Allen vs. Plano East Football

Despite not sharing a district for the first time since in more than two decades, Plano East and Allen will open the 2020 season with a head-to-head meeting Sept. 25 at Eagle Stadium.

For the Dallas-area high school football coaches who were caught in the storm of realignment back in February, scrambling around the Birdville ISD Fine Arts and Athletic Complex in search of games for the 2020 season, last week brought some feelings of deja vu. 

On July 21, the UIL announced a delay to the start of football season for its Class 6A and 5A high schools, shuffling the schedule into September. Practices begin on Sept. 7 with the first batch of games set for Sept. 24-26.

Between the revised dates and various county health orders postponing extracurricular activities in myriad parts of the Metroplex, coaches have been busy making changes to their schedules for the upcoming season.

“Needless to say, it’s been hectic,” said Joey McCullough, Plano East head coach. “With all the safety guidelines and protocols, it’s still a moving piece, but just having virtual meetings with your [district executive committee] and getting it lined up for 10 games is the biggest thing.”

The Panthers are still on track for 10 games this season, albeit with one tweak to their non-district schedule. Originally slated to host Wylie in Week Three, East will instead renew its rivalry with former district foe Jesuit on Oct. 9 at Kimbrough Stadium.

Wylie competes in District 9-6A alongside seven Garland ISD schools — all of whom won’t be able to begin extracurricular activities until Sept. 8, forcing some changes to the Pirates’ schedule. 

“Being in that Garland district, they had to forgo some games wanting to get their district started,” McCullough said. “We picked up Jesuit and that was the only question that we had. At one time, I wasn’t sure if we’d get to play Lake Highlands, but they decided to stay on the schedule.”

With Jesuit in search of opponents for Weeks One and Three after matchups with Houston Strake Jesuit and Austin Westlake fell through, the Rangers will visit District 6-6A champion Marcus on Sept. 25 and East on Oct. 9.

“We’ve been playing Jesuit ever since I was hired here in 2014,” McCullough said. “We lost to them that first time and then again last year in what was still probably one of our better games. I like to play them. They’re pretty multiple on offense and they play hard. I think it’s a good game for us. I always like to play someone we’re a little bit familiar with as well.”

The Panthers retained the rest of their previously schedule matchups, including a Sept. 25 opener against Allen as part of the Tom Landry Classic at Eagle Stadium. The five-time state champions managed to keep their 2020 schedule intact, although head coach Terry Gambill did express some concern over the status of the team’s Oct. 2 meeting with Atascocita due to Harris County delaying in-person instruction for its public high schools until Sept. 8.

“We’re scheduled to play Atascocita, but anything could happen. Harris County has shut down, so I don’t know what the situation might be,” Gambill said. “Everything is changing daily, but right now we do have a 10-game schedule.”

Should the Eagles’ schedule go unchanged, it’ll include non-district meetings against East (home), Atascocita (home, Oct. 2), Cedar Hill (away, Oct. 9) and what was formerly known as Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler — voted on July 16 by Tyler ISD to undergo a name change. Allen begins district play Oct. 30 against McKinney Boyd.

“I just want to be able to play one game at a time and learn and grow as a football team,” Gambill said. “I want us to be able to get to that game, and we’re still a long ways out. September 25 is a long way to go, so we just have to take it one day at a time and control what we can control.”

While UIL high schools hope to play a full 10-game schedule this season, private schools like Prestonwood Christian and John Paul II will have eight games to work with this season. That’s a step up from the initial plans from the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, which revised its original layout of a six-game regular season to eight games.

“I thought they did a great job of adjusting things without totally turning things on their head,” said Chris Cunningham, Prestonwood head coach. “When you’re doing something like that, you have to be conscious of other sports and if you start moving too many dates it messes with a lot of dynamics. For them to still start on a date that everyone feels pretty good about … and work within the timeframe we have, I felt like it was tremendous.”

The Lions and Cardinals will begin their respective seasons on Sept. 25 against a pair of UIL opponents. John Paul will retain its originally scheduled opener against Lovejoy, while Prestonwood — after a brief scheduling scramble — will draw Prosper.

“I was grateful just to get a game. I just wasn’t sure if we’d be able to schedule anyone,” Cunningham said. “I was reaching out across the state since early last week and then me and (Prosper head) coach (Brandon) Schmidt ended up talking. We agreed to keep looking and if we couldn’t find anything come Monday, then we’d go ahead and lock it in.”

The Lions’ non-district schedule originally consisted of a first-time meeting with powerhouse Highland Park in Week Three. With that game falling through the cracks, Prestonwood still gets an established opponent — Prosper went 11-3 last season and advanced to the state quarterfinals — before diving into a rough-and-tumble district schedule.

“It’s a great program. They’ve done a great job there. There’s no doubt it’s a tremendous challenge but also a tremendous opportunity for us,” Cunningham said. “I’ve never backed away from playing great people and I feel like we’ve got great, competitive teams in our district. This is the kind of team we need to play in preparation for what we’ll see ahead.”

The Cardinals will enjoy a step up in competition of their own, with Lovejoy stacking up among the most credentialed non-district opponents in John Paul football history. The Leopards have qualified for the playoffs 11 of the past 12 years and have a new head coach in Chris Ross, who guided Red Oak to a combined record of 20-4 the past two seasons.

Following their respective season openers, John Paul and Prestonwood will dive into a loaded district that includes Fort Worth All Saints, Bishop Lynch, Argyle Liberty Christian, Midland Christian, Fort Worth Nolan and Parish Episcopal.

The Lions open conference action Oct. 2 against All Saints and the Cardinals meet rival Lynch that same night. Prestonwood hosts John Paul the following week on Oct. 9.

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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