GC Football: Welcome to District 5-5A DII
Sep. 16—How in the world did we get here?
No one can explain how Corsicana's Tigers, who live 60 miles south of Dallas on I-45, were shoved a little farther west every time the UIL realigned football teams and went from playing teams like Nacogdoches near the Louisiana border to facing Arlington Seguin (yes, that Arlington) in district games for the next two seasons.
But this is where the Tigers live now — in a brutally competitive district that has three teams that were ranked in the state's preseason Top 20.
This is District 5-5A DII (try not to stutter when you say it), where the Tigers face their toughest road to the playoffs in years. The top four teams advance to the postseason and if Aric Sardinea's Tigers, who were picked to finish sixth, are playing after Nov. 4 (the final regular season game) then Sardinea should be the slam dunk Coach of the Year in this district.
Still, the Tigers can get there.
Honest. They showed enough offense in their first two non-district games to let folks know they're going to be in the hunt. The defense has to get better, and there's no reason to think it won't improve.
But everything is up in the air because everything is brand new. The only team Corsicana is familiar with is Ennis — the team the Tigers opened district play against Friday night.
Here's a quick Cliff Notes look at the district. All of the 2022 records are based on the first three non-district games, which weren't surprising, but down-right shocking for Ennis and Mansfield Summit, the top two teams in the district.
The Cougars were 4-5 and 3-4 in their district in 2021 and bring back eight starters, including five on defense. They were picked to finish seventh in the eight-team district right behind the Tigers.
They went 1-2 against a stiff pre-district schedule, losing to state-ranked 5A-DI Midlothian 30-14 and state powerhouse Red Oak 35-25 before beating winless Aubrey 29-14.
Top players are: QB Sirawn Evans and RB Naszar Otiene, who led the team in rushing a year ago with 897 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Cougars' biggest hurdle is their youth. They have a dozen sophomores on the roster.
They are picked to finish seventh in the eight-team district, right behind the Tigers. That's a big game for both teams next week when the Tigers travel to Arlington on Sept. 23.
The Elks went 8-4 and 5-2 in district last year and went two rounds in the playoffs. They bring back nine starters, including five on defense, but they were hit hard by graduation and transfers and are very young this season.
The Elks are coached by Jon Kitna, the former NFL quarterback and former Cowboys backup QB. His son sophomore Jamison Kitna is the Elks' QB.
They went 0-3 in pre-district games, losing to 5A DI 18th ranked Burleson Centennial 42-13, and 5A DI No. 5 Frisco Lone Star 38-3 before dropping a heartbreaker to 6A Weatherford 54-52.
Top players are LB Kyndall Cassidy, who made 107 tackles (7 for losses) and two sacks last season, LB Jayden Ayers and QB Jamison Kitna. Their strength is on defense and they bring a ton of confidence into the district season along with a strong OL.
They are picked to finish fourth, which means their game against the Tigers at CNB&T Stadium on Oct. 7 could be the Tigers' biggest showdown of the season.
The Lions, who have been upset in the second round of the playoffs the past two seasons, feel they should win the state title every year and 2022 is no different. They were the preseason No. 11 team in the state and picked to finish second in the district, behind No. 5 Mansfield Summit. The Lions were shocked when they lost all three pre-district games. They lost to 6A Waxahachie, their biggest rival, 42-2, fell to state-ranked Midlothian 28-10 and lost to Colleyville Heritage 23-20.
But that doesn't mean anything. Ennis is Ennis and the plan is to reach the state title game again. They have two huge showdowns against Summit and Midlothian Heritage. They return seven starters, including four on offense, where they should put up some impressive numbers throwing the ball.
Top players are QB Jackson Gilkey, the preseason pick to be the district's Offensive MVP, Ath/WR sophomore Gracen Harris and WR LaMarian McGowan. Gilkey is a tremendous quarterback and Harris, a Kerens native, is one of the top young players in Texas.
The Bulldogs went 6-5 and 5-2 in district but ran into eventual state champ South Oak Cliff in the bi-district round of the playoffs (49-28). They return a dozen starters, including eight on offense and could be the sleeper in the district race. They're picked fifth just ahead of the Tigers, but could upset one of the Big 3 teams that were pre-season state-ranked teams.
They went 2-1 in pre-district games, losing to 4A DI state champ Stephenville 62-61 in a game where QB Jarion Basped threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns and RB Erick Mills ran for 179 yards and four TDs. They hammered Halton (40-14) and Denton (54-19), scoring 155 points in the three game run.
Top players are Basped, Mills, who also plays LB, and RB Jonathen Wilson. They have enough offense and versatility to scare anyone in the district. They play the Tigers in what could be a huge game at CNB&T Stadium Oct. 28 in the 10th week of the season.
The Jaguars went 8-4, 3-2 in district and advanced to the second round of the 4A DI playoffs last year before moving up to 5A DII this season. They returned 15 starters, including nine on offense and began the season ranked No. 20 in the 5A DII preseason poll. They were picked to finish third in the district.
They opened their season with a heartbreaking 49-42 loss to Stephenville, which won the 4A DI state title and began the season ranked No. 1 in the 4A preseason poll. The Jags pounded Cleburne 64-0 and beat 4A DI No. 7 Waco La Vega 41-14 after leading 37-0 after three quarters.
Top players are QB Kaden Brown, OL/DL Kasen Carpenter, RB Jason Barela. Brown completed 36-of-48 passes for 628 yards and 12 touchdowns over the three pre-district games and Barela ran for 244 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries in the three-game pre-district run.
The Tigers face the Jaguars at home on Oct. 21 — Week No. 9.
Without a doubt, Summit is the team to beat in 5-5A DII. The Jaguars have made back-to-back trips to the 5A DI state semifinals before dropping down to 5A DII this season just in time to join the Tigers in their new district. They went 11-4 and 6-1 in district play last season and bring back a dozen starters with six on each side of the ball. They began the year ranked No. 5 in the state's preseason poll.
Like Ennis, Summit was shocked to go 1-2 in the pre-district season against three 6A teams. They gave up 107 points in losses to Mansfield Lake Ridge (50-27) and an embarrassing loss to Mansfield (57-7) to start the season before beating Crowley 20-14.
Top players are DL Legend Journey, the preseason pick to be the district's Defensive MVP, QB Joe Williams, OL Carlos Betancourt, OL Jalen Cavill.
Legend made 74 tackles, including 31 for losses and 11 sacks last season and is regarded as one of the top defensive linemen in the state. Summit's offensive line is a big strength and Williams, a junior, is expected to have a big year. The big question mark is depth, because this year's team is not as loaded. The Tigers play Summit in Mansfield Oct, 14.
Finally, a school the Tigers know something about. The Owls played the Tigers in every sport except football the last several years and fielded an excellent baseball team. That's not the case in football, where the Owls are picked to finish last (eighth) in this powerhouse district. They went 3-7 and 1-6 in district last season and return eight starters (4/4) from a team that lost its final six games in 2021.
They went 1-2 in their pre-district schedule, losing to Arlington Heights 49-31 and Ft. Worth Wyatt 21-6 before beating Ft, Worth Southwest 34-33.
Top players are QB Robert Brown, RB Ayden Groce and WR Brett Pool, who moved to receiver after playing quarterback a year ago. Brown ran for more yards (371 on 48 carries) than he threw for (17-33 for 162 yards, 0 TDs and three interceptions) in three pre-district games. The Tigers play Joshua on the road in their final regular season game on Nov. 4.