It's funny to think a team that started the season 1-5 could have clawed all the way back to win a state championship. Yet Arp got closer and closer to an 11-5 record with a ring last season.

The Tigers had a Waskom problem, however. The Wildcats handed Arp its final loss ahead of a six-game winning streak and then circled back in the playoffs for another win en route to a second consecutive Class 3A Division II state title.

This year, at least the preseason talent advantage has shifted to Arp. It has running back Kayce Medlock, who won Offensive Most Valuable Player at the + APEC Football Recruiting Combine, plus a bevy of big and athletic skill players for the 3A Division II level.

Waskom WR/DL Keylon Johnson is one of the Wildcats' seven returning starters. (Rob Graham,
Waskom WR/DL Keylon Johnson is one of the Wildcats' seven returning starters. (Rob Graham,

Waskom lost running back and linebacker Chan Amie, someone so valuable that he won Defensive Most Valuable Player in the 2014 title game and then turned around to win the state game's Offensive Most Valuable Player last year.

But it's still going to be tough to take down East Texas' most successful program through the past three seasons. Only two teams have defeated the Wildcats in that span, and no one has done it in 31 games.

Waskom at Arp checks in as the No. 2 game of the 2016 regular season as we count down the top 25 contests. The District 9-3A Division II meeting on Sept. 23 likely is for the league championship.

It's not just Medlock, who is a SMU commitment, for the Tigers. Quarterback Tyler Stewart is another player head coach Dale Irwin is very high on.

Fourteen other starters return from a squad that went three rounds deep in the postseason.

Waskom brings back seven starters from its most recent championship team. Defensive back Jason Jinks and athlete Keylon Johnson are the biggest names.

The game hinges on the Wildcats defensive front, where Johnson will be located as an end. It knows it's a tall order to slow down Medlock and that devoting too many resources will allow Stewart to open things up in the passing game.

Waskom might have the advantage when its own offense goes up against Arp's defense. Second-team all-state guard Jack Smith plus good linemen in Bradley Cochran, Logan O'Conner and Chris Smith are all nice players to bring back.

With a good offensive line, it's going to be much easier for the Wildcats' skill players to transition into their new leading roles.

Expect this game to break out into an evenly matched offensive shootout. That would be something because Waskom has outscored Arp 124-65 in the sides' past three meetings over two years.

Arp should be much improved. The Wildcats program has staying power.

Buckle up.’s Top 25 Games of 2016

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