Plano East Dylan Hayden

Plano East senior Dylan Hayden and the Panthers will try and come away with their first win of the season Friday when they welcome Hebron to Kimbrough Stadium.

After a week to heal up and reset, Plano ISD and the rest of District 6-6A take to the gridiron this week for the beginning of their conference schedule.

The three PISD schools are making the move back to 6-6A to rekindle old rivalries with Lewisville and forge new ones with Coppell. Several of those schools will be making the trip to Plano this week, with Plano West hosting Lewisville on Thursday, followed by a pair of Friday matchups that include Hebron visiting Plano East and Plano welcoming Coppell.

“The kids realize what’s at stake and that it all starts to count this week,” said Joey McCullough, East head coach. “I’m still excited about this football team, and it’s a good district. But I think we can play with everybody.”

The Panthers are still in search of their first win of the season at 0-3, albeit on the heels of maybe the toughest non-district schedule in McCullough’s tenure. East dropped bouts against state-ranked Allen, plus Lake Highlands and Jesuit — three physical matchups that McCullough hopes will have his players ready for the caliber of competition in 6-6A.

While East used the bye week as a chance to reflect and clean up issues that have marred the team’s start so far, namely penalties, the team anticipates some reinforcements up front for Friday’s game against Hebron, including the returns of seniors Mark Folorunso and Emem Udo on the offensive line.

Defensively, McCullough felt like that unit “turned a corner” in their 23-17 loss to Jesuit — a game where the Panther shut out the Rangers in the second half. 

They’ll have to pick up where they left off should East hope to find the win column for the first time Friday against a Hebron team that’s battled absences of its own to start the season. The Hawks are 1-1 and last picked up a win over Northwest Eaton, 31-7, despite missing nearly half of its starters on offense, including quarterback Weston Conaway and top receiver Nick Frazier.

Instead, Hebron has turned to Jacob Buniff to manage an efficient, short pass game while riding the duo of Jalon Wilson and Brandon Love in the backfield. Even without Frazier, the Hawks are deep at receiver with Takoda Bridges, Cobye Baldwin and Nick Harris.

As that unit continues to grow, Hebron’s defense fueled the lopsided win over Eaton — forcing five turnovers — and held the Eagles’ stout run game to less than 1.5 yards per carry. 

“There are playoff teams all the way around in this district,” McCullough said. “There may not be as much room between the top and bottom, but there are plenty of good teams in this district that can compete and fare well to get you ready for the playoffs.”

Hebron fits that bill, having qualified for the postseason eight of the past 10 years, and the other 6-6A programs visiting Plano have similar aspirations.

Lewisville has turned a corner with its program under head coach Michael Odle and has qualified for the playoffs each of the past two seasons — the Farmers’ first back-to-back postseason appearances since 2007 — and is off to a 2-1 start behind one of the area’s most explosive offenses. Lewisville has Division I talent all over in quarterback Taylen Green, a Boise State commit, and top receiver Armani Winfield, a four-star prospect, while junior Damien Martinez has blossomed into one of the area’s elite running backs. Martinez leads the Metroplex with 599 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in just three games.

It’ll present the stiffest test for a resurgent Plano West defense that exited its preseason schedule allowing only 12.3 points per game. The Wolves are led in the middle by senior Jacob Stephens, a Lamar commit.

West will be looking to bounce back from its first loss of the season, a 23-9 setback against Little Elm where the Wolves were outscored 16-0 in the second half.

“Even in defeat, I thought our skill kids grew more than any group out there,” said Tyler Soukup, West head coach. “We were making plays with our skill kids in the passing game that we weren’t making in the first two games.”

Senior quarterback Greg Draughn completed as many passes against Little Elm (17) as he attempted in the Wolves’ first two games combined, and that element could prove crucial as West runs up against some of the district’s elite offenses akin to Thursday’s matchup with the Farmers.

Plano, meanwhile, will try and slow another potent group when Coppell visits Clark Stadium on Friday. The Wildcats are 0-2 under first-year head coach Todd Ford, with losses to McKinney and Lake Highlands materializing behind a pair of gaudy halftime deficits. Plano looks to avoid a similar fate against a Coppell squad that’s averaging 38 points per game. 

For all the newness to the Wildcats’ offense under Ford, the Cowboys are beaming with continuity behind quarterback Ryan Walker, running back Jason Ngwu and receiver Anthony Black, and have seamlessly worked in dynamic pass-catcher KJ Liggins, a Denton Guyer transfer who leads the team with 370 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

On defense, Zach Stricker leads the Cowboys in both tackles (30) and interceptions (two) to begin the year.

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

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