Taking a Look at East Texas’ Surprise Football Teams in 2013
ETSN.fm takes a closer look at surprisingly good football teams across the region.
Record: 6-1 overall, 2-0 in District 16-4A
Friday's game: vs. No. 3 Whitehouse
Overview: Coming off an 0-10 season, Nacogdoches has shocked football fans and pundits across the state with an impressive 6-1 start to 2013. Nacogdoches' only loss is 44-40 at Class 3A power Carthage on Sept. 20, a game that saw Carthage score the game-winning touchdown with 24 seconds remaining, then stop Nacogdoches sophomore Brandon Jones inside the 5-yard line on the final play.
Speaking of Jones, he has been a star for the Dragons. The sophomore safety has three interceptions, including one returned 95 yards for a touchdown to beat Lufkin 28-24 on Sept. 13, Nac's first win against the Panthers since 1992. He also has two punt return touchdowns.
Nacogdoches' balance (199 passing, 190 rushing per game) and strong line play -- Kansas offensive line commit Jacob Bragg, offensive tackle Malik Gilder, and defensive ends Jacorey Whitaker and Greg Roberts are at the forefront -- have fueled the Dragons, who host No. 3 Whitehouse in a District 16-4A showdown Friday night. An injury to starting quarterback Hunter McClellan hasn't derailed Nacogdoches, which has gotten solid performances from fellow junior Bryce Matthews since McClellan's injury.
Record: 7-0 overall, 2-0 in District 15-3A
Friday's game: vs. Mabank
Overview: After a 4-7 season in 2012, Athens entered 2013 viewed as 1 of 2 favorites (along with Van) for the District 15-3A crown. Seven games into the year, the Hornets are still undefeated, and they beat the Vandals 28-23 on the road a week ago to take control of the league race.
The ground game has undeniably propelled Athens to its impressive start. Athens averages 58.7 rushing attempts per game and only 6.6 pass attempts. That imbalance has created no problems for the Hornets because they're just that good running the ball. Athens averages 374.0 rushing yards per game and 6.4 yards per carry.
Fullback Logan Fuller (956) and tailback Devin Hall (790) have accounted for 1,746 of Athens' 2,618 rushing yards, as well as 23 of the Hornets' 30 rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Anthony Sanders hasn't thrown the ball a lot, but when he has, he's made it count. Sanders has six touchdown passes and no interceptions, plus he gives head coach Paul Essary another dangerous running option (465 rushing yards, 5 touchdowns).
Not to be outdone, Athens' defense has allowed only 15.6 points per game behind linebacker K.J. Cumby's 59 tackles and SMU-bound Chris Jefferson's six sacks. Athens has a legitimate shot at finishing the regular season 10-0.
Record: 5-2 overall, 1-1 in District 11-2A D-I
Friday's game: vs. Teague
Overview: Elkhart finished 2-8 a year ago, but the return of standout running back Jeffery Wilson gave Elks fans hope entering 2013. Wilson and company have exceeded any preseason expectations with a 5-2 start. A 36-35 season-opening win against perennial Class A power Alto set the tone.
Wilson, who ran for 2,329 yards and 26 touchdowns as a junior, is enjoying another huge year. He enters Friday night's home game against Teague with 1,583 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns, ranking him second in East Texas in yardage and first in touchdowns.
Elkhart's only losses came against teams with a combined 13-1 record: Centerville (6-1) and No. 7 Franklin (7-0).
While Wilson has spearheaded the Elks' 31.0 points per game, linebacker Gaje Smock has delivered defensively. His 103 tackles lead Elkhart and rank top 10 in East Texas.
Record: 7-0 overall, 4-0 in District 9-2A D-II
Friday's game: vs. DeKalb
Overview: ETSN.fm knew that Waskom would be a strong team in 2013. Because of an ineligible player, the Wildcats had to forfeit all of their wins in 2012, when they finished 7-3 on the field and went 4-3 in District 9-2A Division II. Waskom returned 16 starters from that team, including nine on offense.
But we don't know if anybody expected Waskom to be as strong as it has been through the 2013 season's first seven games.
One of Class 2A's best rushing attacks has fueled a 7-0 start that has seen the 'Cats average 461.4 yards per game on the ground. An even more jaw-dropping stat is Waskom's 11.0 yards per carry as a team. Kevin Johnson (940) and June Bug Johnson (774) have combined for 1,706 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. Still, the rest of Waskom's roster has produced more than 1,500 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns.
Waskom has won six of its seven games by at least 31 points, the lone exception being a 40-34 victory at Paul Pewitt on Oct. 4. Waskom's average victory margin is 38.4 points per game thanks to that potent rushing offense, but also a defense that has yielded only 17.7 points per game.
Record: 6-1 overall, 2-0 in District 9-A D-I
Friday's game: vs. Joaquin
Overview: Beckville has been one of East Texas' most surprisingly impressive teams in any classification. The Bearcats lost their season opener 48-9 to Tyler Bishop Gorman, but have since won six consecutive games, leaning on a strong defense during that run.
Head coach Eric Robinson, who is a former Carthage defensive coordinator and Alto/SFA linebacker, has his team yielding only 17.3 points per game. Beckville has held four opponents to single digits, including two shutouts, and limited five foes to 20 points or fewer.
The Bearcats face a tough stretch to finish the regular season: vs. Joaquin, at Harleton, and vs. Carlisle. But even if the 'Cats don't snag a playoff berth, their 2013 campaign has grabbed the attention of fans and media alike after they finished 3-7 in 2012.
Record: 5-2 overall, 2-0 in District 9-A D-I
Friday's game: vs. Timpson
Overview: Graduation cost Carlisle a lot of playmakers during the offseason, including multi-sport star Gunner Baker, the Indians' four-year starting quarterback.
But Carlisle has found a way to assemble a solid season. The Tribe has won three consecutive games, outscoring those opponents 102-25 entering Friday night's home game against Timpson.
Like fellow District 9-A Division I team Beckville, Carlisle has played good defense. Carlisle allows only 16.7 points per game and has gotten a big performance on both sides of the ball from senior Gustavo Martinez, who leads the Tribe in rushing (634 yards, 14 touchdowns), tackles (54), and tackles for loss (8).
Carlisle's remaining schedule is more favorable than Beckville's. The Indians get a Timpson team that enters Friday's game on a three-game losing streak, then host winless Big Sandy before traveling to Beckville on Nov. 8 for a game that could have huge district title implications.
Record: 6-0 overall, 2-0 in District 6-A D-I
Friday's game: at Italy
Overview: To continue us on this Class A defense theme, we present Cayuga. The Wildcats are 6-0 thanks in large part to a defense that has allowed a grand total of 65 points all season. That's only 10.8 points per game.
Cayuga has yielded 14 or fewer points five times. Kerens' 24 points in a 21-point loss are the most Cayuga has allowed all season.
But it's not all defense for Cayuga, which boasts running back Keshawn Jackson, who is fourth in East Texas in rushing yards (1,332) and tied for second in rushing touchdowns (18). John Venable has 483 rushing yards and six touchdowns as both players average double figures in yards per carry.
None of the three teams on Cayuga's remaining schedule has a winning record, although Friday's game at Italy matches the Wildcats against a Gladiator team that also has a 2-0 district mark. Nevertheless, Cayuga has a good shot to enter the postseason with a 9-0 record.
Record: 6-1 overall, 3-1 in TAPPS Division II District 2
Friday's game: Carrollton Prince of Peace canceled Friday's game because of a lack of participation
Overview: Like Waskom, ETSN.fm expected Tyler Grace to have a good team in 2013. However, a season-ending knee injury to do-it-all senior star Kade Clayton could have derailed the Cougars' season in the second week of the year.
Instead, Grace has gone 4-1 since, leaning on quarterback Chandler Nutt to provide big plays, especially running the ball. Nutt has 825 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns to accompany his 601 passing yards, eight touchdowns, and four interceptions.
Grace's defense has progressed throughout the season and held the Cougars' last two opponents to a combined three points. Senior Andrew McCarty has racked up 12 sacks, ranking him second in East Texas only to Daingerfield's Kelshin Neal (19).
With this week's game canceled, Grace can look ahead to next week's contest against Bullard Brook Hill, another area TAPPS school assembling a solid season.