Key storylines heading Week 4 of the UIL H.S. Football small school playoffs
The Canyon Eagles defense has given up only 14 points in three playoff games. [Trevor Fleeman/ Press Pass Sports]
Can Canyon’s defense continue to shine? Why not
While running a comb through the Canyon Eagles 2020 football season finds few tangles what with a prolific offense, committed senior leadership and coaching staff together longer than Hershey as made chocolate. Arguably standing in the front of that tangle-free line is the defense.
When Canyon (11-1) meets the talented Springtown Porcupines (11-2) in the Class 4A Division I state quarterfinals Friday night in Midland it brings quite a defensive resume to the kickoff.
Canyon will challenge Springtown owning five shutouts, having allowed nine points twice all season, giving up a miniscule 7.5 points per game over 12 outings, and outscoring its three playoff opponents 110-14.
Add in a ballhawking mentality producing 19 interceptions, 20 fumble recoveries, 32 quarterback sacks, 90 tackles for losses, and it’s easy to see why scoring against Canyon these days is no picnic.
This is definitely a team thing with all 11 in sync, but certainly four of “Purple People Eaters” have put up monster years with at least 89 tackles in: junior linebacker Kam Reagan (119 tackles, 24 QB hurries, 24 tackles for losses, 10 QB sacks, 5 fumble recoveries); senior linebacker Blake Wilhelm (98 total tackles with 53 of those unassisted, 10 QB hurries, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 interception); senior safety Jett Meek (91, tackles, 10 pass breakups); and Mr. Hustle senior linebacker Rafe Butcher (89 tackles, two pick sixes).
“I’m telling ya,” said Canyon 20-year head coach Blake Bryant. “Our defense is playing so hard. It’s just amazing to see. And it’s on every play.”
They swarm. They hustle. They play physical. They play with joy.
They play D in Canyon.
— Lance Lahnert
Canadian‘s Hayze Hufstedler celebrates with a teammate after a touchdown against Idalou last week. [Trevor Fleeman/ Press Pass Sports]
Can Canadian carry its dominance
Canadian is back in all to familiar territory. Backed by the excellence of a veteran coaching staff, and a program that expects to be playing in December each year, the No. 1 Wildcats are making its eighth straight appearance in the state quarterfinals, and a 15 appearance since 1998 when they take on rival Childress on Friday at Happy State Bank Stadium.
Canadian hasn’t had any issue through its first three games of the Class 3A Division II playoffs. In three wins against Coahoma, Bangs and No. 7 Idalou, the Wildcats have outscored all three by a combined 174-33. This will be the second quarterfinal meeting between the two teams in the last four years. The Wildcats beat the Bobcats, 35-20, in 2017. Canadian also beat Childress 63-13 a month ago in a district clash. As much as the Wildcats want to erase that win, and focus on being this being a new game, Canadian can’t deny what its done offensively this season. The Wildcats are averaging 61.5 points a game, and 507 yards per game this season. Though he doesn’t see much action after halftime quarterback Joshua Culwell has thrown for over 3,100 yards with 46 touchdowns.
If the Wildcats beat Childress again Friday, it will be their seventh straight trip to the state semifinals.
Wellington QB Creighton Killian, right, Marc Ramirez and Mason Folk all celebrate a touchdown against Wheeler earlier this year. [Tom Carver/ Press Pass Sports]
Skyrockets soaring for semi’s
Much like Canadian, Wellington has made a living playing deep into the playoffs for the past decade. The No. 3-ranked Skyrockets are making sixth trip to the state quarters since 2011, and the fourth in the last five years. If Wellington can nab a victory against McCamey on Friday at Lubbock-Cooper, it will be there first semifinal appearance since 2017.
Questions concerned the program when longtime head coach Wade Williams stepped down two years ago, however, the players have bonded with new head coach Greg Proffitt. Proffitt and the Skyrockets coaching staff have carried on the Wellington tradition going 24-2 the past two seasons, which included a run to the Region II finals a year ago. A strong running game behind a talented offensive line has been a catalyst for this seasons success. Quarterback Creighton Killian does a great job managing the offense, and Marc Ramirez, Mason Folk and John Ramirez do the work out of the backfield. Through 12 games this year, Marc is having an All-State season piling up 2,104 yards on 250 carries with 29 touchdowns. Anytime Wellington seems to need yards, or a key play, it’s Marc who the Proffitt relies on. Folk plays a key role rushing for 601 yards, followed by John’s 456 yards.
Groom quarterback Gunner Lamb tosses a pass against Klondike. [Seth Ritter/ For Press Pass Sports]
Groom’s balance could be an X-factor
Groom’s high-powered offense has been a catalyst for the Tigers to reach the Class 1A Division II state semifinals for the first time since 2014 when they face Balmorhea on Friday.
A look at the numbers shows how the Tigers offense has transformed as the season has progressed and created a balance that has left opposing defenses on their heels.
Groom ran the ball 66 percent of the time in the season opener against Happy. Since that time they have ran the ball 52.6 percent of the time and passed it 47.4 percent. The two outliers during that timeframe came in a district clinching victory over Wildorado where they ran it 70 percent of the time but only ran 30 total plays in a game that ended at half. In a quarterfinal victory against Follett last week, Groom passed it 76.7 percent of the time on 30 total offensive plays.
This balance has helped their senior leader, Gunner Lamb, become a true dual-threat quarterback. Lamb has thrown for 1,914 yards on 101-of-147 passing, and ran for a team high 542 yards. The biggest benefactors of Lamb’s QB prowess has been the Kuehler brothers, Damon and Stephen, and Tyler Boyd who have combined for 76 receptions totaling 1,410 yards and 24 touchdowns. Lamb has gotten much more comfortable in the pocket and used his field vision to pick apart defenses while letting his speed be an advantage when forced to run.
— Craig Sperry