Plano West hasn’t played the easiest of non-district schedules, dropping contests to Frisco Reedy and Flower Mound to run their losing streak to 28 games, and the going doesn't get any easier at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
West will travel to Hanby Stadium to take on a Mesquite program that's 2-0 to begin the season, as the Skeeters have dispatched Lake Highlands and Grand Prairie to open their 2019 campaign.
West head coach Tyler Soukup said his group's final non-district contest will likely hinge on the run game, both for and against the Wolves. West and senior quarterback Andrew Picco, who won the starting job out of fall camp on the back of accuracy, risk-aversion and running ability, want to control the pace of the game and manage the clock, though Mesquite and senior running back Ladarius Turner might have something to say about that. Turner had 126 yards and three scores in Week Two, so containing him will be a priority for the Wolves.
While Soukup said Picco hasn't done anything to lose his starting job, seniors Danny Davis, who saw limited action against Flower Mound last week, and Will Cannon are still very much in the mix. Soukup also hopes to continue getting more out of senior wideout and two-way player Tavarius Garland, who missed half of Week One's game with severe cramps and has been slow to be integrated into the West offense due to his duties on the defensive side of the ball.
Overall, while Soukup said he was pleased with West's ball movement a week ago, it will have to start resulting in points for Picco, senior Wyatt Johnson and company for the Wolves to put themselves in a position to win a football game. While Mesquite is no Flower Mound, the Skeeters will still provide a tall order for the still rebuilding West.
Taylor's Pick: Mesquite by 14
Plano Senior vs. Rowlett
Friday, 7 p.m. at Clark Stadium
Matt Welch: Friday marks the fourth consecutive year the Eagles and Wildcats have met, with both teams concluding their non-district campaigns against each other after two weeks of topsy-turvy results.
Plano picked up its first win of the season last week against El Paso Eastwood, 43-28, riding a second-half surge of big plays to withstand a third-quarter charge from Eastwood, which trimmed the gap to 23-20 at one point. Junior Oliver Towns threw three touchdown passes at least 24 yards deep, and junior Tylan Hines ran in a 44-yard score to help the Wildcats to a 1-1 start heading into Friday’s matchup.
Questions still loom, from Plano’s youth in the trenches to a defense that surrendered 462 yards and gave up numerous chunk plays. Up front, head coach Jaydon McCullough saw room for improvement in the line’s protections against Eastwood, as well as cleaning up some aspects of the run game. The head coach also hinted at some possible personnel changes on the horizon, which could include double duty for a few.
“Our job as coaches, hopefully by district, is to get the best players on the field on both offense and defense,” McCullough said. “There are a few kids we feel can play both ways. It’s something we’ll look at because we want to put our best product out there.”
With one game remaining until district play, the Wildcats look to iron things out Friday against Rowlett bunch simply trying to string together some forward momentum after blowout losses to Prosper and Rockwall. The Eagles have been outscored 81-14 in their two setbacks, albeit against two of the stronger Class 6A teams in the area.
The Rowlett offense has just one touchdown this season — a rushing score from dual-threat quarterback Alex Routt, who doubles as the Eagles’ leading rusher to complement his abilities through the air. The backfield is largely new, but Rowlett does have experience out wide between receivers Antonio Hull and Tre’von King, the former averaging 12.5 yards per catch and the latter already logging 12 catches in two games.
“They pretty much dictate what play they run based on how you’re lined up. We’ve got to do a good job of disguising it and getting the right personnel on the field,” McCullough said.
There’s talent up front on defense, with Jeremiah Franks and Darius Dunlap among the names to watch on Friday, but overall, defense has been a chore for Rowlett, surrendering 40.5 points and 490.5 yards per game.
“They’re very multiple. They’re pretty good on the back end covering people and mix it up a bit up front,” McCullough said. “They try to make it difficult to run the ball.”
The Eagles have won two of the past three meetings with Plano, and historically, this game has been an accurate barometer for where the Wildcats are headed entering district play. The years Plano has lost to Rowlett (2016, 2018) it has gone on to miss the playoffs — bookending a 2017 season where the Wildcats both beat the Eagles and qualified for the postseason.
It’s anybody’s guess if that trend continues this season, given the caliber of District 9-6A, but with Plano ISD sporting a collective 1-5 record this season, the Wildcats need this one for momentum’s sake.
Matt’s Pick: Plano by 4
Plano East vs. Sachse
Friday, 7 p.m. at Kimbrough Stadium
Taylor Raglin: If the Panthers are going to be competitive with Sachse, which is coming off a narrow, two-point loss to Euless Trinity in Week Two, they'll have to be better from the jump.
East managed just 10 yards of offense in the first half of its Week Two loss to Lake Highlands, eventually switching to junior transfer Dylan Hayden under center in the second half, who helped provide a spark alongside senior runner Trey Jones-Scott.
Hayden will get the nod as the starter for Friday's contest, head coach Joey McCullough said, giving the Panthers a second athletic runner to complement Jones-Scott and add an additional wrinkle to the Panther attack. That dual nature, McCullough said, needs to establish a rhythm out of the gate and help keep an East defense that's been asked to shoulder a heavy load through two weeks off the field.
Opposite those Panther stoppers is a multiple Sachse offense that McCullough said plays with significant tempo. While junior Parker Wells got the majority of the Mustangs snaps a week ago, sophomore athlete Jordan Nabors will see his own slice of action under center, particularly out of wildcat looks, giving the Mustangs a way to both get the ball in the hands of the talented sophomore and to disguise the rest of their playbook under the guise of a surefire quarterback keeper.
While Hayden showed well alongside Jones-Scott in East's loss to the Wildcats, it remains to be seen if a Hayden-led offense can string together multiple strong outings. In any case, this week should serve to show East exactly where it stands heading into District 9-6A play.
Taylor's Pick: Sachse by 10
Allen vs. Coppell
Friday, 7 p.m. at Eagle Stadium
Matt Welch: After posting back-to-back wins over state-ranked opponents Cedar Hill and Dickinson, the Eagles close out their non-district schedule against a familiar foe.
Friday’s meeting marks the sixth time in the last eight years that Allen and Coppell have squared off, with the Cowboys still holding the distinction of being the last team to defeat the Eagles in the regular season (Sept. 28, 2012).
The two sides entering Friday coming off wins, with Coppell well-versed in close games early in the season after a 33-30 loss to Sachse followed by a 17-10 win over Hurst LD Bell. They’ve done so with two different quarterbacks, deploying Jesuit transfer Kevin Shuman against Sachse and Ryan Walker against Bell.
Regardless of who suits up Friday against the Eagles, head coach Terry Gambill noted challenges for his defense include containing the Cowboys’ penchant for inside zone runs, spurred by lead back Jason Ngwu, as well as not allowing big plays through the air after the success Dickinson and Cedar Hill had on the occasional long ball. Coppell’s Anthony Black, a rangy sophomore pass-catcher who has caught all three of the Cowboys’ passing touchdowns, could test the Eagles in that capacity.
Allen’s offense has its own plight on Friday as well. Gambill said that senior quarterback Raylen Sharpe didn’t practice Monday and will be a game-time decision. If the Eagles’ signal-caller is unable to go, Gambill said the team could rotate between junior Hayden Showalter and senior Drew Cerniglia — the latter who, interestingly enough, transferred from Coppell during the offseason after quarterbacking the team in 2018. Cerniglia passed for 1,003 yards on 70.1% completions with nine touchdowns and six interceptions as a junior.
Either of the three passers will be tasked with solving a Coppell defense anchored in the middle by standout linebacker Walker Polk, as well as a secondary that Gambill noted will mix up its coverages plenty.
The Eagles’ defense has also been hit by the injury bug early into the season, with senior cornerback Savion Richardson (knee) and senior linebacker Isi Moeakiola (Achilles) ruled out for the remainder of the season.
Matt’s Pick: Allen by 27
Lovejoy vs. Frisco Memorial
Friday, 7 p.m. at Leopard Stadium
Taylor Raglin: With a win under the belt of Lovejoy's many new starters, including junior signal-caller Ralph Rucker, the Leopards will look to continue building momentum as district play begins with a matchup against an improved Memorial group.
Memorial earned the best win in the program's short history in Week One, traveling to Celina's new stadium and taking down the Bobcats, 16-14. The Warriors backed it up with a 29-point loss to Frisco Independence a week ago, though the Knights have shown signs of being a premier program in Frisco in the early going.
It's been up and down for the Warrior offense, as quarterback Charlie Flowers threw for just 85 yards in Week One, but bumped up to 203 a week ago. However, his three touchdown passes have also come against three interceptions, which could aid the Leopards and head coach Todd Ford in winning the turnover battle Friday night, an area Ford said is critical.
Also critical will be Rucker's continued transition from a "thrower" to a "passer," as Ford put it, and the continued growth of sophomore Noah Naidoo after a bit of a breakout performance in the Leopards' Week-Two win over Sulphur Springs.
With the school's bye week on the horizon, Friday is an opportunity for the Leopards to engineer some positive vibes as play in District 7-5A Division II gets underway. It's one that, despite definitive improvement from the Warriors, Rucker and the Leopards shouldn't waste.
Taylor's Pick: Lovejoy by 10