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December 15, 2011

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

The college bowl season is just starting up. The NFL playoffs are a few weeks away.

The most passionate postseason - the biggest games of most athletes lives - are finally wrapping up at the high school level.

And at the high school level, it appears some of the best have been saved for last.

Reaching the ultimate finals in power states such as Florida, Texas and California is like a second season as teams often play five or six games.

No team lucks its way into a final. These spots were earned. These matchups are great.

Here's a look at a few:

Weekend Watch
No. 4 Lake Travis vs. Waco Midway
When: Friday, 8 p.m.
Last meeting: First meeting this decade
Rankings: Lake Travis (15-0), No. 1 in Texas
Midway (12-2), No. 18 in Texas


Why it's big: This is the last stop in the Lake Travis "Drive for Five," as the Cavaliers look to finish the run to another Class 4A Division I state title. This win could also put the finishing touches on a season where the team ends as the No. 1 team in Texas for the second time in three years. A nightcap at Cowboys Stadium is no brighter stage for these two teams. Midway was a threat to make it this far all season and being able to better Denton Ryan was its first "next step." Now that it is one game from a title, there is no looking back.


Lake Travis wins if: Junior quarterback Baker Mayfield has a solid game. Mayfield has quietly had a solid season with 44 touchdowns while completing more than 65 percent of his passes. This could be one of the most active defenses he has faced this season. Relying on his playmakers (Zach Austin, Colin Lagasse, Griffin Gilbert and Varshaun Nixon) will be keys to the game. It may be hard for Lake Travis to put up the type of numbers it is used to offensively. Being patient and not turning over the football will be paramount.


Waco Midway wins if: It plays a perfect game. Lake Travis will be one of the two best defenses it has seen this year and it will be the most polished offense it has seen. The team has built a decent resume of wins at Stephenville and, in the playoffs, against Denton Ryan and Tyler John Tyler. It will need to play like it did last week against Tyler to get the victory: hit a couple of explosive plays on offense and force turnovers. Lake Travis is one of the best programs nationally and it knows how to win big games.


Prediction: This was supposed to be a down year for the Cavaliers. The big-name draw wasn't there, but as many teams have shown this year, it can be easier to have a better team without the star players. That is what is happening at Lake Travis; this is one of the best pure teams it has had. The defense is swarming and it is not getting the attention it deserves. Waco Midway is a solid squad as well, but this figures to be the coronation of the Class 4A dominance for Lake Travis before it moves up to the Class 5A level next season. This will be an early battle with Lake Travis pulling away late.
- Lake Travis 27, Midway 17

-- For more on Texas football, visit TheOldCoach.com

Weekend Watch
No. 5 Miramar vs. No. 60 Plant
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Last Meeting: First meeting this decade
Rankings: Miramar (13-0), No. 1 in Florida
Plant (13-1), No. 7 in Florida


Why it's big: The big school state final in one of the traditional powers states is a great way to end the season in Florida. Plant was expected to get to this point while Miramar has been one of the best stories in Florida. The on-field results of both teams have been impressive in different ways. Miramar has the more top-end talent and has some of the better wins nationally, including in the semifinals against Miami Columbus - a game many thought it would lose. Plant is a little down in top-end talent that many have grown accustomed to, but much like every year, the Panthers have improved from the early parts of the season until now.


Miramar wins if: The defense continues to play great. For all of the deserved attention that the offense gets for the Patriots, it has been the defense that is getting the job done. The "Better-than-the-Dark-Side" defense could have this team hoisting the trophy with Tracy Howard shutting down the Plant top receiver and the defensive front slowing the balanced rush attack it could make moving the ball very difficult for Plant. The goal has to be to keep Plant under 14 points and that very well could happen.


Plant wins if: James Few eliminates mistakes. The Panthers' signal-caller has thrown 13 interceptions this season. And with the ball-hawking defense of Miramar, he can not be giving the ball back. Plant has one of, if not the best, coaching staffs in Florida. Being able to put in a gameplan to play to the strengths of the players has been key this season. Putting Few in a position to succeed has to be the No. 1 point of emphasis here. Screens and delay handoffs should be part of the way to solve an aggressive Miramar defense.


Prediction: The statements about the Plant coaching staff are all true, but similar credit needs to be given to the staff at Miramar. The coaching has improved dramatically in the last five seasons in South Florida and Miramar is a program that is on that rise. The offense is complex as it is well coached and that will help in a big way against a very active and physical defense. The advantage for Miramar is that Plant will not be the hardest offense nor defense it has faced this year and so the gameplanning will not be over complicated. On the flipside, Miramar's defense may not be as acclaimed as Armwood's. Both teams know what its strengths and weaknesses are, and if both play their best game, it should favor Miramar.
- Miramar 23, Plant 9

-- For more on Florida football, visit FlaVarsity.com

Weekend Watch
No. 8 Armwood vs. No. 9 Central
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Last Meeting: First meeting this decade
Rankings: Armwood (14-0), No. 2 in Florida
Central (13-0), No. 3 in Florida


Why it's big: This is the showdown that most everyone around the state of Florida - and followers of national high school football - have been waiting for. Both Armwood and Central have had a couple of close escapes this season, but each has reached the final without a blemish. The winner could push for a Top 5 national ranking and the top spot in Florida; the loser will likely remain inside the Top 25. It should be a great football game for participants and fans.


Armwood wins if: It can maintain its focus and level of play for the course of the game. The ability to finish the game has been questioned at length this season and the issue has not really been put to rest just yet. While the team was able to finish strong against Gainesville, it also allowed many teams to sneak back into games that it had in hand. Miami Central will be the best test since the Plant game and Armwood will need to have the focus that it had against the Panthers. If the Hawks treat this game like the Plant game, they should win impressively. If it turns the emotional switch off after halftime, they could be upended.


Miami Central wins if: It can run the ball. That has been a hard prescription for most teams to fill this season as the Hawks defense has been strong against the run. Central has played one of the toughest schedules of any team in the country and has seen several tough defenses and offenses. It is the battle-tested group between the two and should have a built-in resolve if it can remain patient on offense as it did with Mainland.


Prediction: This should be a fun and physical game that most fans will enjoy. It has the potential to get into a track meet as Armwood has had issues against the pass and has displayed a highly potent offense in its own right. Figuring this for a low-scoring game may be a completely wrong assumption. What figures to happen is that it is a close game that is played to the final whistle regardless of final score. A season of doubters has unquestionably fueled the Hawks fire entering this game.
- Armwood 27, Miami Central 24

-- For more on Florida football, visit FlaVarsity.com

Weekend Watch
No. 10 Cibolo Steele vs.
No. 42 Spring Dekaney
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Last Meeting: First-ever meeting.
Rankings: Steele (15-0), No. 2 in Texas
Dekaney (13-2), No. 6 in Texas

Why its big: This is the Class 5A Division II state title in Texas, but it could be the most exciting of the three big ones to watch. Both of these teams have extremely high-powered offenses that can put up big points on any given evening. Playing for a state title is an excellent showcase stage for two of the more high-profile players on each team. Texas A&M commit and five-star running back Trey Williams looks to run his Dekaney team to a title; three-star quarterback and Nebraska commit, Tommy Armstrong can pace his Knights to another state championship.

Steele wins if: It can contain Williams. The five-star player is simply electric and is a likely First Team All-American. He enters the game with his name all over the single-season record books in Texas and is the focal point of the offense. If Steele is not able to slow him down, it will be a long evening. Steele has given up some fairly big point totals over the course of the season and hasn't faced a team that can move the ball like Dekaney has. Its defense will need to put up a solid effort and not expect its offense to score on every possession.

Dekaney wins if: It outscores Steele. There is no question this is one of the weaker defenses that has advanced to a Texas state final as it has allowed more teams (6) to score into the 30s than it has held to single digits (2). If Dekaney is going to win this game, it needs to just acknowledge what it is and embrace the track meet if it gets started on that path. Simply put, Dekaney is going to need 40 points to win as its defense figures to give up well into the 30s.

Prediction: Fans of defense need not watch this game as it is more likely to be 17-10 at the end of the first quarter than the end of the football game. Two offenses that are clicking at the right time square off at Cowboys Stadium. Each will have had to make a similar drive from San Antonio and Houston respectively, so this may well be one of the most true neutral sites that could have been picked. Steele, with a back-to-back title, would be in some truly impressive territory as it has only been a school for six seasons but has challenged for Class 4A titles and now has played for two Class 5A titles in its first two years in the classification. Stopping Williams has been hard to do this season for any team, but Steele may be able to do it just enough. Defense, even poor defense, wins titles.
- Steele 41, Dekaney 30

-- For more on Texas football, visit TheOldCoach.com

Weekend Watch
No. 18 De La Salle vs. No. 20 Westlake
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Last Meeting: First meeting this decade.
Rankings: De La Salle (12-1), No. 1 in California
Westlake (14-0), No. 2 in California


Why it's big: In the California Bowl Game setup, this is the best finale in the state, designed to match the best team from the North against the best team from the South. Based on most all national rankings the CIF did a good job of putting the two together. De La Salle has been invited to a CIF Bowl in each of the six years of this format's existence while Westlake is getting its first chance at the Open Bowl. The contrast of styles makes this game quite exciting as a fan of national high school football.


Westlake wins if: It can eliminate big plays against its defense. The 49-42 win over Oaks Christian in the Section final was a deceptive final score as many of the points scored against Westlake were on some busted plays or big plays. If Westlake wants to take home its first Bowl title, then it will need to eliminate those big plays and make De La Salle drive the field. The offense figures to give the De La Salle defense fits and it will need to remain balanced and quarterback Justin Moore will need to have a good game and make sound decisions.


De La Salle wins if: It can make enough plays on defense. De La Salle is long known as a team that gets in gear as the season goes on. Having new starters working into the complex and timing-based offense can cause some hiccups that get worked out by season's end and that has shown up in the success at the Bowl level. But this game will come down to De La Salle's defense, which had some troubles with the St. Thomas Aquinas offense in an early season loss. Westlake will have a similar attack with a quarterback that looks to run and can make plays with his legs. It will test the fundamentals of the defense and the linebacking group to stay at home and not get out of position.


Prediction: The evaluations of California have been down this season. Both teams enters the CIF Open Division Bowl inside the Top 25, but there is no guarantee that either exit the game with that status on the season. Westlake has played the much more difficult schedule this year and it should feel quite confident entering this matchup. But there is just something about the Spartans that has them extremely well prepared this time of the year. That quiet confidence shines at Open Bowl time. Another in a long list of fantastic football games this weekend should happen in Carson. De La Salle enters the contest as the slight favorite and it wins a close game.
- De La Salle 28, Westlake 24

-- For more on Southern California football, visit CaliforniaPreps.com

Weekend Watch
No. 32 Archbishop Wood
vs. Bishop McDevitt
When: Friday, 4 p.m.
Last Meeting: Sept. 13, 2006 - Archbishop Wood won, 10-0.
Rankings: Archbishop Wood (12-1), No. 1 in Pennsylvania
Bishop McDevitt (12-2), No. 3 in Pennsylvania


Why it's big: This is not the biggest class state final game in the Keystone State, but it certainly is the biggest matchup and should be the biggest game. It has all the markings of a classic with upward of 15 Division I players spread between the two rosters. Both have losses on the year and both are just now facing their stiffest Class AAA test. Each has steadily improved as the season progressed and this clash will make for a fantastic final.


Archbishop Wood wins if: Its offensive line is up to the test. This is a college-sized offensive line that has not seen anyone near its size this year - until this week. If Archbishop Wood figures to get cousins Desmon and Brandon Peoples going in the run game, the offensive line will need to do its job against the most athletic defensive front and linebacking core it has gone against this season. If the team can not get the Peoples cousins going, and it has to rely on Joey Monaghan to throw the ball it may struggle against a McDevitt squad which showed last week it can blanket a strong offense.


Bishop McDevitt wins if: Its defense is on lockdown. The McDevitt offense had moments in the season where it has not been able to get in gear; the defense has been the obvious strength all year. This figures to be the name of the game on Friday night. Five-star and likely All-American defensive lineman Noah Spence hammered Montour quarterback Dillon Buechel at every turn in the semifinals. Brock Dean, a run-stuffing linebacker, will be charged with keeping the Wood running attack from getting to the next level.


Prediction: There is a ton of talent on the field. It is concentrated for Archbishop Wood, as its senior class is loaded, but spread throughout McDevitt's roster. That will put some pressure on the young players for McDevitt. This one certainly has the feel of a game that will be tight from kick to close and could work its way to overtime. While it would be a mild upset for McDevitt to win, it figures to be another tough loss for this team.
- Archbishop Wood 31, McDevitt 28

-- For more on Pennsylvania football, visit PaPreps.com

Weekend Watch
Total Predictions (2011: 121-61)
No. 4 Lake Travis def. Waco Midway, 27-17.
No. 5 Miramar def. No. 60 Plant, 23-9.
No. 8 Armwood def. No. 9 Miami Central, 27-24.
No. 10 Cibolo Steele def. No. 42 Spring Dekaney, 41-30.
No. 13 Norland def. Wakulla, 30-10.
No. 18 De La Salle def. No. 20 Westlake, 28-26.
No. 21 Southlake Carroll def. Ft. Bend Hightowe, 22-17.
No. 22 Archbishop Wood def. Bishop McDevitt, 31-28.
No. 53 First Coast def. No. 31 Manatee, 20-16..
No. 33 Santa Margarita def. No. 35 Bellarmine Prep, 40-20.
No. 37 Del Oro def. Helix, 24-20.
Submit your picks: Play the Pick'Em contest
Game of the Week record: 9-5
2011 Record for other games picked: 112-56



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