Eric Tenison and West Mesquite will face a tough road to the playoffs when the 7-5A Division I season gets started next week.

The 7-5A Division I playoff race did not lack for drama a year ago.

While McKinney North’s high-powered offense allowed the Bulldogs to go undefeated en route to the district title, the middle of the standings was bunched.

In fact, it was just one result shy of finishing in a five-way tie for second place.

Poteet was able to do enough to secure second place with a 4-2 record, while West Mesquite, despite a win over the Pirates, was just off the pace in sixth at 2-4.

That left Tyler, Texarkana Texas High and Sherman deadlocked at 3-3 with the Lions and Tigers getting the playoff spots due to tiebreakers.

This season has been a unique one due to the COVID-19 pandemic and every team has had to adjust on the fly.

The new realignment also brought about some changes to the landscape, and if anything, the road to the top of the district became a lot more difficult.

West Mesquite bids farewell to rival Poteet for the first time in their 31-year history, as the Pirates dropped down to Division II, as did Texas High.

In their place, the district welcomes a pair of perennial powerhouses in Highland Park and Longview.

The Scots went 11-2 last season, ending their run of three consecutive state championships.

The Lobos went 11-1 and are just two years removed from winning the Class 6A Division 2 state title in 2018.

Given those recent pedigrees, they instantly became the new favorites in the district, while the other quintet tries to forge out their own place in the 7-5A Division I hierarchy.

Here is a look at the field:

West Mesquite (0-3)

The Wranglers have a new head coach in Frank Sandoval, who takes over after leading Mexia to a pair of playoff berths in three seasons.

West Mesquite made the playoffs 10 out of 11 years from 2006 to 2016, but have not been back in the postseason since.

If they are to break that drought, they will be relying on some new faces, particularly on offense, and they will also look to build confidence after a 0-3 start.

The Wranglers have used a pair of different quarterbacks through the opening weeks, with sophomore Craig Dale taking a majority of the snaps.

There is talent at the skill positions. Briceson Walker has had some good moments in the running game.

Junior D’Erian Mitchell flashed his potential last season, finishing second on the team with 19 receptions for 311 yards and four touchdowns. Mitchell was also called upon out of the backfield, where he had 34 carries for 141 yards, while senior Cornelius Piper recorded 11 catches for 150 yards and a score.

West Mesquite’s defense should be an improved unit with eight returning starters.

That group is led by junior defensive end Trevion Mitchell, who was among the most active players off the edge last season.

The Wranglers also return key pieces in the linebacker corps with senior Jose Torres and in the secondary with cornerback Clivarion Walker, who can also play offense.

West Mesquite has had its chances in a pair of single-digit losses. It will have one more tune-up on Friday against Keller Timber Creek before beginning the district slate on the road at Longview on Oct. 23.

Highland Park (1-0)

The Scots had their first two games cancelled due to COVID-19 and just took the field for the first time a week ago, where they had a successful debut, putting up more than 500 yards in a 42-36 win over Coppell.

Quarterback Brayden Schager flashed his potential in a back-up role last season and looks like the next in a line of standout signal callers, as he threw for 325 yards and a pair of touchdowns and also rushed for two scores.

The ground game used a trio of primary rushers in Christian Reeves, Anthony Ghobriel and Brooks Bond, while Crockett Corwin had a big day on the outside with five catches for 115 yards and a pair of scores.

On defense, Highland Park features a pair of all-district linebackers with Patrick Turner and Marshall Landwehr, but they did give up more than 400 yards to Coppell’s talented offense last week.

Longview (2-1)

The Lobos had only one regular season loss in their last three seasons combined, so it was a little surprising when Temple got the best of them in Week 1.

Longview has since bounced back with solid victories over Marshall and Tyler Legacy.

The Lobos have a few more questions than normal with only seven returning starters.

Longview has used a pair of quarterbacks in sophomores Landyn Grant and Jordan Allen and each has flashed some potential.

Senior running back Kaden Meredith rushed for 1,646 yards and 20 touchdowns last season and is on pace to put up similar numbers, while sophomore wide receiver Jalen Hale is also off to a good start.

Defensively, Longview returned first-team all-district linebacker Kybrien Jackson-Jamerson, as well as all-district performers with tackle Joe Jones and defensive backs Tyree Hale and Shannon Jackson.

Tyler (0-2)

The Lions started the season with losses to Texarkana Texas High and Tyler Legacy before having last week’s game cancelled.

Quarterback Ken’yontae Pinkard has completed 53.7 percent of his passes for 547 yards and three touchdowns and has also rushed for three scores.

Kameron Medlock leads the team in rushing with 24 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown, while a pair of sophomores have impressed at the receiver position with Makavion Potts (13-259, TD) and Montrell Wade (8-194, 2 TDs).

The defense has taken some lumps, but there is talent with all-district lineman LaTravion Hawkins and defensive backs Travion Ates and Keelan Erwin.

It has not always been pretty, as was the case last year when they went 3-7 in making the playoffs, but the Lions have qualified for the postseason in 11 of the last 12 years.

McKinney North (0-2)

The Bulldogs are coming off arguably their best season in school history, as they went 10-2 and captured their first outright district championship.

That group was successful by putting up a lot of points and they will need that again after giving up big numbers against Justin Northwest (63-49) and Marshall (48-22).

McKinney North graduated record-setting quarterback Dillon Markiewicz, but Gavin Constantine has been solid, throwing for 204 yards and a pair of touchdowns last week.

Jayden Smith rushed for 600 yards and six touchdowns and is off to a solid start.

The difference maker is wide receiver J.J. Henry. After catching 60 passes for 1,214 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago, Henry has continued to shine, hauling in five receptions for 167 yards and a pair of scores in their last outing.

The defense does return seven starters, including district newcomer of the year lineman Dylan Frazier.

Sherman (1-2)

The Bearcats started the season with losses to Denison (41-23) and Mt. Pleasant (24-7) before taking out their frustrations on Saginaw last week in a 62-0 rout.

Sherman returned seven offensive starters, including quarterback Tate Bethel, who threw for 1,935 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.

There is a host of talent on the outside with Sean Husband, Elijah Chapman, Jacoby Hunt and Benji Omayebu, who can be a factor as a receiver and in the backfield.

There are questions on defense, where Sherman returned only three starters and just one all-district performer in linebacker Mathias Coleman.

Wylie East (1-1)

The Raiders won just two games last season but have split thus far, bouncing back from a 49-6 loss to Mt. Pleasant with a 42-18 win over Irving Nimitz.

However Wylie East had last week’s game and its upcoming game cancelled due to COVID-19, meaning they will have had three weeks off when the open district against Sherman.

The Raiders have a proven running back in Christian Johnson, who rushed for 676 yards and six touchdowns last season and sophomore T.J. Washington showed he can do several different things last year as he was named district offensive newcomer of the year.

Wylie East returns six players on defense, as well, but they will be looking for playmakers to emerge after not having a single player selected to the all-district team a year ago.

For continued coverage on the local sports scene, follow Devin Hasson on Twitter: @DevinHasson

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