The Mansfield Tigers (4-2, 1-1 in District 8-6A) begin one of the tougher three-game stretches of any team in the area, with state-ranked DeSoto this week, followed by South Grand Prairie and then state-ranked Cedar Hill on Halloween.
“It won’t take much motivation on the coaches’ part, I’ll tell you that,” Tigers coach Jeff Hulme said.
Mansfield is used to a tough district draw. DeSoto and Cedar Hill are usual powers, and last year Mansfield Timberview was a close No. 3 in District 7-5A. This year, Timberview dropped in classification, but Duncanville and South Grand Prairie are improved.
They’ll challenge Mansfield for the fourth playoff spot, which the Tigers clinched last year. Duncanville beat Mansfield 20-17 two weeks ago.
“I think it is more of a balanced district,” Hulme said. “Anytime you talk about our district, you have to say those [DeSoto and Cedar Hill] are the top teams. The next two teams to make the playoffs, it’s going to be a dogfight.”
Defensively, the Tigers have been solid. They’ve given up 16 points a game and have a secondary led by defensive back Julius Lewis, a TCU commitment. Lewis has also been involved in the Mansfield running game with 10 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown.
Emmanuel Esukpa is the Tigers’ lead back, with 733 yards rushing and eight touchdowns on 119 carries. Kennedy Brooks is averaging 8.35 yards per carry on 31 attempts.
“Offensively, what’s been exciting to me is watching our tailbacks,” Hulme said. “We’ve got three that can take it all the way any time.”
Aledo coming on
Aledo knew three things heading into the season: The Bearcats would be without coach Tim Buchanan, they’d be replacing 10 starters on the defense and they’d be battling uphill to match the best season in school history.
Halfway through the regular season, Aledo is learning to live with the difference between 2013 and 2014.
Interim coach Steve Wood led the Bearcats to a 21-17 season-opening win over state-ranked Cedar Park. Then Aledo lost its home opener a week later, 42-7 to La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat.
But the defense shut out Monterrey Prepa Tec and held Joshua to six points. Last week, Burleson Centennial tied the game at 20-20 heading into halftime, but Aledo pulled away for a 55-27 win.
“We’ve gotten better,” Wood said. “Now, are we where we need to be? No. But I think we’ve continued to improve every week. There’s a lot of guys who haven’t been out there on Friday nights.”
Jess Anders powered Aledo last week, rushing for five touchdowns and 175 yards. The senior has been battling a nagging hip injury. Isaiah Mallory started the game but left with an injury, giving way to Anders.
“Usually I can always feel my hip, but it hasn’t been bothering me as much as it usually does,” Anders said. “I guess the adrenaline helped.”
Aside from district races, another element to track is which playoff division Class 6A and 5A qualifiers will land. Regardless of where they finish in their district, the two biggest playoff qualifiers go Division I, while the other two go Division II.
Southlake Carroll, for example, is almost guaranteed to go Division II in 6A because likely qualifiers Euless Trinity and Coppell have larger enrollments.
One intriguing race to follow is whether DeSoto will drop to Division II. As the current playoff picture stands — with DeSoto, Cedar Hill and South Grand Prairie undefeated in 8-6A — the Eagles (2,992 students) would go Division II if Duncanville (4,149) qualifies. They’d go Division I if Mansfield (2,323) qualifies.
Another situation to monitor is Aledo’s destination. The Bearcats (1,548) went Division II last year. If Everman (1,321.5) and Burleson (1495.5) qualify, Aledo would go Division I. Everman and Burleson are both 1-1 in 8-5A play. Cleburne, Crowley and Burleson Centennial — all bigger than Aledo — are also in the early playoff mix.
Player of the week
With more than 7,500 votes cast between seven nominees, Fort Worth Arlington Heights quarterback Deion Hair’Griffin is the dfwVarsity Player of the Week for Oct. 2-4. Hair’Griffin received 2,860 votes.
Hair’Griffin passed for 203 yards and four TDs and rushed for 204 yards and two TDs against Fort Worth Southwest. Coaches, send nominations to email@example.com. Check the website Monday for Week 7 picks.