With District 9-6A enjoying the bye week, all eight teams have essentially reached the regular season’s intermission with five games in the books and five more go.
Along the way, plenty has emerged within the district to take onlookers by surprise — be it a certain player, schematic wrinkle or aspect of a team’s identity.
Although there won’t be any football on the docket around 9-6A this Friday, here are a few unexpected storylines that have emerged from the first half of the season for Allen and the Plano ISD trio.
Matt Welch: For a team that had more question marks surrounding it than usual, there are plenty of directions to go here. The Eagles struck gold with another positional change as senior Elijah Fisher has thrived since moving from tight end to defensive end, but the team has struggled to shake season-long bugaboos with takeaways (they’ve won the turnover battle just once in five games) and limiting the production of big-play pass-catchers (five 100-plus-yard receiving performances allowed so far).
Let’s focus on the run game, though. To be fair, the notion that Allen’s rushing offense is among the area’s elite isn’t a surprise — the Eagles currently rank fifth among the Metroplex’s 6A programs at 1,246 rushing yards and 249.2 per game.
It’s the Eagles’ efficiency in that phase that stands out.
Through five games, Allen is churning along at 8.03 yards per carry and each of its top-five rushers are all averaging at least 7.5 yards per carry — senior Celdon Manning at 7.8, junior Jordan Johnson at 10.0, senior Raylen Sharpe at 8.2, sophomore Jaylen Jenkins at 8.2 and junior Sam Hunter at 8.0.
For context’s sake, among the area’s top five 6A rushing offenses — DeSoto, Euless Trinity, Cedar Hill, Denton Guyer and Allen — the Eagles’ per-carry average would rank No. 2 among that group, trailing only Guyer’s 8.6.
The Eagles are yet to average more than 8.0 yards per carry for an entire season this decade — something that’s incredibly difficult to do, mind you — and, to be fair, the sample size is still small for a team that hasn’t played fewer than 15 games in a season since 2011.
On a related note, the success of the run game is also a welcome feather in the cap of an offensive line that began the season with five new starters.
Taylor Raglin: Coming into the season, the Panthers had plenty of questions, though one loomed larger than the rest – how would follow in the wake of 2018 quarterback and now-alum Brandon Mallory?
The job initially fell to senior Ryan Foust, who backed up Mallory in short stints a year ago. However, Wyoming transfer and junior Dylan Hayden arrived in the early days of summer, kicking off a two-man battle for the job.
Foust was initially handed the keys to the Panther offense, and a brief appearance from Hayden in the program’s opening-week loss to Hurst L.D. Bell seemed to reinforce that choice. Hayden looked overwhelmed, throwing an interception on his only pass attempt and rushing for minus-13 yards.
Since, though, Hayden has begun to settle in.
In the Panthers’ Week Two loss to Lake Highlands, Hayden propelled the Panther attack to a second-half surge after a flat opening two frames, finishing the night with 87 yards and a score on the ground and 50 yards through the air. He had 143 yards and a score in the team’s third straight setback, this time against Sachse, then finally lifted his program to a win in its district opener against McKinney Boyd alongside senior running back Trey Jones-Scott. Hayden passed for 105 yards and rushed for 112 yards and three scores before getting injured on the final touchdown of the game as a result of a Bronco late hit.
While that injury may have combined with Prosper’s defensive effort to result in a lackluster performance in a 42-0 loss to the Eagles entering the conference bye, to say the least (minus-21 yards on the ground and just 36 yards and a pick through the air), Hayden has shown some promise in what’s been a slow start to the 2019 campaign for the young Panthers and could represent a way forward.
Matt Welch: Friday’s win over Plano West wasn’t just significant in the sense that the Wildcats managed to pull out a game they absolutely could not afford to lose. Cloaked within the number of Plano’s 26-21 win was a performance that saw the Wildcats emerge victorious despite rushing for only 102 yards — prior to facing West, Plano had averaged 216.3 rushing yards across its first four games.
With the Wolves swallowing the bread-and-butter of the Wildcats’ offense, it was instead a big night through the air from junior quarterback Oliver Towns and his receiving corps that helped pace the team’s first district victory, and the emergence of Plano’s passing attack hasn’t been just isolated to Friday’s game.
Through five games, Towns has passed for 920 yards alongside 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Last season, the Wildcats totaled 12 touchdown passes for the entire year.
Should Towns maintain that pace, he could produce Plano’s highest passing yardage total since 2012 and its highest passing touchdown figure since 2008.
Of course, it also helps when a quarterback has receivers capable of making things happen once the ball is thrown their way — something the Wildcats have benefited from with their top three pass-catchers in seniors Jayden Chambers, Nolan Williams and Christian Sabatini all averaging more than 15.5 yards per catch.
Taylor Raglin: Entering the final quarter, last week’s 26-21 loss to Plano smelled of an end to the Wolves’ 30-game losing skid.
While the Wildcats would fend off the winless Wolves and push the streak to 31, it’s difficult to imagine that the general atmosphere on the West side of Plano is anything less than hopeful.
Instead of being excited about any one player or performance, Wolves fans can be excited about seemingly finding a path off the nightmarish merry-go-round that’s produced nearly three seasons of ineptitude. First-year head coach Tyler Soukup has clearly inspired a meaningful culture change – throughout much of last week’s rivalry contest, the Wolves had Plano ISD’s oldest program reeling, likely finding it hard to believe exactly what was happening. The offense was humming and moving with purpose, the defense was swarming, and the sideline was electric with a passion and desire that was difficult to find in the darkest days of the extended slump.
Though the Wolves’ fourth-quarter lead evaporated in the face of Oliver Towns and Jayden Chambers, even that didn’t break the program’s spirit. A late score drew the team within its final, one-score deficit, and West even had a brief possession to win the game as time slipped away.
The Wolves weren’t quite ready to win a football game – had they been, late mistakes on offense would have been eradicated, the game wouldn’t have featured five turnovers from the West side and open-field tackles in critical moments would have been made. Those lingering signs of a team deep in transition remain, and they could be the reason the streak isn’t quite ready to meet its demise.
It’s coming, however, and it’s not completely out-of-play to bet on that eventual euphoria coming sooner rather than later.