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Red Zone: Road to State

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Posted at 4:14 PM, Dec 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-14 21:36:50-05

Four teams across Central Texas and the Brazos Valley are headed to the UIL State Football Championships this week with the goal of bringing home a title.

25 Sports Anchor Jack Allen breaks down what you need to know ahead of a busy final week of high school football.

LORENA LEOPARDS:

The Lorena Leopards (12-2) are one of just two teams with two losses competing for a state championship this week. The Leopards lost to Franklin and China Spring to open the season before rattling off 12 straight wins.

Lorena is led by 30-year head coach Ray Biles, who took over in 1992, just three years after their last trip to the state championship game. Biles has won 199 games as a head coach. All of them have come since he arrived in Lorena.

He hopes number 200 is even more special.

"The opportunity to get to this game is huge to me personally," Biles said. "But again its just another step for these kids and a reward for the hard work in everything they've done."

Lorena will play the undefeated Brock Eagles (14-0) at AT&T Stadium at 3 p.m. Thursday.

Jack's Pick: Brock

FRANKLIN LIONS:

The Franklin Lions are in the middle of a redemption tour after falling one point shy of a state title in 2020. Now, as they return to AT&T Stadium one year later, they are hoping for a change of fate.

"I think it left an emptiness in our stomachs," senior Haze Tomascik said. "We all want to get back. It's just made everyone work harder than we did last year."

The Lions have dominated nearly every team they have played this season, winning every district game and all but one playoff game by 49 or more points. Their closest test since August came in a 28-14 win over Waskom in the state semifinals.

Franklin is ranked first in Class 3A-II in both scoring offense and scoring defense this season.

"[Winning a championship] would mean everything," head coach Mark Fannin said. "This community has been very supportive of this team and we've never brought one home. So it would mean the world to this community, this team and these coaches. It would be a great feeling."

Fannin took over at Franklin before the 2020 season after serving as an assistant coach under Franklin legend Mike Hedrick. In his two seasons as head coach, Fannin has now led the Lions to two state title games.

Franklin will play Gunter in the 3A-II state championship at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Jack's Pick: Franklin

CHINA SPRING COUGARS:

The China Spring Cougars entered the year ranked among the Top 10 teams in Class 4A-II, according to Dave Campbell's Texas Football. But at the start of the season, few expected the Cougars to be taking the field at AT&T Stadium at season's end.

That doubt was built in large part due to the Cougars' difficult region. China Spring competes in the same region as traditional football powers West Orange-Stark and Carthage, who had won four of the last five state titles.

Despite losing a 2,000-plus yard rusher from a season ago, the Cougars quickly developed a potent offense led by senior quarterback Major Bowden. Bowden is among the 10 finalists for the Mr. Texas Football award, granted to the top performer in the state, regardless of classification.

In the playoffs, China Spring upset Carthage on its way to the state title, handing the Bulldogs their first defeat in nearly three years.

"It's a dream come true," Bowden said. "You plan it out like this. Senior season, go undefeated and go to a state championship. Yeah, we're just going in with a 1-0 mindset and trying to get it done."

This is China Spring's first trip to state since 2007, when head coach Brian Bell was a sophomore backup quarterback for the Cougars. Their last state championship came all the way back in 1978, when they took down Lexington to win a 1A state championship.

China Spring plays Gilmer for the state crown at 3 p.m. Friday.

Jack's Pick: China Spring

College Station Cougars:

The area's other CSHS Cougars are heading back to AT&T Stadium for the second time in the school's short history. In 2017, College Station won a Class 5A-II crown with a one-point win over Aledo.

This year's Cougar squad has been led by junior running back Marquise Collins, who is averaging 227 yards per game and leads all of Class 5A in total rushing yards. Collins scored three touchdowns in College Station's 28-21 win over Mansfield Summitt in the state semifinals.

Combined with the play of senior quarterback Jett Huff, Collins and College Station have developed one of the most potent offensive attacks in high school football, scoring more than 35 points in every game this season leading up to the regional final.

In the regional final, College Station took down the No. 1 ranked team in the state, Denton Ryan, 26-21 at McLane Stadium. With the win, the Cougars became the best-ranked team remaining in the 5A-I field.

This season has been especially memorable for Huff and his father, College Station Head Coach Steve Huff. The pair have grown both on an off the field during Jett's time at quarterback. Now, they hope that connection will pay off with a state title.

"I can remember he told me as an eighth grader when we walked off the field after the championship game and we won it," Coach Huff said. "He said I want to play in this game when I'm a senior. So, to be able to get there with the group of kids he's with because I know they were at the game... it's exciting."

Huff and the Cougars play Katy Paetow in the 5A-I state championship game at 7 p.m. Friday.

Jack's Pick: College Station

Tune in to 25 Sports Thursday and Friday for the latest from the UIL State Football Championships, and follow @JackAllenKXXV on Twitter for more videos and updates from AT&T Stadium.