CLASS 4A DIVISION II
State Semifinals

Sweetwater Mustangs (12-1)

vs.

No. 7 Gilmer Buckeyes (13-1)

7 p.m. Friday
Baylor's McLane Stadium, Waco

Coaches

  • Sweetwater: Shane Mobley
  • Gilmer: Matt Turner

Last week

Next week

  • Winner faces Navarro or West Orange-Stark, Class 4A Division II state championship game, noon Friday (Dec. 16) at the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium in Arlington

Playmakers

Sweetwater

  • QB Chris Thompson, Jr., 5-11, 165 (197 of 292, 2,750 yards, 32 TDs, 5 INTs, 112 carries, 973 rushing yards, 20 rushing TDs)
  • WR Kobe Clark, Jr., 5-11, 150 (64 catches, 1,104 yards, 12 TDs)
  • RB Jacoby Hunt, Sr., 5-9, 190 (171 carries, 1,115 yards, 11 TDs, 12 catches, 109 yards, 1 TD)
  • LB Hunter Mobley, Sr. (142 tackles, 15 for loss, 2 sacks, 6 QB pressures, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble)
  • WR/DB Keenan Cox, Sr., 6-3, 205 (67 tackles, 10 for loss, 4 sacks, 5 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble)
  •  DB Luke James, Sr. (51 tackles, 4 INTs, 3 forced fumbles)
  • OL Carlos Gallegos, Sr., 6-1, 265

Gilmer

  • QB Aaron "Poppy" Brown, Jr., 5-9, 180 (327 of 494, 4,659 yards, 46 TDs, 10 INTs; 75 carries, 318 yards, 6 TDs)
  • WR/DB LaMarcus Morton, Sr., 6-1, 185 (63 catches, 1,291 yards, 14 TDs; 31 tackles, 5 PBUs; committed to Oklahoma State)
  • WR Red Jones, Jr., 5-11, 150 (56 catches, 837 yards, 9 TDs; 25 carries, 140 yards, 3 TDs)
  • RB/LB Kelton Collier, Sr., 6-0, 218 (99 carries, 866 yards, 17 TDs; 27 catches, 303 yards, 1 TD; 84 tackles, 21 for loss, 8 sacks, 7 QB pressures)
  • LB Jeremy Kelly, Sr., 6-0, 180 (128 tackles, 19 for loss, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 4 recoveries, 2 INTs, 1 PBU)
  • S Kollin Hurt, Sr., 6-3, 185 (136 tackles, 2 for loss, 3 INTs, 9 PBUs; committed to Louisiana Tech)
  • WR/DB Qua Heath, Jr., 6-1, 160 (51 catches, 697 yards, 8 TDs; 17 tackles, 1 for loss, 2 INTs, 3 PBUs)

Just the facts

  • Friday's game will be Gilmer's first at Baylor's three-year-old McLane Stadium.
  • The contest marks the Buckeyes' third state semifinals appearance in three years. Gilmer is 1-1 in the span.
  • The Buckeyes will travel 171 miles to the playoff venue. Sweetwater is going 230 miles one-way for the game.
  • Sweetwater might be more comfortable with the travel. Its District 2-4A Division II travel frequently took it more than 100 miles in various directions within West Texas.
  • The town of Sweetwater is the virtual midway mark between Abilene and Lubbock, to give you some geographical perspective. It's 348 miles from the heart of Gilmer down U.S. Highway 271 and then straight west on Interstate 20.
  • The winner of the game will have no advantage in terms of rest time compared to Navarro or West Orange-Stark. Both semifinal games kick off at 7 p.m. Friday ahead of next Friday's noon championship game at the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium.
  • Dave Campbell's Texas Football is batting 1.000 so far toward the 4A Division II championship game. It predicted a Gilmer versus West Orange-Stark state championship game with West Orange-Stark winning the title game.
  • The magazine also predicted a Gilmer-Sweetwater state semifinal game.
Buckeyes junior quarterback Aaron "Poppy" Brown (5) is secondarily a running threat, but he's mainly the region's leading active passer with 46 touchdown throws to 10 interception. (Ruel Felipe, ETSN.fm)

Key matchup: Gilmer offensive discipline versus Sweetwater's opportunistic defense.

Teams at the state semifinal level of competition don't have many weaknesses. There's a certain precision that goes into attacking the other team when the ball is in your team's hands.

The Buckeyes have to be careful when facing the Sweetwater defense, particularly when passing the ball. Gilmer's total offensive production is just about two-to-one in favor of the pass.

Sweetwater's secondary, and its linebackers for that matter, have had a field day against the passing offenses of West Texas. The defense as a whole has 19 interceptions in 13 games played plus 13 fumble recoveries.

All of that equates to an average of 2.4 takeaways per game.

Gilmer averages 49.2 points per game to Sweetwater's 45.5 points per game. A negative turnover margin for the Buckeyes could translate into allowing a West Texas team into the Class 4A Division II state championship game for the first time since 2009.

Fortunately, there's a lot to like about Gilmer as far as passing and overall ball handling. Quarterback Aaron "Poppy" Brown has thrown 10 interceptions in 494 passing attempts, and the ground game is notoriously sure-handed.

If turnovers aren't an issue, the next problem Sweetwater presents on defense is stinginess. It allows opponents about two touchdowns per game.

In fact, Sweetwater's last three playoff opponents have been held to exactly 14 points. Those opposing offenses averaged 40.4, 38.6 and 33.5 points per game and lost by no less than 24 points.

However, all teams are vulnerable to big plays going the other way.

Watch for senior Oklahoma State commitment LaMarcus Morton to get some test runs early in the competition against the tough defense on the heels of a 174-yard and two-touchdown game against Celina. He's a speed problem against a team from a region not as highly regarded as East Texas when it comes to producing next level skill players.

Receiver Qua Heath might be the answer if Sweetwater decides it absolutely cannot afford to give up fellow Gilmer receiver LaMacrus Morton. (Ruel Felipe, ETSN.fm)

That's not to say Sweetwater can't adapt to defending speed. Just that it will probably take in-game adjustments to find the right positioning and get better control against Gilmer's most explosive player.

But if Sweetwater wants Morton as a limited-factor off the bat, that vaunted defense will have to give another matchup away. Probably the inside receiver next to Morton, which will most likely be Qua Heath.

Heath, Gilmer's third-leading receiver behind Morton and Red Jones, needs three yards to hit 700 yards on the season.

Don't be surprised if: Experience makes a difference in the state semifinal game.

Gilmer has a handful of players with state championship game experience. About half of them were on last season's state semifinalist team.

High stakes games, particularly first-time experience in a high stakes game, have a tendency to make players want to not lose first and win second. That ideology amplifies in a 40,000-seat stadium as nice and new as Baylor's, and it amplifies even more with a state championship game berth on the line.

Gilmer has been on this stage with its current players. Sweetwater has not.

Gilmer safety and Louisiana Tech commitment Kollin Hurt will start a third state semifinal game in three years Friday. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)