Plano East Football

Plano East head coach Joey McCullough said junior Ismail Mahdi (6) could be used all over the Panthers’ offense Friday against Jesuit, including at quarterback.

The Plano East and Plano football teams enter Friday in search of their first wins of the season. Getting them will require overtaking two teams projected to contend for a district title.

The Panthers look to put an 0-2 start to rest with a 7 p.m. kickoff from Kimbrough Stadium against longtime rival Jesuit, while the Wildcats will set up shop at Clark Stadium that same time for a meeting against a surging Lake Highlands squad.

For East, the prospect of lining up opposite the Rangers is nothing new — the Panthers have played Jesuit every year since head coach Joey McCullough was hired in 2014. East is 4-2 against the Rangers over that span, winning four straight before last year’s 34-28 loss in a game that McCullough still regarded as one of his team’s better showings of the season.

“We know what they like and they know what we like,” McCullough said. “[Jesuit head coach Brandon Hickman] likes to run a lot of power and outside zone. It’s going to be a smash-mouth game. They don’t change a lot and that’s a big reason why they’re so successful. It’s the kind of test that we need going into district.”

For the past few years, East has been tasked with slowing one of the top running backs in the country in EJ Smith. With Smith now at Stanford, the Rangers have leaned on Jake Taylor — who eclipsed 1,200 rushing yards as a junior — to anchor an offense low on experience. Taylor doubles as a threat in the pass game, leading Jesuit on the year with 13 receptions.

Defensively, the Rangers are surrendering 54 points per game, albeit against a pair of high-powered offense in Marcus and Rockwall. Both resulted in setbacks for the Rangers.

East hopes to right the ship on offense after fizzling during the second half of last week’s 42-21 loss to Lake Highlands. McCullough hinted some personnel changes could be on the way on both sides of the ball, noting that some of the Panthers’ underclassmen could see more time, including some reps behind center for sophomore quarterback Harris Boyd. McCullough said Boyd will be used every three series on Friday against Jesuit — spelling senior Dylan Hayden, who accounted for 200 yards of offense and scored two touchdowns against Lake Highlands.

East also has its work cut out on defense with injuries plaguing the unit early on. McCullough lamented the loss of senior linebacker Reese Woertink early in the team’s opener against Allen as a pivotal blow to the Panthers’ defense and anticipates East approaching Jesuit with a willingness to try players at different positions and adjust its substitution patterns to try and weather the early injury bug.

“We’re having to shake it up a little bit on the defensive side of the ball, but I just don’t think we played with the same fight and passion as we did the first week,” McCullough said. “Offensively, we have to help our defense out, maintain drives and eliminate the pre-snap penalties.”

McCullough credited Lake Highlands’ attack plenty, though — praising the work of quarterback Mitch Coulson and running back Noelle Whitehead, both of whom eclipsed 100 rushing yards against East.

Slowing those two will be top of mind for Plano, which is playing just its second game of the season after having last week’s meeting with Rowlett canceled due to a positive COVID-19 test for the Eagles. Missing out on that game shortens Plano’s timeline to prepare for the start of district play, but Friday draws another matchup against a playoff team from 2019 in the battle of Wildcats.

“The next game is the most important, no matter who it is — whether it’s the No. 1 team in the state or a team with a 30-game losing streak,” said Todd Ford, Plano head coach. “That’s the only one we can control and the challenge is to get our kids to play up to their standards this week. Obviously, the games start counting in a couple weeks but we’ve got so much to improve on with ourselves and our development. 

“There’s a lot going in and we just have to stay isolated and focused on what we need to do to improve.”

Ford lauded the heart of his players during their wild season opener, a 36-35 loss to McKinney that saw Plano rally from a 21-point deficit to seize a late lead before the Lions returned a kickoff for a touchdown and converted on a two-point try for the narrow victory.

Friday’s meeting with Lake Highlands pits two dynamic backfields opposite each other, with Coulson and Whitehead paired opposite Plano senior quarterback Oliver Towns and senior running back Tylan Hines — the latter also logging 100-plus rushing yards apiece against McKinney and combining for five touchdowns.

“I was super proud of our effort and how we stayed in it and believed. That’s a great thing and I think when we settled down and relaxed, it showed in the second half who we can potentially be,” Ford said.


Wolves look to make it 3-0 vs. Little Elm

Plano West has already doubled its win total from last season following wins over Wylie (28-10) and North Mesquite (28-14) and looks to stay unbeaten at 7 p.m. Friday when it travels to Little Elm.

The Wolves are allowing just 7.5 points per game during head coach Tyler Soukup’s second year at the helm — something he attributed to his team’s defensive depth following Friday’s win over the Stallions.

Offensively, senior Tabren Yates has shouldered the load with back-to-back 100-yard performances, but Soukup noted that he hopes to find ways to reduce his workload so as to keep the running back fresher as the game wears on. One player Soukup said could start contributing to the run game is senior linebacker Jacob Stephens.

West looks to strike that balance Friday in its last tune-up before district play. The Wolves draw a Little Elm squad making its debut as a Class 6A program and sporting a 1-1 record after splitting matchups with L.D. Bell and state-ranked North Forney.

The Lobos have the benefit of an experienced crop of returners with 17 returning starters, including 10 on offense. The continuity of that side of the ball includes quarterback John Mateer and top rusher Jason Jackson. One of the biggest surprises for Little Elm has been the growth of receiver Vashawn Thomas II, who after logging 276 receiving yards last season is already up to 180 yards and two touchdowns this year.

Little Elm, which recorded its first shutout win since October 2017 following a 37-0 win over Bell on Sept. 25, had a tougher time in last week’s 30-14 loss to the state-ranked Falcons, who benefited from a big game from Nevada commit Ty Collins, who ran for 189 yards. Look for West to deploy a similar blueprint with Yates.


Eagles draw another state-ranked foe

Allen passed its first test of the season with flying colors, cruising past state-ranked Atascocita for a 52-27 victory — a contest where Allen led 35-7 at halftime and 52-14 early in the fourth quarter.

The caliber of opponent doesn’t change, but the stylistic challenges ramp up Friday when the Eagles visit Longhorn Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff against state-ranked Cedar Hill. 

The Longhorns pose a different set of problems for a young Allen defense, particularly the plight of trying to contain Cedar Hill quarterback Kaidon Salter. The Tennessee commit made his debut with the Longhorns last season against the Eagles, fittingly enough, and tallied 342 passing yards and three touchdowns in a 43-28 loss. Allen managed to bottle up the signal-caller’s mobility, limiting Salter to just 16 yards on the ground.

Salter went on to amass an MVP campaign in arguably the toughest district in the area and returns alongside Cedar Hill’s second-leading rusher Kevin Young Jr., who averaged more than 8 yards per carry last year. The Longhorns are young both up front and out wide, but got a big game from receiver Anthony Thomas IV, who matched his entire 2019 reception total with a seven-catch, 110-yard effort in a 28-21 win over state-ranked Arlington.

Defensively, Cedar Hill has seven players back who earned all-district honors last season, led by a talented linebacker corps of Jahleim Lowe, Stefan Ingram and Demari Ward. That unit helped limit Arlington to just 210 yards.

Expect Allen to challenge the Longhorn defense a bit more after compiling 530 yards against Atascocita. The Eagles’ offense didn’t lack in explosion, producing six pass plays of at least 30 yards gained between seniors Blaine Green, Bryson Green and Touray Green. Senior quarterback General Booty completed his first 11 passes en route to 260 yards and three touchdowns to pace a 2-0 start.

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

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