Texas City, Texas–Since the UIL mandated that each district send 4 teams to the playoffs a few years back, some critics felt it would water down the playoffs and take what in their view was an a generous system already to level where it’d be detrimental to the game.
One glance District 24-4A and one might think there aren’t enough teams allowed into the playoffs.
24-4A has three of the remaining four teams left in the playoffs of 4A Region III (Manvel, Friendswood, and La Marque) and all will be playing this weekend in the UIL 4A Region III championships of both Division I and Division II. If not for a touchdown in the last minute in a 24-20 Area Semifinal (third round) victory by Montgomery against Pearland Dawson last Saturday, the district would have had all four of it’s playoff participants in the regional finals, though not to the surprise to the district’s coaches. Tim Finn, head coach of Texas City, felt it was “really good competition” every game.
“Everybody talked about the strength of our district before the year started and this just kind of confirmed what we said,” said Texas City head coach Tim Finn, whose team finished 5-5 (2-4). “It puts the talk to rest and really establishes how strong the district was.”
The talk before the year was that the district would be among the strongest in any classification. With 5 playoff teams from the previous season thanks to realignment, many predicted that it would be impossible to navigate undefeated through every school and that each team would provide a tough game. Aside from a local sports editor’s pick of Galveston Ball to win the district which proved to be highly erroneous, the district shaped up to be just as people thought it would be (and I can poke fun at Josh–I know him).
“24-4A is the toughest district in the state of Texas,” La Marque head coach Darrell Jordan said. “There’s some good teams sitting at home that could have also made some noise as well as the rest of us and it speaks highly of our competition and our coaches.”
La Marque was defeated by one of those teams, Texas City, 43-33 on October 15. The Stings moved into solid playoff position as they improved to 5-2 and 2-1 in the district but surprisingly for the Stings, who also defeated 5A Area Round finalist Dickinson in Week 1, it would be their last win of the season as they dropped their final three games.
One of the teams that caused the late slide was Santa Fe, who defeated the Stings 42-0 in Week 9. The Indians were also the only team to defeat Friendswood thus far this season in their 21-20 upset in Week 8. The Indians, who were led by stud running back Joseph Walton, only allowed 115 points (11.5 points per game) and were playing as good as anyone in the Houston area when the season ended.
Unfortunately for Santa Fe, their season likely hinged on two games in district. The first of which was when they fell short in overtime against Dawson in the district opener before they fell victim to the turnovers and miscues that likely cost them dearly in a 35-14 loss to La Marque the following week on October 1 in which they outgained the Cougars 439-392 and had 11 more first downs than them.
“Santa Fe had a playoff team last year and had the bulk of their team returning, so they weren’t overlooked by anybody,” Finn said.
With one exception in general, there were no easy teams to play against in 24-4A and the coaches knew it each and every week.
“”It was a war zone because every week you had to bring your ‘A’ game and any of them could beat you on any given night,” said Manvel head coach Kirk Martin. “It’s a tribute to all the coaches and players in 24-4A.”
Because of dynamic players such as Dawson’s Marcus Vaughn, La Marque’s Tim Wright, Walton of Santa Fe, Dexter Foreman of Manvel, and Pete Maetzoid of Friendswood, it was a nightmare for coaches to figure out how to stop or even slow down all the dynamic offenses.
“There’s no way to simulate that speed or talent in practice until Friday night comes along,” said Santa Fe head coach Jay Buckner in an October 22 article of the Galveston County Daily News.
Finn agreed, and said that during the season he and the other of the coaches would be humored how when they traded film with opposing teams one game before playing them, they’d get worried about that opponent as opposed to one they were about to play. He thought that any win was a big win and very rewarding because of the challenge of beating such good teams and players.
“We all said ‘my God, we have you next week?’
“You trade film 10 days in advance and while you’re getting ready for the next opponent, you’re trading film with the next team and everybody goes ‘oh my God, I’ve got to get ready for that one after we get done with this one?'”
In addition, because of the tight knit geography as well as the important nature of some of the games between the teams over the years, fans, players, and coaches all know each other very well and it added to the intensity.
Even Ball fits into the description for the most part despite being a newcomer to the district and after years of playing with most of the current schools in 24-5A because of it’s huge rivalries with La Marque and Texas City.
“I think almost every one of our district games is a rivalry,” Dawson head coach Eric Wells said in a Friendswood Journal article from September 30th. “The only exception might be Ball, but I’ve been playing them ever since I’ve been coaching at Pearland and La Marque.”
Speaking of Ball, the downgrade from Class 5A to 4A didn’t seem to help them very much given the fact they finished 1-9 (0-6) and only came close to defeating an injury/suspension plagued La Marque team in district play. Finn felt their inability to play at a high level after returning most of their core that went to the playoffs as a 5A team spoke greatly of the level of competition.
“It’s an example of how strong the 4A district is around here,” Finn said.
Tomorrow, Friendswood will take on Montgomery in the 4A Division I Region III championship game at Rice Stadium at 7 p.m. while La Marque will take on Manvel for Division II Region III championship at 2 pm in Angelton. The winners will play the Cedar Park-Lake Travis and Boerne Champion winners respectively.
*=Division I Playoff Team
**=Division II Playoff Team