Allen vs. Denton Guyer, 7:30 p.m. at Eagle Stadium
Lake Highlands at Plano East, 7:30 p.m. at Kimbrough Stadium
Tyler John Tyler at Plano Senior, 7:30 p.m. at Clark Stadium
Plano West at Mesquite, 7:30 p.m. at Hanby Stadium
Denton Guyer (vs. Allen)
2014 record: 10-2 (Class 6A Division II area playoffs)
Notable players: QB Shawn Robinson (Jr., TCU commit, state’s top-ranked dual-threat QB for Class of 2017, per 247sports), LB Matt Carrillo (Sr., 120 tackles), TE Brian Polendey (Jr.)
What’s in store: Last season’s meeting between these two totaled 96 points and 1,240 yards, and at least for the Eagles, surrendering anything close to what their defense allowed versus Guyer last year (41 points, 576 yards) will be a disappointment for the unit.
That being said, the Wildcats are still plenty capable of moving the ball with a difference maker like Robinson back at quarterback, and a treasure trove of talented rushers in the backfield. That area of the offense figures to be a strong suit early on, as Allen will be tasked with slowing a committee of runners that includes Myron Mason, Christian Moore, Noah Cain and of course, dual-threat Robinson.
Defensively, although Guyer was vulnerable against the run at times last year – most notably during the postseason – the Wildcats are teeming with size up front as a welcome complement to tackling machine Carrillo in the second level of the unit. The battle in the trenches – particularly on the edges – should be worth watching as well, given the size Allen possesses in Greg Little and William Sherman.
Talking point: To suggest there will be a lot of fanfare surrounding Friday’s game at Eagle Stadium – the first game played at the venue since November 2013 – would be an understatement. The atmosphere is sure to be raucous, the game will be broadcasted on tape delay via Time Warner Cable and there’s talk of parachuters and the Rose Bowl committee even making an appearance.
Simply put, it’s a setting none of Allen’s varsity newcomers have experienced firsthand. All eyes will be on how the Eagles’ offense adapts in the post-Kyler Murray era and for all the physical talent possessed like players like quarterback Mitchell Jonke and Seth Green and running backs Colton Manning and Kirby Bennett, not being overwhelmed by the mental rigors sure to surface on Friday is just as critical for Allen.
Lake Highlands (vs. Plano East)
2014 record: 4-7 (Class 6A Division I bi-district playoffs)
Notable players: OL Hunter Ghoreishi (Sr., all-district), OL Sam Spraberry (Sr., all-district), LB Josh Lee
What’s in store: Friday will mark the debut of the Lonnie Jordan era of Lake Highlands football – a familiar face for fans of the program after Jordan served as the Wildcats’ offensive coordinator from 2007-10 under Scott Smith.
As incorporated while coaching at Lone Oak, Jordan’s Wildcats are expected to pride their offensive attack on a no-huddle, tempo-driven spread system. Dual-threat quarterback Brendyn Gettens appears to be in line to guide that unit after seeing limited time in 2014 and will do so behind a veteran offensive line led by all-district performers Ghoreishi and Spraberry.
Lake Highlands isn’t lacking for experience on defense with seven returning starters, and talent residing in the secondary where T.J. Churchill and LaQuantis Davis roam.
Talking point: Although Lake Highlands certainly doesn’t lack for talent or continuity on defense, all eyes will be on what has potential to be a dynamic, explosive East offense.
The Wildcats stood firm opposite several of those same play-makers last season, limiting East to only 13 points and most notably making the Panthers pay for a slew of fourth-down attempts (East turned the ball over on downs three times) when in Lake Highlands territory. It cast a glimpse on what would be a rocky year on that side of the ball, as East’s offense eclipsed the 20-point mark just three times last season, despite flexing its potential firepower in shootouts with Jesuit and Lewisville.
With gobs of Division I-caliber, skill-position talent back, if the Panthers need any gauge on how much can change in one year’s time, Lake Highlands seems like a fair barometer early on.
Tyler John Tyler (vs. Plano Senior)
2014 record: 12-3 (Class 5A Division I state semifinals)
Notable players: DL Braylon Jones (Sr., Houston commit, 88 tackles, seven sacks), WR Damion Miller (Jr., 614 receiving yards, eight touchdowns in 2014), DL Pierre Leonard (Sr., 91 tackles, 12 sacks)
What’s in store: The Lions will make the two-hour, 110-mile trip west to Plano in hopes of securing a second consecutive victory over the Wildcats. John Tyler scored a 30-12 decision last season by grinding Plano’s run game to a halt and winning the battle of attrition late.
Several of the pieces that contributed to that performance are back, most notably up front where Plano will again attempt to stifle defensive linemen Leonard and Jones.
Like Plano, John Tyler will also be working a new quarterback into the mix with converted wide receiver Bryson Smith making the move behind center. With the Lions also inexperienced at running back, Plano’s biggest challenge on defense figures to not only be dealing with Smith’s mobility, but not letting speedy wide out Miller – who led John Tyler with eight receiving touchdowns as only a sophomore and logs a 4.44 40-yard dash – haunt the secondary.
Talking point: For a unit that averaged 212 rushing yards per game last year, the season opener was a night to forget for Plano’s running game.
An early injury to starting quarterback Brooks Panhans – and the resulting baptism by fire for third-stringer Quinn Waterbury – likely played a part, but the fact remains that Plano mustered a mere 81 yards on 31 rushes against the Lions last season. Of those 81 yards, 75 were accrued in one carry – a Brandon Stephens touchdown run.
John Tyler still returns plenty of talent on the defensive line and the onus will be on Plano seniors Kadarius Smith, Isaiah Williams and Co. to set the tone in the trenches to help Plano attempt to relegate last season’s rushing effort to an aberration.
Mesquite (vs. Plano West)
2014 record: 2-8 (Missed playoffs)
Notable players: RB Chance Fisher (Jr., 6.8 yards per carry in 2014), LB Chris Crosby (Jr., 91 tackles), DB Jimmie Lofton (Sr., all-district selection)
What’s in store: Mesquite will be banking on continuity in hopes of securing a bounce-back from last season’s 2-8 campaign, and looks to do so on the shoulders of 13 returning starters.
Top of mind for the Wolves will be slowing dynamic speedster Fisher, who averaged more than 6.0 yards per carry in four of Mesquite’s final five games last season. He’s projected to be the centerpiece of a spread, pistol offense that returns reception leader Roderick Brown and dual-threat signal caller Anthony Tennison.
Defensively, the Skeeters’ strength lies in the secondary where all-district pick Lofton and Sam Houston State pledge Bryan Henderson reside. Mesquite’s defensive backs came on strong over the final few games of last season, helping limit Richardson Berkner, Richardson and North Mesquite to a combined 47 percent passing.
Talking point: To put it gently, defense was an issue for the Skeeters last season. Mesquite surrendered at least 40 points seven times in 2014, including throughout the first four games of the season.
The first team to do the honors was West, which authored a 44-7 pasting of the Skeeters on opening night. That may not necessarily be a harbinger of things to come, since all six of the touchdowns surrendered by Mesquite were from West players who have since graduated.
That unit underwent a wholesale identity change during the offseason, and although West’s defense has enough speed and athleticism to make another lockdown effort versus Mesquite possible, it remains to be seen if the Wolves’ offense has the ability to keep pace.
Plano East vs. Lake Highlands: With no quarterback committee, stronger chemistry and a greater sense of vision, the Panthers’ offense improves noticeably over last year’s stumbling block. East by 14
Plano West vs. Mesquite: The Skeeters should account for themselves far better this time around, but the Wolves’ defense puts the offense in position for just enough chances to eke out a competitive one. West by 7
Plano Senior vs. Tyler John Tyler: The Wildcats prove better equipped to combat the Lions’ physicality up front and guided by an improved Brandon Stephens, and more fortuitous health at quarterback, return the favor to John Tyler in a close one. Plano by 4
Allen vs. Denton Guyer: Staying true to the team’s role reversal from last season, the Eagles’ defense makes enough stops to give the offense a chance to pull away as the contest wears on. Allen by 10