The day has arrived. Months of game planning and preparation will be on display tonight for several Anderson County teams. New storylines will be written. New players will emerge as reliable contributors, while others attempt to cap off their high school careers with memorable experiences.
Palestine vs. Waco Connally
Last meeting: August 31, 2018 – Waco Connally 42, Palestine 26
Head Coach Lance Angel makes his long-awaited season debut with the Palestine Wildcats. Strapped with a numerous amount of weapons at the running back position, the Wildcats will pit their hybrid-wing offense against a Cadets defense who all but eliminated Palestine's rushing attack last year.
“This is not an offense where we can afford to have 2nd-and-15,” Angel emphasized about his offense. “We need to have positive yards every play. Sometimes that means if it's nothing there, get a two-yard gain. 2nd-and-8 is better than 2nd-and-14.
Jerimiah Davis, Quinton Cook, Jakaryon Conley and Keshawn Nonette are just a few of the guys expected to be reliable playmakers on the offensive side of the ball tonight. The goal is to keep their guys fresh. A solid rotation of backs and other offensive threats will help offset some of the first-game fatigue some players may have.
The Wildcats will be tasked with not only breaking through a tough Cadets' defense but slowing down one of the fastest teams in the conference. Cadets' Cornerback Korie Black, running back Jay'Veon Sunday and wide receiver Perrish Cox all boast sub-4.5 40-yard dash times.
Sunday, who was an all-state selection and has committed to Washington, recorded 294 yards rushing against Palestine last year. Against an offense that sends out a bevy of talent, Palestine will need to “maintain focus and discipline while still being a very physical team.”
Defensive coordinator D.J. Wright, who spent time with Palestine during Coach Angel's first tenure, will also make his return to the Palestine sidelines.
He spent the last four years at Dalhart in West Texas. Last year, the defense allowed only 22 points per game over a 12-game stretch. Nearly 10 points better than Palestine.
Palestine will host Waco Connally tonight at 7:30 p.m.
Westwood at Alto
Second-year head coach Richard Bishop has a “different vibe” about these Westwood Panthers. The team has moved passed the first-year learning curve of adopting a new system and look to place a more experienced team on the field.
“Last year I don't think we were prepared to play four quarters,” Bishop said.
The Panthers led Alto at half last year and Coach Bishop believed that many of his players were shocked. Last years team might have lacked the confidence to beat bigger schools, but it's no doubt that should not be the case this year.
Offensive playmakers Tremelle Rhodes and DeAnthony Thomas will take care of business in the backfield tonight. Quarterback Dalton Books appeared to have grasped a better command of the offense during the preseason.
Receivers DeVonte Downie, Aneas Page, Jordan Owens, BriDarian Hunt and Tyler Johnson will attempt to make plays against a defense that allowed 23 total points during their last four games of district play last year.
A point of emphasis for the Panthers will be on ball security. Alto is an opportunistic defense. They were one of the conferences best at taking the ball away from opposing offenses. However, Westwood will be afforded some opportunities to cause some havoc of their own. Alto's quarterback Harmon West threw 12 interceptions last year to only 11 touchdowns.
Westwood will travel to Alto tonight. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Elkhart vs. Centerville
You'd have to go back a decade to find the last time Centerville missed the postseason. 2015 marks the last time they weren't victors on opening night. In 2018, Elkhart fell to Centerville 22-14. Though they did not accomplish their main objective of winning the game, the Elks held Centerville far under their 2019 average of 31 points.
“We have more experience with their running,” head coach Fiacco said about their 2018 matchup. Everyone's going with the spread. That's the opposite of them. We have a better idea of what to expect.”
The Tigers want to run the ball at you and over you. In an era where passing the ball dominates all levels of football, it can be a challenge when finally faced with a run-oriented offense. However, the threat of the pass restricts teams from becoming too aggressive defending the run.
It's a concept that the Elks have been practicing against all week.
“We have to stay fundamentally sound throughout the game,” Fiacco said. Just do your job. If you know what you're responsibility it's hard for an offense to take advantage of guys falling asleep.”
Coach Fiacco credits the play of his scout team with how prepared his guys feel.
Elkhart will play host to Centerville. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Grapeland vs. Milano
Grapeland's 2018 meeting with Milano was the beginning of one of their best seasons as a football program. They shutout the Eagles 27-0. Milano's offense was completely neutralized. They passed for 48 yards and rushed for another 74. They wouldn't be shutout for another nine weeks.
The Sandies will search for another electric start this year under new head coach Terry Ward. Grapeland has improved every year from 2015 to 2018, which means 2019 could have state title aspirations.
Those dreams will go into effect tonight against Milano. The Sandies will lack experience on the offensive line against an Eagles team who return a four-year, three-year and a couple of two-year starters on their lines.
Milano will attempt to control the time of possession and string together long drives to keep Grapeland's offense off the field who averaged 39 points per game in 2018. The Eagles lost a pair of track stars to graduation last year, so will attempt to replace their speed with a more controlled pace style of offense.
Milano will travel to Grapeland for this non-district affair. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Frankston at West Sabine
Continuity has been an issue for the Frankston Indians in recent years. For the players, it's a sigh of relief head coach Paul Gould has brought some resemblance of that back to their program. Another season of learning the same system can only help a group of athletes who were accustomed to single-season coaches.
The Indians hope to merge that continuity with a few more wins this season. Starting with West Sabine. In their 2018 battle, West Sabine outmatched Frankston 61-8. The 53-point routing was their largest margin of defeat last season.
They will have a chance at retribution tonight against a Tigers team who struggled to find their footing later in the season.
Frankston will travel to West Sabine tonight. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Cayuga at Frost
Turnovers and missed plays derailed Cayuga's gameplan for the visiting Frost Polar Bears last season. The game ended in a close 34-28 loss for the Cayuga Wildcats and left them wondering what could have been.
Cayuga gave Frost three extra possessions due to special teams mishaps. Ball security has been a constant theme for the Wildcats entering this non-conference game. Rightly so, as turnovers possibly cost them a chance at an opening night victory.
“We're going to make sure in any way possible we get the ball when it's our time to get the ball,” head coach Cody Mohan said.
Coach Mohan has held his linemen in high regards throughout the offseason. Winning the battle up front remains something the team feels confident in accomplishing.
“We're going to try to dictate what they do,” Mohan said.
Cayuga will travel to Frost tonight. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.