The preseason magazine predictions and water-cooler chat is done.
The football playoffs start this week, and five local teams are still in the hunt for a state championship.
In Class 6A, Keller Central, Keller Fossil Ridge, Trophy Club Nelson and Keller Timber Creek will have bi-district games this week. Of those teams, Central, and Timber Creek are placed in Division I, while Fossil Ridge and Nelson are in Division II.
Justin Northwest will jump back into the playoffs in 5A’s Division I.
Play starts on Thursday with Central taking on Arlington Bowie at Keller ISD Stadium at 7:30 p.m., while Fossil Ridge will play Mansfield at Newsom Stadium in Mansfield at 7 p.m.
No one can say which division is stronger, but District 3-6A’s champion Abilene and District 6-5A champion Aledo will both play in Division II.
That’s no consolation for Central (6-4), as Bowie comes in at 8-2.
Central started the season slowly, going 0-3 before notching its first win.
“When we were 0-3 I knew we were better than what we were showing,” said Central head coach Bart Helsley. “After the Garland game, we started putting it together and we’ve gotten better each week.”
That’s when the Chargers started playing with more confidence and consistency.
“Our kids have played well the second month of the season when you certainly want to finish strong. It’s important for confidence’s sake,” Helsley said.
The Chargers’ work is cut out for them against a Bowie squad boasting a talented quarterback and four explosive receivers. Defensively, there’s a great amount of team speed for the Volunteers.
In the other Thursday game, Fossil Ridge (7-3) will take on District 4-6A champion Mansfield (8-2).
The Panthers are at full strength and are coming off a decisive win over Keller to boost their momentum.
Mansfield boasts one of the state’s top running backs in Kennedy Brooks. Brooks, an Oklahoma commit, has rushed for over 2,100 yards and 25 TDs.
But Ridge has its own offensive attack with Max Akin, who’s thrown for 1,500 yards and 14 scores, and Anthony Smith, who has over 1,400 rushing yards and 17 TDs.
Receivers Elijah Hicks and Stefan Cobbs are threats at any time for the Panthers. Both registered catches worthy of Play of the Year in the first game of the season.
Also in Division II, Nelson (4-6) will face-off against Denton Guyer (8-2) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Collins Complex in Denton. Guyer may be shifting personnel after losing one of their top running backs.
The Bobcats head into the playoffs after finishing third in District 5-6A. The tide was turned for Nelson when it knocked off a perennial strongboy.
The big game was a 21-20 win over Euless Trinity. That win gave the Bobcats the head-to-head tiebreaker which vaulted them into playoff contention. Nelson was 0-5 heading into the Trinity game.
“That’s what got it all going,” said Nelson head coach Travis Pride. “The kids kept working at it and it gave a lot of merit and validity to our confidence.”
Now, the Bobcats don’t want to just be happy to be in the playoffs.
“Why not extend our weeks of practice? We gave such great effort to get here. Now let’s go out and continue to get better and play to win them all,” Pride said.
Pride, in his first season at Nelson, went to the playoffs five of his seven years at Mansfield Summit.
Timber Creek (6-4) will play Arlington Martin (6-4) at Maverick Stadium on the UT Arlington campus on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Both teams are in Division I. It’s a Martin team which has found itself vulnerable.
A slow start for the Falcons against Abilene in last week’s season finale, 56-31, showed slow starts against good teams can spell the difference, said Timber Creek head coach Kevin Golden.
“You can’t afford to give a good football team anything or they’ll make you pay,” Golden said. “Martin is a good football team.”
But the playoff season is here, and Timber Creek is in.
“Everyone had an extra spring in their step,” Golden said after Friday. “It’s fun for the kids, it’s fun for the coaches and it’s fun for administration. It’s an excitement that helps a school. There’s nothing like it. Football playoffs in Texas.”
Martin’s running game will be the focus for the Falcons’ defense, where Golden said getting bodies to the ball will be the rally cry for the week.
The Falcons offense will look to get untracked early and present its own pressure on Martin.
In 5A’s Division I, Northwest will travel to Denton ISD Stadium on Friday for a 7 p.m. matchup with Denton.