite the success.
"Really that's just my personality," James said. "My dad always told me to be humble and don't let everything get to you and get big-headed -- just keep working to where it got me and keep moving forward."
Bowie coach Kenny Perry describes James as electric and the fastest player he's had at the school.
"I saw him as an eighth-grader and I remember a kid was going to tackle him and he jumped over him straight up; he leapt probably about four feet in the air over the kid, spread his legs and went 40 yards for a touchdown," Perry said. "He's not the most mechanically sound quarterback, but these kids believe in him and he knows how to get the football in the end zone."
A fast, slippery runner with an accurate arm, James gives Bowie a threat to score at any moment. He's also proven to be efficient by completing almost 70 percent of his passes, with a 3-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
"To me it's not just another game, it is for the district title," James said. "We just have to come out and play hard. We know it's going to be a tough game and Martin's a good team."
The winner will face Keller Central, which made its first playoff appearance a year ago.
The loser gets Southlake Carroll, which won its eighth state championship last season.
Jarret Johnson, 817-390-7760
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