By the next time all three Plano ISD football teams take the field, business will have officially picked up.
Next week marks the beginning of the District 6-6A football schedule, with PISD, as well as Coppell and the four Lewisville ISD schools vying for one of four playoff spots in the conference. All eight programs concluded their non-district schedules last week, with all but Plano and Hebron playing their entire three-game preseason docket.
Plano West emerged from the rubble with the city’s top overall record at 2-1, while Plano East and Plano both went winless on respective clips of 0-3 and 0-2. Win-loss records are white noise, however, and all eight teams will be on the same playing field at 0-0 when the district slate kicks off on Oct. 22.
Beforehand, let’s take stock in what the first three weeks have revealed on the PISD gridiron.
On one hand, the Panthers’ offense has moved the ball at a robust 410 yards per game — a figure that currently ranks third in the district behind the high-octane units at Lewisville (587.7) and Marcus (416).
But despite the gaudy yardage totals, East is averaging just 21.3 points per game. For comparison’s sake, although the Panthers’ total yardage isn’t far behind reigning 6-6A champion Marcus, the Marauders are averaging 41.3 points per game.
East has impressed with its efforts on the ground, sporting two threats out of the backfield in senior quarterback Dylan Hayden and junior running back Ismail Mahdi who have the ability to eclipse 100 rushing yards on any given night. Mahdi doubles as Hayden’s most productive target through the air so far, catching 13 balls for 198 yards.
Mahdi and Hayden are a big reason why East’s per-game rushing clip is among the better marks in the area at 231 yards per game, but sustaining that production into the second half has been challenging. The Panthers have scored just 10 points in the second half of their past two games — seven resulting from a defensive touchdown by linebacker Austin Weeks.
To be fair, East played the most challenging non-district schedule of the three PISD schools — lining up bouts with Allen, Lake Highlands and Jesuit. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see two of those three hoisting district championships by regular season’s end.
The Panthers’ second half against Jesuit could be something to build off defensively, however. One week removed from getting hemorrhaged over the final two quarters against Lake Highlands, East pitched a shutout in the second half against the Rangers and found itself in position to potentially win the game late.
That could make for an intriguing district opener against Hebron, as the Hawks have been shorthanded on offense to begin the season.
The Wildcats exit the preseason in search of their first win under new head coach Todd Ford. Suffering losses to McKinney (36-35) and Lake Highlands (42-24), which bookend a canceled meeting in Week Two against Rowlett, the Wildcats have endured a similar plight in each contest.
In two games, Plano’s average halftime deficit has been 19.5 points — against McKinney, the Wildcats didn’t score until the closing moments of the first half and trailed, 21-7, at the break, and an all-out barrage by Lake Highlands sunk Plano into a 42-17 deficit through two frames.
Plano orchestrated an improbable rally against McKinney, holding the Lions to one offensive touchdown and just 75 yards over the final two quarters — all while firing off a 28-point second half to seize a 35-28 lead late in the fourth quarter. Senior quarterback Oliver Towns and senior running back Tylan Hines piloted the resurgent effort, with both eclipsing 100 yards on the ground and exuding the dynamism of a Ford-led offense.
However, a special teams breakdown ultimately kept Plano away from the win column.
The Wildcats couldn’t muster a similar comeback against a Lake Highlands team that’s producing at an offensive clip similar to teams like Marcus, Lewisville and Coppell — all of whom are on deck as three of Plano’s first four district opponents.
The schedule won’t afford Plano much time to correct its slow starts, but the experience of the Towns-Hines backfield should still be enough to keep defenses honest.
Not long removed from a 34-game losing streak, the Wolves mustered plenty of feel-good vibes following a 2-0 start with wins over Wylie (28-0) and North Mesquite (28-14). Early on, defense has been the story for West, holding those two teams under 205 yards of offense thanks to a deep front seven and riding a brutish run game led by senior Tabren Yates.
The other shoe dropped against Little Elm, however. The Lobos loaded up against the run and lured the Wolves out of their comfort zone. After totaling just 17 passes against the Pirates and Stallions, West went to the air with senior quarterback Greg Draughn 34 times against Little Elm.
That’s an area of their repertoire that will need to progress as the district schedule gets underway, particularly with a front-loaded foursome of Lewisville (587.7 yards, 50.3 points per game), Coppell (38 points per game), East (410 yards per game) and Marcus (416 yards, 41.3 points per game) to kick off the Wolves’ 6-6A slate.
Against offenses that explosive, deficits are inevitable, and West’s ability to produce through the air will be paramount if it hopes to keep pace.
Despite their 1-9 record last season, the Wolves took pause in spirited efforts against teams like Plano and McKinney — games head coach Tyler Soukup felt were plenty winnable for his club.
Lapses in execution doomed West late in those games, and some of those pratfalls helped Little Elm seize momentum in last week’s 23-9 loss.
How many chances they’ll be afforded to exorcise those woes during district play remains to be seen.