State semifinal predictions

A week before the season began while covering the Hotter’N Hell Hundred cycling race, I was having a conversation with someone who is pretty familiar with the area sports scene.

They said they didn’t think this high school football season would be much of a special one.

While I took more of a “we’ll see” approach, I quietly disagreed with this person. I thought Munday was a state title contender, as was Throckmorton. And I thought Rider could be too.

There were some surprises of 2012, including Nocona’s 12-1 run (I thought they’d be good but couldn’t envision that) and Graham making the semifinals.

Just the fact we have three teams in the state semifinals this week – that may not be unprecedented, but I can’t remember it happening in the past 10 years. So regardless of how many teams we have playing next week at Cowboys Stadium, it has been a heck of a season.

Not onto the predictions:

* Rider vs. Lancaster – You just get the feeling this is Rider’s year. Think about this movie script:

Highly touted team loses first game of season for a small dose of reality. Then it answers with a couple exciting comeback victories. Then the stud QB goes down with knee injury. Next thing you know, more injuries are making it seem like the year might not end the way everyone thought. But wait, guys step up and game plans may be changed, but the execution is still the same. And then in its biggest game of the season, the team, playing at home, has a resounding breakthrough win.

I’m not going to act like I know a whole ton about Lancaster. They’ve got lots of athletic skill players, a couple D-I guys (ATH/DB Nick Harvey-Texas A&M and DE Daeshon Hall-Texas) and if it hasn’t changed in a decade when my little brother played against them, they’re school song is “O Christmas Tree,” which is a little weird because the Tigers’ school colors are orange and black.

Rider’s passing game will likely have to be more on point (it had big plays but not as consistent last week) and having three turnovers again won’t help. But I expect the Rider defense to bring it for the second straight week and am picking the Raiders to scratch out a low-scoring win. Maybe something like 24-21.

After all, while movies don’t always guarantee a win in the title game, they never let the team of destiny lose in the semifinals, right?

* Graham vs. Gilmer – It’s been impressive the resiliency Graham has shown in recent games against Midland Greenwood and Gatesville. A lot of teams in the Steers’ situation would be working on their jump shots right now.

Having said that, I think Graham’s margin of error is a lot less in this one. Ben Davis (who has been really good in these playoffs: 80 percent complete rate, 270 yards per game) can’t throw a pair of interceptions like he did the past two weeks. The Graham defense can’t give up more than one or two big plays against Gilmer.

I think Gilmer, which has more athleticism and tradition, will find a way to score 4-5 times. The battle I’m really interested in is strength on strength: Gilmer defense against a red-hot Graham offense.

Dillon Gonzales’ speed will cause some problems and I expect Graham to move the ball some. But I think the Buckeyes will make just a couple more plays when they need to. And with all the young talent on the field, I wouldn’t be surprised if these teams are in the same situation next year: Gilmer by 10-14. 

* Munday vs. Wellington – It’s a rematch of last year, when the Moguls scored 62 straight points for a 62-22 semifinal victory.

Now I know not to put too much emphasis on what happened a year ago. Last year, I thought Munday didn’t have a chance to get past Windthorst based on 2010 routs.

But then I watched Munday hold its own in the 2011 district loss. The biggest difference was the Moguls had the bodies up front to not get smashed by the Trojans’ line.

One important thing to mention about Wellington: The Skyrockets have an x-factor after inheriting a pretty dang good RB in Terry Gilbreath, who has scored 33 TDs. He adds another dimension to their offense. I think Wellington will be able to score more than the 8 points it had through three quarters a year ago.

But unless the Skyrockets inherited a relay team worth of speed that I don’t know about, I still expect the Moguls to break off some big plays and cause lots of problems with their defensive line. Dee Paul will get more than 10 carries in this game. That has happened three times this year — in two of those he has gone over 300 yards.

Munday has been preparing all season for a game of this magnitude and I just don’t see them laying an egg.

Maybe I’m neck-deep in all the Munday hype. Maybe I’ve seen them dominate too many times this year. Maybe I’m not giving Wellington enough credit (and for the record I think this game may be harder than next week). But I think Munday will win this game by more than three touchdowns. Give me the Moguls in the 25-30 range.

* Throckmorton vs. Abbott – I covered Throckmorton’s 78-52 semifinal win over Abbott last year and was impressed with the Panthers’ scrappiness, especially when their running back got hurt and couldn’t play much.

The Greyhounds were tied 30-30 at the half last year before pulling away, and I can see Abbott hanging around early and maybe for a while.

While Throckmorton’s run through the west was probably more mentally draining, I just can’t see a letdown by the defending state champs. Plus Mike Reed is one of the best six-man coaches around, especially when it comes to in-game adjustments.

I believe the Greyhounds will win their third state six-man title Saturday night. Let’s go with the same margin of victory from last year: 26 points.