Props for the coaches at Allen and Grayson: It’s never easy to take over a high school football team, even very successful ones like Allen, Texas, and Grayson (Loganville, Ga.,) and propel them deep into the playoffs. Allen coach Terry Gambill and Jeff Herron are the rare exceptions. Before taking over at Allen this season, Gambill was the coach at Midway (Waco) but well known to the Eagles as an assistant there from 2001 to 2009, including several years as former coach Tom Westerberg’s defensive coordinator. There are plenty of advantages of coaching at Allen, including a dedicated fan base and a huge talent pool as the largest high school in the state, but those benefits also bring huge expectations and the No. 5 Eagles (14-0) under Gambill have met those heading into a 6A-I semifinal Saturday with The Woodlands. Because of an influx of talented transfers and a difficult national schedule, there was a lot of pressure on No. 10 Grayson (10-1), but Jeff Herron got all of that talent to not only play together, but to improve as the season went on. To get his fifth state title and to become the only Georgia coach to win titles at three different schools (Oconee County, Camden County and possibly Grayson), Herron and his Rams will have to beat No. 8 Roswell in Saturday’s AAAAAAA state championship. The Hornets ended Grayson’s season last year with a 30-26 state semifinal win. Grayson has eight seniors in ESPN’s Top 300, led by defensive backs and all-purpose athletes D’Angelo Gibbs and Jamyest Williams. Roswell has four seniors in the Top 300 list, including its own talented defensive backfield-athlete combo in Xavier McKinney and LeAnthony Williams.
The Pennsylvania champion will be familiar: No. 13 St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia) has won two of the past three 4A state titles, but on Saturday, the Hawks play defending 4A champion Central Catholic (Pittsburgh) for the 6A title in Hershey. The teams last met in 2013, when St. Joseph’s took a 12-7 win in the 4A state championship. It’s unlikely the score will be that low again, as both teams are averaging more than 40 points a game. Central Catholic (14-1) has won 14 in a row since losing its opener to then-ranked St. John’s College (Washington, D.C.), and the Vikings have won four state titles since 1988. The Hawks (13-0) have the highest-rated senior in the state in running back D’Andre Swift, who has committed to Georgia.
No. 22 Edna Karr and Neville play for the 4A title, again: Last season, Neville (Monroe, La.) beat Edna Karr (New Orleans) 45-26 in the state championship game. The teams, both 13-0, meet again Saturday in the Superdome for the championship. This will be the fifth time in the past seven years the teams have met for the 4A title. Neville has tradition on its side with 12 state titles to two for the Cougars and a 3-1 record over Edna Karr. However, this season the Cougars have been dominant. They hold an impressive 61-13 defeat of Warren Easton (New Orleans), a team that lost 26-13 to the Tigers. The key will be whether Edna Karr continues its stout defense that has held every opponent since the fourth week to 14 points or less.
No. 6 St. Thomas Aquinas has been on a roll: The Raiders, since losing in 25-24 in overtime on Oct. 1 to No. 1 Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), have won eight games in a row, including a 4-0 playoff run where they have outscored opponents 168-18. On Friday in Orlando, Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale) plays Plant (Tampa) for the 7A state title. Aquinas is seeking its third consecutive state title and 10th overall. The Raiders may be the best 11-2 team in the country. Plant is 13-0 and has won four state titles since 2006. The only time in five trips to the finals that the Panthers lost is in 2010 to Aquinas.
Can No. 24 Dutch Fork top Fort Dorchester again?: Dutch Fork (Irmo, S.C.) plays Dorchester (North Charleston) on Friday for the Lower State 5A title, essentially a state semifinal. When the Silver Foxes (13-0) took out Dorchester 35-23 on Sept. 1, Dorchester (12-1) was the defending state champion, top-ranked team in the state and No. 15 in the Super 25. Dutch Fork’s defense, which has allowed only 13 points a game, will look to apply pressure to Patriots quarterback Dakereon Joyner, who threw four touchdown passes in last season’s state championship win.