PREVIEW: Waskom Eyes Back-to-Back State Titles + Faces Franklin For 3A D-II Crown
CLASS 3A DIVISION II CHAMPIONSHIP
Waskom Wildcats (15-0)
Franklin Lions (15-0)
8 p.m. Thursday
NRG Stadium, Houston
- Waskom: Whitney Keeling
- Franklin: Mike Hedrick
Road to Houston
- Bi-district: def. DeKalb, 50-7
- Area: def. Gunter, 28-7
- Regional: def. Arp, 35-18
- Quarterfinal: def. West Rusk, 57-28
- Semifinal: def. Idalou, 28-24
- Bi-district: def. Garrison, 45-21
- Area: def. Clifton, 42-0
- Regional: def. Newton, 28-20
- Quarterfinal: def. Crockett, 76-50
- Semifinal: def. East Bernard, 10-7
- FB/LB Chan Amie, Sr., 5-11, 175 (223 carries, 2,415 yards, 36 TDs; 6 catches, 119 yards, 2 TDs; 190 tackles, 44 for loss, 9 sacks, 3 QB pressures, 5 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, 3 PBUs)
- QB Dylan Harkrider, Sr., 6-1, 165 (58 of 111, 1,116 yards, 20 TDs, 3 INTs; 124 carries, 628 yards, 9 TDs)
- RB/DB Kaleb Haynes, Sr., 5-9, 170 (92 carries, 955 yards, 13 TDs; 9 catches, 183 yards, 3 TDs; 11 tackles, 1 for loss, 2 INTs, 9 PBUs)
- WR/LB Mike Reason, Sr., 5-8, 170 (10 catches, 198 yards, 4 TDs; 176 tackles, 36 for loss, 4 sacks, 6 QB pressures, 6 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, 8 PBUs)
- SB/FS Keileon Johnson, Sr., 5-10, 165 (45 carries, 321 yards, 3 TDs; 128 tackles, 50 for loss, 7 sacks, 10 QB pressures, 3 forced fumbles, 1 recovery, 1 INT)
- WR/DB Eric Stephens III, Sr., 5-8, 150 (22 catches, 536 yards, 8 TDs; 28 tackles, 2 for loss, 2 INTs, 10 PBUs, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
- SS Jason Jinks, Jr., 5-9, 140 (106 tackles, 6 for loss, 1 INT, 4 PBUs, 2 fumble recoveries)
- DT Kevy Luster, Sr., 5-9, 175 (61 tackles, 25 for loss, 7 sacks, 12 QB pressures, 3 fumble recoveries)
- DE Keylon Johnson, Jr., 6-1, 170 (77 tackles, 23 for loss, 6 sacks, 5 QB pressures, 3 forced fumbles, 4 recoveries)
- SB/LB Lucas Norton, Sr., 5-8, 160 (73 carries, 657 yards, 6 TDs; 11 catches, 204 yards, 4 TDs; 39 tackles, 1 sack, 2 for loss, fumble recovery)
- RB/DB Rodrick Green, Jr. (139 carries, 1,302 yards, 20 TDs; 6 catches, 184 yards, 2 TDs; 21 tackles, 4 INTs, 10 PBUs)
- RB/DB Clayton Rosprim, Fr., 6-0, 180 (97 carries, 842 yards, 4 TDs; 36 tackles, 4 fumble recoveries)
- QB Kameron Fuller, Sr., 6-1, 185 (48 of 84, 1,228 yards, 10 TDs; 71 carries, 299 yards, 6 TDs)
- RB/DE Bobby Graham, Jr. (47 carries, 404 yards; 92 tackles, 7 sacks, 2 PBUs)
- DB Rodney Rogers, Sr. (58 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 PBU)
- TE/LB Will Phillips, Sr. 6-3, 230 (9 catches, 265 yards, 2 TDs; 32 carries, 272 yards, 5 TDs; 109 tackles, 2 fumbles recoveries, 2 INTs, 5 PBUs)
- SS Thomas Box, Jr., 6-0, 180 (93 tackles, 6 INTs, 3 PBUs, 1 fumble recovery)
- FB/LB Drew Fannin, Jr. (94 carries, 566 yards, 13 TDs; 89 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU)
- RB Stephen Commander, Sr., 5-8, 185 (86 carries, 522 yards, 6 TDs)
- ATH Jacob Dorsett, Sr. (54 carries, 444 yards, 4 TDs; 8 catches, 298 yards, 6 TDs; 87 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 2 INTs, 4 PBUs)
Just the facts
- Waskom is playing in its second consecutive 3A Division II state championship game. The Wildcats defeated Newton, 41-22, for the 2014 title.
- Under six-year head coach Whitney Keeling, Waskom has compiled a 52-24 record (.684). The Wildcats are 44-2 since 2013.
- In the six seasons prior to Keeling's arrival, Waskom was just 17-43 (.283).
- For the season, Waskom is averaging 46.3 points and 460.4 yards per game -- 374.9 rushing and 85.5 passing.
- Waskom's defense is allowing 12.4 points per game, has 233 tackles for loss, and has forced 29 turnovers -- seven interceptions and 22 fumbles.
- The cumulative record of Waskom's opponents this season is 87-65 (.572).
- Franklin is competing in its first-ever state championship game.
- The Lions have compiled a 38-6 record (.864) since 2012. Franklin was eliminated by White Oak, 31-0, in the 2013 state quarterfinals, and was 10-2 in 2014.
- Franklin shares one common opponent with Waskom: Arp. Franklin earned a 56-7 win over Arp in Week 3, while Waskom defeated Arp twice -- 55-23 during district and 35-18 in the third round of the playoffs.
- Franklin is averaging 48.5 points and 452.7 yards per game -- 370.8 rushing and 81.9 passing.
- The Lions' defense is allowing 12.0 points and 238.1 yards per game -- 132.0 rushing and 106.1 passing. Franklin has forced 39 turnovers -- 23 interceptions and 16 fumbles.
- The cumulative record of Franklin's opponents this season is 79-94 (.457).
Key matchup: Franklin rushing attack vs. Waskom defensive front. It's no secret what each offense plans to do Thursday night: establish the run. Neither Franklin or Waskom throws the ball that often, so the blockers up front and playmakers in the backfield will have a major say on which team walks out of NRG Stadium with the Class 3A Division II state championship. Waskom has attempted just 121 passes all season, or about eight per game, while Franklin throws it even less -- 84 times, or roughly five or six each game. Franklin has passed for slightly more yards than Waskom on the year, but the Wildcats have 22 touchdown passes to Franklin's 10.
Defending state champion Waskom finished last season with less than 500 passing yards on the season, but countered that with a rushing attack that featured four 1,000-yard rushers. And while the Wildcats are more one-dimensional this year when it comes to distribution to their ball carriers, Waskom's passing numbers have been on the rise in 2015. Senior quarterback Dylan Harkrider, in his first season as the starter, is completing just 52 percent of this throws but has a stellar touchdown-to-interception ratio of 20-3. Most of Waskom's production in the passing game works off play-action, set up by a dynamic rushing attack.
Waskom may not be running at the same clip as last year, but that's not to suggest the Wildcats aren't more than capable of burying opposing defenses with their ground game. Senior fullback Chan Amie is the primary option on offense, entering the season's final week with a team-best 2,415 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns. Amie, who also stars at linebacker on defense, was instrumental in ensuring Waskom returned to the state finals with last week's semifinal performance against Idalou. With Waskom trailing 17-14, Amie broke off a 75-yard touchdown on the final play of the third quarter to give his team the lead entering the fourth. Then, after Idalou answered with a go-ahead score moments later, Waskom delivered a clutch 14-play, 85-yard drive capped by Amie's game-winning 1-yard run with 1:06 remaining. When it's not Amie making life tough on opposing defenses, Waskom will turn to Kaleb Haynes, who's 45 yards shy of 1,000 for the season, Harkrider and slot back Lucas Norton.
It won't be easy running against Franklin, which allows opponents just 132 rushing yards per game. The Lions have only allowed three teams to run for more than 200 yards on their defense all season -- East Bernard in last week's semifinal, and before that in Weeks 2 and 3 against Madisonville and Arp, respectively. In seven of Franklin's 15 games this year an opponent failed to crack the 100-yard mark on the ground, including two playoff opponents -- Garrison in bi-district and Crockett in the quarterfinals. If Franklin's run defense is making headway, Waskom could find the going difficult on offense, as the Lions' pass defense has been equally as stingy. Franklin allows a little more than 100 passing yards per game, and has posted 23 interceptions as a team on the year.
Don't be surprised if: Waskom comes out of the gate strong, and establishes control of the game in the early stages. The Wildcats are not only defending state champs, they've been to at least the state semifinal round in each of the past three seasons. The venue shouldn't be much of a problem for Waskom, either, as the Wildcats played a 2013 semifinal against Refugio at NRG Stadium. Franklin, while one of the state's most successful programs over the last half-decade, is appearing in its first-ever title game. It's not as if first-time finals participants haven't had their fair share of success, but it's difficult to predict how teenagers will respond to the big stage for the first time.
Waskom has been using what it considered a preseason slight as motivation all the way through the 2015 campaign. Despite bringing home the ultimate prize following the 2014 season, Waskom was picked as low as third in its district by at least one publication. The Wildcats did lose several impact performers from last year's group, including a pair of 1,000-yard rushers that had contributed on the varsity level for four years. But Waskom has been playing the "no respect" card all year, and it's carried the Wildcats back to where their season ended 12 months ago.