Let's be honest. District 16-5A was not very strong last season.

We think that's going to change this year with all the coaching transitions the past two years and a more defined set of middle-tier teams.

Hallsville at Pine Tree could be a really important game. The Oct. 20 contest inside Pirate Stadium is our 18th-ranked game as we count down the top 25 games of the East Texas regular season.

Pine Tree is in its second season with head coach Kerry Lane, a Jeff Traylor disciple from Gilmer. Lane got what has been a struggling program in recent seasons one game away from perhaps making the playoffs in his first attempt.

Hallsville floundered last season and made a big splash by hiring Joe Drennon away from Mineola fresh off a Class 3A Division I state championship game win. The coach knows how to win with no worse than a state semifinal appearance his final three years with the Mineola program.

Hallsville LB Michael Drennon. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

The Pirates and Bobcats make up what can be considered a middle pack in the district.

Despite undergoing coaching changes of their own this offseason, Texas High and Marshall are looking pretty good with sets of three major college football recruits apiece. Sulphur Springs also could be a district team near the top with 16 returning starters and a postseason berth in 2016.

Pine Tree is a half-and-half team of experienced and inexperienced starters with a full season under Lane already completed.

Hallsville is less experienced, but it has a reputation for producing good athletes across the field. The program can't do much worse than last year's 2-8 finish and generally reaches the playoffs from out of the district.

When considering the strengths of Marshall, Texas High and Sulphur Springs, it looks like only one of a handful of solid teams will get in along with that group of three.

Hallsville and Pine Tree present good cases to be the fourth team or better. This game could be the decider.

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