CLASS 4A DIVISION I
Region II Championship

Liberty-Eylau Leopards (8-5)

vs.

No. 2 Argyle Eagles (13-0)

7:30 p.m. Friday
Royse City ISD Stadium

 

Coaches
  • Liberty-Eylau: Steve Wells
  • Argyle: Todd Rodgers

 

Road to regional final

Liberty-Eylau

 

Argyle

  • Bi-district: def. Lake Worth, 70-7
  • Area: def. Kaufman, 49-13
  • Regional semifinal: def. Kennedale, 52-48

 

Next week
  • Winner faces Stephenville-Graham winner, 4A Division I state semifinal

 

Playmakers

Liberty-Eylau

  • RB Donelle Hoof, Sr., 5-6, 165 (171 carries, 1,307 yards, 11 TDs; 13 carries, 161 yards, TD)
  • QB Ke'mon Freeman, Jr., 5-10, 180 (86 of 169, 1,442 yards, 15 TDs, 13 INTs; 155 carries, 1,170 yards, 13 TDs)
  • RB Lamont Byrd, Jr., 5-8, 170 (68 carries, 493 yards, 5 TDs; 2 catches, 50 yards, TD)
  • WR Thurman Morbley, Jr., 5-11, 175 (28 catches, 468 yards, 6 TDs)
  • LB Ricky Johnson, Sr., 6-0, 230 (38 tackles, INT)
  • LB Ricardo Lockett, Sr., 5-8, 185 (97 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles)
  • DB Corey Braxton, Sr., 6-1, 155 (110 tackles, 3 INTs, 4 PBUs, forced fumble)
  • DE LaGaryon Carson, Soph., 6-5, 215 (96 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, PBU)

 

Argyle

  • RB Nick Ralston, Sr., 6-1, 236 (265 carries, 2,110 yards, 35 TDs; committed to Arizona State)
  • QB Cooper Rodgers, Sr., 5-10, 175 (133 of 216, 1,954 yards, 17 TDs, 7 INTs)
  • WR Drew Estrada, Jr., 6-0, 181 (53 catches, 960 yards, 14 TDs; 19 carries, 139 yards, TD)
  • DE David Bearden, Jr., 6-1, 240 (76 tackles, 24 for loss, 10 sacks, forced fumble, recovery)
  • WR/DB Dane Ledford, Soph. (12 catches, 239 yards, TD; 4 carries, 5 yards, 3 TDs; 74 tackles, 5 INTs, 4 PBUs, 2 forced fumbles)
  • LB Taylor Sweatt, Jr., 5-10, 192 (140 tackles, 9 for loss, 6 sacks, forced fumble, 3 recoveries, 2 PBUs)
  • LB Jacob Forrer, Jr. (85 tackles, 11 for loss, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries)
  • DE Hudson Speed, Jr. (75 tackles, 13 for loss, 5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, PBU)

 

Just the facts
  • Liberty-Eylau is in its first state quarterfinal since 2006, when the Leopards eventually won the Class 3A Division I state championship.
  • The eight wins by Steve Wells are tied for the second-most for a first-year coach at Liberty-Eylau, tying Pat Brady, who went 8-4 in 2004.
  • Prior to this season, the Leopards were 0-5 in playoff games since 2006.
  • During Liberty-Eylau's current seven-game winning streak, the Leopards are averaging 44.4 points per game. L-E put up 19.7 per game during its 1-5 start.
  • Argyle is 79-6 since the beginning of the 2009 season, and 5-3 vs. East Texas teams in the playoffs -- the losses coming to Pleasant Grove (2009), Carthage (2010) and Gilmer (2012).
  • For the season, the Eagles are averaging 51 points and 400.2 yards per game -- 239.8 rushing and 160.4 passing.
  • The cumulative record of Argyle's opponents this season is 88-65. That includes non-district wins over Abilene Wylie, Celina, Graham and Paris -- all of which reached at least the third round of this year's playoffs.
  • Argyle has had four games decided by eight point or less this season. The Eagles had two in all of last year's state championship campaign.

 

Liberty-Eylau's Donelle Hoof (right) tries to avoid the tackle of Gilmer's Kelton Collier (22) during the second half of their game Aug. 28 in Tyler. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Key matchup: Argyle rushing attack vs. Liberty-Eylau defensive front. Argyle senior running back Nick Ralston, an Arizona State commit, is the focal point of the Eagles' offense and has been for a while. He enters Friday night's state quarterfinal with 3,910 rushing yards and 66 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Ralston, a big, bruising back, has been held to less than 100 yards on four occasions this year, but Argyle won those games by an average of 48 points, so his services were not needed for the full four quarters. When the games have mattered, against the best competition, Ralston has delivered the goods. He ran for four touchdowns apiece in non-district wins over Celina and Graham, who are both still alive in the postseason. And in the last two weeks, Ralston has surpassed the 300-yard mark and run for a combined nine touchdowns. Ralston is also pretty much a one-man show when it comes to the running back spot, with 209 more carries and 29 more touchdowns than anyone else on the roster. The passing game, however, is not to be overlooked. Quarterback Cooper Rodgers in nearing 2,000 yards on the season with an average of 14.7 yards per completion, while Drew Estrada is closing 1,000 receiving yards on just 53 catches. In fact, Argyle has had more passing yards than rushing yards in six games this year.

Argyle RB Nick Ralston. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

But make no mistake. Argyle's M.O. is the ground game with a steady diet of Ralston, who's had games of 33, 46 and 38 carries; those came against three of Argyle's stiffest competitors Celina, Graham and last week against Kennedale. Most of the big chunks in the passing game are created by eight- and nine-man fronts that result in single-coverage matchups downfield. And in those instances, the defensive backs, especially at the high school level, are almost always at a disadvantage because they don't know where the route is going, and is often difficult to anticipate. While the Liberty-Eylau offense has experienced a dramatic turnaround in the production department over the last half of the season, the Leopards' defense has improved its play of late as well. L-E allowed opponents an average of 33.2 points during its 1-5 start, but during the Leopards' seven-game winning streak, they are surrendering 24.4. Liberty-Eylau's run defense has been shaky, however, in its last two wins. The Leopards gave up 367 rushing yards to Carrollton Ranchview two weeks ago, and yielded 192 yards on the ground to Paris quarterback Quez Allen last Friday night. Each of those teams featured dual-threat quarterbacks, which fortunately for L-E, is not the case this week.

Liberty-Eylau's Ke'mon Freeman escapes Gilmer's Clayton Williams during their game Aug. 28 in Tyler. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Don't be surprised if: A shootout develops. Argyle has been putting up big offensive numbers all season long, while L-E's attack is playing its best football of the year at the moment. The Eagles, historically known for a physical and hard-nosed defense, have been more vulnerable defensively this season than in past years. For the season, Argyle is allowing a respectable 21.9 points per game, but it allowed a season-high 48 points and 603 total yards (591 rushing) in last week's come-from-behind win over previously unbeaten and fourth-ranked Kennedale. The Eagles also allowed five other teams -- Abilene Wylie, Denison, Celina, Graham and Carrollton Ranchview -- to score at least 27 points. Last season, only three teams accomplished that feat. That could leave the door open for an L-E rushing attack, which mostly consists of quarterback Ke'mon Freeman and running backs Donelle Hoof and Lamont Byrd, to have a big night. Aside from Paris, Liberty-Eylau and Argyle share one common opponent: Ranchview, which rolled up 500 yards on the ground against Argyle back on Oct. 9. So while Argyle should be considered a favorite heading into the game, the opportunity exists for L-E to score enough to remain competitive.