Better Weather Could Help West Rusk Give Waskom A Run For State Semifinals Berth
CLASS 4A DIVISION I QUARTERFINAL
West Rusk Raiders (12-1)
Waskom Wildcats (13-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday
Lobo Stadium, Longview
- West Rusk: John Frazier
- Waskom: Whitney Keeling
- Winner faces winner between Henrietta and Idalou, state semifinals
- QB Dee Starling, Sr., 6-2, 190 (95 of 154, 1,801 passing yards, 27 TDs, 7 INTs, 33 carries, 245 yards, 1 TD)
- RB Nick Ballard, Sr., 5-10, 220 (292 carries, 2,165 yards, 19 TDs)
- WR/DB Breyon Thurman, Sr., 6-4, 165 (25 catches, 678 yards, 11 TDs; 59 tackles, 3 INTs)
- WR/DB D.J. Hicks, Sr., 5-9, 160 (36 catches, 647 yards, 8 TDs, 78 carries, 642 yards, 4 TDs; 42 tackles, 1 INT)
- LB Joe Wright, Sr., 6-0, 225 (201 tackles, 13 for loss, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 4 forced fumbles)
- LB Vaughn Liedtke, Sr., 6-0, 220 (156 tackles, 6 for loss, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
- LB Jacob Waller, Jr., 5-11, 190 (140 tackles, 9 for loss, 1 fumble recovery)
- WR/DB Kevin Jones, Jr., 6-3, 175 (33 catches, 429 yards, 7 TDs; 114 tackles, 10 INTs, 2 forced fumbles)
- DL Matthew Davidson, Soph., 5-6, 220 (73 tackles, 13 for loss, 1 INT, 3 forced fumbles)
- RB/LB Chan Amie, Sr., 5-11, 175 (185 carries, 1,980 yards, 31 TDs, 5 catches, 100 yards, 2 TDs; 166 tackles, 41 for loss, 8 sacks, 3 fumbles forced)
- LB Mike Reason, Sr., 5-8, 170 (148 tackles, 32 for loss, 4 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 1 safety)
- WR/DB Eric Stephens III, Sr., 5-8, 150 (20 catches, 488 yards, 8 TDs)
- RB/DB Keileon Johnson, Sr., 5-10, 165 (108 tackles, 47 for loss, 7 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 INT)
- QB Dylan Harkrider, Sr., 6-3, 180 (21 of 101, 1,010 yards, 18 TDs, 3 INTs, 107 carries, 549 yards, 7 TDs)
- WR/LB Lucas Norton, Sr., 5-8, 160 (9 catches, 176 yards, 3 TDs, 60 carries, 591 yards, 6 TDs)
Just the facts
- Friday's Class 3A Division II state quarterfinal game features two teams from District 8, guaranteeing that East Texas will be represented in the state semifinal round.
- As district opponents, Waskom and West Rusk met Oct. 23 amid awful weather conditions. The Wildcats won, 40-0, in New London.
- Waskom's victory gave it the district championship in favor of West Rusk, which finished second within the league.
- West Rusk linebacker Joe Wright claimed the East Texas lead in tackles in the team's win against Paul Pewitt last week. He has 201 tackles through 13 games.
- Wildcats linebacker Chan Amie is the second-leading active tackler. He has 166 takedowns.
- Amie pulls double duty as Waskom's primary running back. He has 1,980 yards, making him fifth-leading active East Texas rusher.
- Raiders running back Nick Ballard is the region's top active running back with 2,165 yards.
- Ballard needs eight carries to eclipse 300 rush attempts this season.
- Waskom has its own statistical leader. Defensive lineman Keileon Johnson has a region-best 47 tackles for loss. Amie is second with 43 tackles for loss.
- West Rusk quarterback Dee Starling has not thrown an interception in the postseason.
- The Raiders' senior class never enjoyed more than a three-win season prior to this year, making this playoff run extra special.
- Waskom owns a 28-game winning streak with two wins against West Rusk in the process. Only Gilmer has a longer streak, 29 games, within the region.
- The Wildcats are seeking their third straight trip to the state semifinals.
Key matchup: Waskom's defensive front versus West Rusk's running game.
Almost everything went Waskom's way when the two teams last met on Oct. 23. But West Rusk enters the state quarterfinals with an elite Class 3A Division II defense that will be kept in its best condition if, and only if, the Raiders can sustain their drives.
This is a big game for senior running back Nick Ballard. He ran for 95 yards against Waskom a month and some odd days ago in a game shortened by a running clock in the fourth quarter, but West Rusk struggled to sustain its drives from the get-go. If Ballard has a good day running the ball, the Raiders will be in much better position to not only produce offensively but also limit the damage Waskom two-way star Chan Amie will do going the other way.
Running against the Wildcats is easier said than done though. Amie and fellow linebacker Mike Reason won All-State honors last season and the front is further strengthened by defensive lineman Keileon Johnson, a safety on last seasons state championship team, at the end position.
As a team, Waskom has 250 tackles for negative yardage -- headlined by Johnson's 47 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
West Rusk will need to be innovative to work over the Wildcats' front. That being said, a new dimension has opened for this game.
Don't be surprised if: The Raiders' passing game gives Waskom a new dynamic to worry about. The Oct. 23 game between the two teams was marred by heavy rain. The meeting was delayed twice due to lightning and halftime was eliminated because it was nearly 11 p.m. by the time the second quarter expired -- which limited adjustment time in what was already a 20-0 game. Most importantly, neither team could pass effectively. West Rusk completed zero of eight passes.
Raiders quarterback Dee Starling has nearly doubled his passing numbers since the Waskom game and will be trying to get close to 2,000 yards this season through the air Friday. Weather is forecasted to be as good as it gets for a December game. If Starling clicks with key receivers D.J. Hicks and Breyon Thurman, the trio will open up things for the running game without asking Ballard to deliver a performance out of the ordinary -- 7.4 yards per carry and 166.5 yards per game.