Arlington Martin won't have to wait long for a chance to avenge last season's Class 5A Region I final loss to Southlake Carroll.
Their 6 p.m. Friday bi-district clash highlights a slate of eight playoff matchups this week at Cowboys Stadium, spread over three days beginning today.
"I believe in the football gods, I really do and think they are watching," Martin coach Bob Wager said. "What an exciting first-round matchup for us and an opportunity to test yourself against the defending state champion. We're fired up, we can't wait."
The Warriors (7-3) are coming off their first loss in two months, a 44-26 decision to Arlington Bowie last week in a battle for the District 3-5A title. Star running back Kyle Hicks' status for Friday remains unclear after the senior left last week's game at the end of the first half with an injury.
Martin played two teams that finished the regular season ranked in the top 10 of the AP Class 5A state poll -- No. 2 DeSoto and No. 9 Dallas Skyline -- and a third team that was getting votes, Arlington Bowie. Though the Warriors lost to all three, the tough regular-season schedule was designed to prepare them for teams such as the Dragons.
"Football is a game of matchups, every game is a little bit different, and we forced ourselves to have a short memory in regards to what happened last week," Wager said. "If having a chance to play for a state championship with the defending state champs in your way isn't motivation enough, then playing at Cowboys Stadium in front of your home crowd is."
Carroll (9-1) is riding a nine-game win streak and ended the regular season ranked No. 7 in the state.
The Dragons' offense averages over 500 yards a game behind senior quarterback Kenny Hill. The Texas A&M recruit has made it look easy this season, passing for 2,291 yards and 20 touchdowns, and gaining 905 yards and 20 scores on the ground.
Southlake Carroll is a heavy favorite this week, a position the program has grown accustomed to as winners of a record-tying eight UIL football state titles, but is by no means taking the Warriors lightly.
"They are a very talented football team, have a lot of seasoning and are very well coached," Carroll coach Hal Wasson said. "We're going to have to be at our best, no doubt about it."
Friday's Class 4A Division I matchup between Aledo and Cleburne is a case of extremes in terms of recent playoff success.
The Bearcats (9-1) are three-time defending state champs. The Yellow Jackets are making their first playoff appearance in a decade.
"We're having fun, there's electricity in the air, the kids have a little extra bounce in their step," said Cleburne coach Jeff Merket.
The Yellow Jackets (7-3) have a puncher's chance at upsetting Aledo because of their explosive offense (480 yards per game), led by quarterback Quade Coward, who has thrown for 3,086 yards and 35 touchdowns.
Poised for a deep run?
It is hard to discern just how good Birdville is heading into the 4A Division I playoffs.
The Hawks finished the regular season as undefeated District 6-4A champs with an average margin of victory of 44 points. Birdville (10-0) also heads into the postseason with shutout victories over four of its final five opponents.
Yet, the Hawks only faced three playoff-bound teams this season and their last two games were against teams with a combined record of 3-17.
Jarret Johnson, 817-390-7760
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