No. 8 Waco La Vega Pirates
vs.
Palestine Wildcats

7:30 p.m. Friday
Wildcat Stadium
Coaches
La Vega: Willie Williams
Palestine: Lance Angel
Next week
La Vega: vs. Hutto
Palestine: at Jacksonville
Playmakers
La Vega
  • RB Randy Gober, Sr., 5-9, 189
  • RB Javon Arnett, Jr.
  • LB Jimmie Gamble, Sr.
  • RB Ayorinde Gibson, Jr.
  • DB Emilio Ortegon, Soph.
  • DT D'Andra Minnitt, Sr.
  • DT Shaquille Walker, Sr.
Palestine
  • RB Darrius Stephens, Sr., 5-10, 160
  • CB Ivory Brown, Sr., 6-0, 180
  • ATH Brian Gummelt, Jr., 5-9, 170
  • WR Paul Barksdale, Sr., 5-8, 170
  • OLB Jadarius Beasley, Sr., 5-10, 170
  • DT Walter Sheridan, Sr., 6-0, 260
  • OG Eric Gonzales, Jr., 6-0, 284
  • OT Brian Thlang, Jr., 6-1, 280
Just the facts
  • La Vega held opponents to 15.8 points per game last season. The Pirates allowed no more than 27 points all season.
  • La Vega outscored opponents 409-189 last season, which is an average of 18.3 points per game.
  • Palestine averaged 33.0 points per game in 2011, while yielding 26.9.
  • La Vega knocked out Palestine in last year's Class 3A Division I Region III bi-district round in a 35-21 Pirate win.
  • Palestine is aiming for its first back-to-back winning seasons since 2005-06, when the Wildcats went 8-3 and 9-3, respectively. The 2006 campaign finished a run of four consecutive winning seasons that saw Palestine go 37-11.
  • Palestine tailback Darrius Stephens averaged 6.9 yards per carry in 2011, when he rushed for 1,005 yards and 10 touchdowns.
  • La Vega tailback Randy Gober rushed for 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.

Key matchup: La Vega's ground attack vs. Palestine's defense. La Vega has proven in the past it can control the ball, and with what appears to be a fleet of tailbacks led by Randy Gober, the Pirates will probably do that again in 2012. Palestine must get big games from players such as defensive tackle Walter Sheridan and linebacker Jadarius Beasley, who will be leaned on to help the Wildcats combat La Vega's wearing offense. Palestine's ground game is stout, too, so the fight for rushing supremacy will go both ways Friday night in Palestine.

Don't be surprised if: Palestine and La Vega show why this matchup was included in ETSN.fm's Top 25 Games of the Year Countdown. Their first-round playoff contest last season was closer than the two-touchdown margin indicated, and Palestine should be even better in 2012 with 15 returning starters, eight of which are on defense. But, La Vega has eight returning starters on each side of the ball. With that many veterans back for both teams, Palestine and La Vega should play more mistake-free than most teams would during the first game of the season. That can only be good for fans, who should expect a close game decided by which team can win the ground battle.