For the seventh consecutive year, Allen is one of the final four teams in contention for a UIL Division I state championship. To trim that figure down to the final two, the Eagles must conquer their toughest task of the season.
On Saturday, Allen will take on fellow unbeaten Duncanville, scheduled for 4 p.m. at AT&T Stadium, in the Class 6A state semifinals. The Eagles and Panthers, both ranked in the state’s top five, have been on a collision course all postseason as the projected favorites in their respective regions.
With the penultimate round of the high school football playoffs looming, Allen and Duncanville have been not too far from statistical doppelgangers in the way they’ve dispatched of their opposition this season – right down to boasting identical 51-7 margins of victory in their state quarterfinal wins on Saturday.
“We try to stay focused on ourselves. The thing about the Allen Eagles is that they don’t get caught up in things like stats and rankings,” said Terry Gambill, Allen head coach. “At the end of the day, we’re just trying to get to 1-0.”
The Eagles went 1-0 for the 30th consecutive game after Saturday’s rout of Waco Midway. Allen pulled away big in the second half with a 34-point third quarter that included three touchdowns from senior quarterback Grant Tisdale, two touchdown catches from senior Theo Wease and an 85-yard interception return for a score by senior Cornelius Williams.
Gambill also lauded the Eagles’ special teams performance in Saturday’s contest, particularly in helping dictate field position.
The quarterfinal win was an emotional one for the head coach as well, with Gambill’s father, James, passing away earlier that morning at 86 years old.
“It was a big win because I know that he is in a better place. The most important thing that I carry with me was how he raised me to be a man,” Gambill said. “I just try to do that in his honor.
“… Just what he taught me over the years about caring for other people, about being a man and looking people in the eye, shaking their hands, saying ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, sir’ – all the things you learn at an early age to be successful.
“At the end of the day … it was a big win because he lived a great life.”
Gambill attended his father’s funeral on Tuesday, as he and the Eagles continue preparations for Saturday’s highly anticipated state semifinal.
“You can tell that [Duncanville is] a hungry team that’s playing extremely well and playing with a lot of confidence,” Gambill said.
That’s particularly true after Saturday when the Panthers scored their most emphatic win of the year in routing Southlake Carroll, 51-7, in the state quarterfinals. The performance was Duncanville at its most lethal – five turnovers forced, including two defensive touchdowns, to complement a dynamic afternoon through the air and on the ground from four-star passer Ja’Quinden Jackson.
Averaging 9.7 yards per carry, Jackson’s 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame makes him a tough tackle out of the backfield and proved as much in pillaging Carroll for 156 yards and three scores on the ground.
With 14 passing touchdowns to just three interceptions thrown as well, Jackson is one of two 1,000-yard-plus rushers for the run-centric Panthers, complemented by Trysten Smith (1,139 yards, 19 touchdowns) in the backfield.
Although Duncanville hasn’t had to throw much this season, there is a cast of big-play threats looming on the outside, including Illinois pledge Marquez Beason, four-star receiver Zeriah Beason, Gyasi Smith and Nakia Brown – the lattermost a name that should sound familiar for Allen fans, with Brown giving the Eagles plenty of fits as South Grand Prairie’s quarterback last season in the second round.
But for all the explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball, it’s on defense where Duncanville is chasing a rarified space in Texas high school football history.
The Panthers sport a unit performing at a historic level, having limited opponents to just 4.6 points and 130.5 yards per game (22.8 rushing, 107.6 passing). With six shutouts to its name, Duncanville has allowed only two of 13 teams to cross the double-digit threshold, including a season-high 14 points surrendered in the bi-district round against SGP.
“They’re extremely athletic. They’re very quick, run to the football well and are very well-coached. It’s a sound, sound group,” Gambill said. “You can tell that they like to put pressure on the quarterback.”
The Panthers create turnovers like few defenses in the state, and thanks to a veteran secondary that includes Tre’Shon Devones, Stacy Brown and Chris Thompson Jr. to supplement the pressure generated by James Mitchell, DeBraylon Carroll and the front four, Duncanville has forced 29 turnovers and returned 12 for touchdowns thus far.
For all the potential problems posed by the Panthers’ defensive front, Allen hopes to nurse its offensive line back to full strength after losing two starters to injury – senior center Nick Trice (ankle) and senior guard CerTaidrian Brooks (knee) – in the win over Midway.
Gambill said both will be game-time decisions for Saturday’s contest, as Allen looks to avoid the pratfalls of every other opponent left in Duncanville’s wake thus far.
“You have to be very consistent and control the football,” Gambill said. “When you have opportunities, you need to go make plays. There’s going to be adversity in this game on both sides, and it’s about how well you handle it.”