Game of the Week
Tatum Eagles at Arp Tigers, 7:30 pm, Tiger Stadium
What better way to kick off the 2013 high school football season than with a pair of Class 2A heavyweights as the Tatum Eagles trek to face the Arp Tigers in what promises to be one of the best zero week lid-lifters from across the Lone Star State.
The Eagles are rated 5th in the FNF preseason poll among Top 25 DI, Class 2A squads, while the Tigers are locked in at 6th in the Top 25 DII division. Clearly these two teams expect to be playing in December and both are fully capable of advancing deep into the postseason pool.
Tatum, which prevailed in last year's contest with the Tigers 41-21, return two offensive and three defensive starters from a 9-3 DI, Regional Semi-finalist. But it's pretty much an unwritten rule that Eagle boss Andy Evans reloads, not rebuilds. In his nine years in charge, Evans has carved a sparkling 97-23 ledger with seven district titles and back-to-back state championships in 2005 & 2006. He's also taken all nine of his previous teams to the postseason and played for a total of three state crowns.
Senior tailback Jalen Shans takes center stage in the Tatum offense. Shans, a state qualifier last spring in the 110 hurdles, rushed for 450 yards last season. Junior linebacker Kyshaun Smith spearheads the Eagles' 50 defense. Smith managed 125 stops in 2012.
Arp was able to rebound from last year's zero week setback and win nine of its next 11 contests. The Tigers roared to a 9-3 overall record and, like Tatum in DI, advanced to the DII, Regional Semi-finals before bowing out. Dale Irwin embarks on his 11th season in Arp and has led eight of his 10 previous outfits into the playoffs.
"In our first scrimmage we played very well against Van, but in our second scrimmage we played about as horrible as we could," lamented Irwin.
"We showed our immaturity and youth against a very good Waskom team. Our quarterback (Chase Bonner) is out for a while and that hurts us pretty bad."
The Tigers will hope to cover for the loss of Bonner with a pound-it-out ground game led by junior Marcalas Johnson. Johnson totaled 1056 yards and scored 15 TDs in 2012 and expects to put up even better numbers in 2013. The absence of Bonner means Arp is without its senior leader and a field general that had 1257 yards and 16 TDs last fall.
"We want to win the first game, but it is more important for us to get some much needed game experience for most of our kids. We will start five sophomores on offense and defense and they'll have to grow up quick," noted Irwin, who has carved out a 81-38 record with the Tigers.
"Tatum is very talented, very deep and very capable of making a big play every play. Same thing you say about them every year. They will be very, very good by the time they start district."
If the Tigers are to find season opening success, Irwin points out the keys to toppling Tatum:
"We can't turn the ball over and must control time of possession. We must make them drive the length of the field and not have big plays, not to mention winning the special teams and penalty battle. We have a very large task ahead of us but we going to give it all we have."
If this one is anything close to last year's opening kick, fans will be in for a true season opening treat. The Hughes Springs Mustangs are coming off a 12-1 finish and rank 5th among Class 2A, DII schools, while the Clarksville Blue Tigers wound up 8-4 and made it to the DII regional semi-finals in 2012.
The Mustangs, DII state quarterfinalists a year ago, build their ground-based attack around senior Michael Martinez, who racked up 1947 yards and 39 TDs in earning District 9-2A MVP.
Clarksville pins its hopes on junior field commander Terrance Tinnell, who tossed 19 scoring strikes last fall. Tinnell's favorite target should be senior wide out Gemack Woodberry.
The Ponies narrowly escaped last year with a one-point victory against the Blue Dogs. It won't be as close this time around.
GEORGE'S PICK: Hughes Springs by 14
White Oak Roughnecks vs. Redwater Dragons, 7:30 pm, Buckeye Stadium, Gilmer
This neutral site battle pits two contrasting offensive philosophies. The White Oak Roughnecks, ranked 8th in DI by FNF, like to spread the ball all over the field, while the Redwater Dragons prefer to take the more methodical approach and grind it out.
Last year was a comedy of errors as White Oak eked out a 10-8 win. Don't expect that low of a score this time around. The Roughnecks, 9-3 in 2012, are coming off their most successful season in 15 years, having won only their second playoff game since 1971. The Dragons, meanwhile, slipped to 5-6 last year after a historic 2011 campaign.
White Oak's Dylan Gale could be one of the state's leading passers in 2013. The senior gunslinger is coming off a 2500 yard, 25 TD season last year. His primary target is fellow senior Jansen McCurdy, who hauled in a school record 1400 yards and 20 scores in 2012.
GEORGE'S PICK: White Oak by 21
Elysian Fields Yellowjackets vs. Corrigan-Camden Bulldogs, 7:30 pm, Bulldog Stadium
The Scott Ford era begins in Elysian Fields as the Yellowjackets look to improve on last year's 11-4, Class 2A, DII semifinal performance. Ford is no stranger to success, having played on a state champion squad at Marshall in 1990. Corrigan-Camden always brings a physical brand of football to the table. The Bulldogs recovered after a slow start and finished 6-5 and earned a berth in the bi-district round of the playoffs.
Camden welcomes back eight starters on both sides of the leather, including 1100-yard rusher Keegan Mitchell. EF counters with all-state linebacker Tanner Norman, who amassed a ridiculous 226 tackles a year ago.
GEORGE'S PICK: Corrigan-Camden by 3
SAY WHAT GEORGE?
LAST YEAR'S RECORD 36-12, 75%, AGAINST THE LINE 30-18, 63%