Previewing the ‘Little SEC’

Power ranking football’s 27-6A district


Danielle Esperiqueta

Ryan Benca lays a block on a defensive lineman. Benca and his teammates will kick off district play Friday at Wagner.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

Football heads into district play undefeated following two blowout victories: a 45-27 shootout with Harker Heights and a 31-6 demolition of Madison. But district competition brings new challenges, and every week takes on the utmost importance. Below is a quick rundown on each of the team’s prospective foes, in predicted order of final standings.

8. South San Bobcats

South San is, er, in a bit over their collective heads. The team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007, and hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2005. Not to mention that they have to integrate two new coaching systems: those of Phil Barron and Leandro Gonzales, the latter of whom will coach at the South San West campus when it opens up in 2021. Further, district rules prevent them from playing until a matchup with the Rangers on Oct. 30, and they’re already 47-point (!) underdogs for that game. The Bobcats may have a light at the end of their tunnel, but until the new campus drops their classification to sub-6A, they’ll likely be resigned to the cellar of 27-6A.

7. East Central Hornets

East Central’s story is a tragic one. A decent team that would compete for the playoffs in most of the state’s districts, the Hornets are a clear tier above South San, but still lack the talent and experience to compete with the Wagner/New Braunfels duo that, spoiler alert, represent the next two spots on the totem pole. Junior quarterback Caden Bosanko enters his second year as a starter with little returning help, as first-year starter and “Friday Night Tykes” star TaDion Lott will look to replace some of DeAngelo Rosemond’s production. A bright spot is offensive lineman Elexander King, one of the best in the San Antonio area. But four returning starters simply isn’t good enough. This will serve as a rebuilding year of sorts for the Hornets, who will try to capitalize on Bosanko’s senior year next season.

6. Wagner Thunderbirds

This is where it gets interesting. Six teams have a realistic shot at the playoffs, starting with Little SEC newcomer Wagner. This tier is essentially a coin flip between the New Braunfels and the reigning 5A semifinalist Thunderbirds, who lost to upstart powerhouse (and eventual champion) Alvin Shadow Creek. Led by quarterback Isaiah Williams and all-state running back LJ Butler – more on him later – Wagner finished 13-2, with an inter-classification loss to Judson serving as the team’s lone regular-season blemish.

The pair combined for 52 touchdowns, but Butler apparently got antsy in the offseason, and switched to fellow Judson ISD school, Judson. The other District 27-6A schools, and later the UIL, decided that Butler would not be eligible to play for the Rockets in 2020, claiming that he transferred for athletic reasons. Well, whatever the reason, he’s back with his Thunderbird teammates and ready to lead his squad into the new unknown: class 6A. It’s always hard to project schools changing classes, and without any semblance of a real preseason slate – the team played two scrimmages, and Butler missed one of them – Wagner could have a tough introductory year. Still, their service academy-esque triple-option offense can cause major problems for other teams, and an upset win or two could certainly be in the cards.

5. New Braunfels

Quarterback Peyton Driggers (52 attempts, 314 yards passing, four touchdowns) and running back Ryker Purdy (52 attempts, 386 yards rushing, six touchdowns) lead an electric attack for a New Braunfels team that’s only made the playoffs once since 2013. Unlike East Central, who’s looking at a potential down year, this is the Unicorns’ best chance at the playoffs in this loaded district. Driggers, a senior and three-year starter, has been rock-solid since taking over for the injured Trey Johns in 2018. And Purdy, who rushed for 690 yards and 10 touchdowns last year as a sophomore, has the game to match his name. (Come on. Ryker Purdy? That just sounds like a football name.)

Two games in, New Braunfels boasts a narrow win over San Marcos and a two-score victory over Seguin. But things get a lot tougher next week with a showdown with reigning state quarterfinalist Judson. And remember, the Unicorns are no stranger to hot starts. Last season, they shot out of the gate with four straight triumphs, but won just one of their final six contests. The team certainly has talent, but how well they can hold up in one of the toughest districts in the state remains to be seen.

4. Steele Knights

Every power ranking needs an upset, right? Steele, who finished last season 8-3 after a brutal second-round matchup with eventual champion Austin Westlake, only returns two offensive starters, and it’s showed. In week one, they hosted Chester (Va.) Life Christian, a private school that won four games last season. The Knights lost, 26-14. Last week, the Knights played Reagan and had similar issues, as four-year starter and Division I commit Wyatt Begeal only mustered 66 yards passing and two interceptions on 21 attempts. The team lost a lot of rushing production to graduation – over 1,200 yards and 19 touchdowns – not to mention Begeal’s graduated receivers, over 1,600 yards of whom also graduated. One of those receivers, Jaylon Jones, is already a starting cornerback at Texas A&M. The talent exodus is real, and after a less-than-ideal offseason, the replacements have yet to step up.

That isn’t to say, however, that the team is dead in the water. They haven’t missed the playoffs (or won less than eight games) since 2005, the team’s inaugural season. With just seven games left on the docket, they’ve already missed one benchmark, but they’ll have a trio of ramp-up matches (East Central, Wagner, New Braunfels) before taking on the big dogs of the district. A bounce-back from their slow start should be expected; regardless of their issues, the team remains one of the best in the city. All that remains to be seen is whether they can compete with the best in their own district.

3. Smithson Valley

Before the season, Smithson Valley looked like one-third of a three-sided coin flip between them, New Braunfels and Wagner. Each school had a clear strength – discipline, experience and offense, respectively – but also had clear weaknesses. The chink in the Rangers’ armor was a lack of experience, specifically on offense and in the secondary. Only eight starters remained, and four of those switched positions. The continuity at the quarterback, running back, tight end, cornerback and safety spots was nil.

And yet every change head coach Larry Hill made in the offseason has paid off. Converted cornerback Jalen Nutt has 465 total yards and three touchdowns through two games at the quarterback position. Running back Gabe Hoskins has rushed for 171 yards and four scores, including three in the season opener. The defense has forced four turnovers and blocked two kicks. Their +43 point differential is easily the highest in the district – the only other team in the positive, New Braunfels, is at +29 through two games. And they’re sticking to what works: Nutt and Hoskins (and Garrett Brooks, when healthy) play off of each other like maestros in a symphony. The read-option attack has yet to meet a defense it can’t exploit, and although they haven’t run many short to intermediate passing routes yet, they may not need to. They’ve played like the best team in the district so far, but it’ll take a larger sample size to vault up into that Judson-Clemens tier.

2. Clemens Buffaloes

Coming off of a magical, undefeated regular season, the Clemens offense retains the bulk of its weapons and line, including athletic quarterback Max Didomenico and his top two weapons (running back A’Mari Edwards and wide receiver Andrew Edwards). Didomenico ravaged his opponents last season to the tune of over 2,700 total yards and 33 touchdowns, spread evenly between the air and the ground. But offense was never the issue with the Buffaloes, who were held under three touchdowns only once; a 15-7 win over Smithson Valley in week four, over a full calendar year ago. No, it’s the defense, which graduates all but three starters. Gone are stars like Mason Chambers (Iowa State) and Derrick Lewis (Texas Tech), and in their stead we see a half-dozen question marks.

Weeks one and two did little to explain the mystery. A 53-7 loss at the hands of reigning state champion Austin Westlake was not surprising, but still stung. The defense just isn’t as good as it was. A 35-0 win over a hapless San Angelo Central squad is good, but only in a preventative sense; good teams should beat San Angelo Central. So the Buffaloes are clearly better than average, but not in the ballpark with the best. But there’s a wide range of outcomes in the middle, and the development of the defense will determine whether they can pass Judson – or fall below Smithson Valley or Steele.

1. Judson Rockets

This pick is one of legacy, and faith, more than anything else. Judson has made three state title games since the turn of the century, only missing the dance once. They’ve won six state titles, and haven’t finished with a losing record since 1976. And yet this year looks primed for an aberration. Despite their typical batch of stars, week two was tough on the Rockets, who were blown out of the water at DeSoto, 37-0. Butler’s aforementioned transfer attempt was preceded by former Brandeis quarterback Jordan Battles, but both were shot down, first by the District 27-6A Executive Committee and then by the UIL. That late shutdown left junior quarterback Michael Burroughs in a tough position, and he understandably struggled to put points on the board against a stout DeSoto team. 

But if Judson can get even baseline production from Burroughs, who is talented, watch out. The team has a half-dozen Division I prospects, including running back De’Anthony Lewis, who would’ve started over Butler. Lewis averaged an absurd 8.9 yards per carry last week, which over a full season would actually constitute a step back from last season’s unfathomable 9.57 yard per carry average. His offensive line, led by UTSA commits Kamron Scott and Robert Rigsby, should open holes for him throughout the season. And a defense that allowed just two games of over three touchdowns in the regular season returns enough key contributors to keep the good times rolling. It’ll fall onto Burroughs, though, to determine how far the Rockets can fly in their first year of class 6A Division II playoffs.


It looks like football is in for another grueling regular season. But the team’s just five years removed from a 10-win season that resulted in a state quarterfinal berth, and Dave Campbell’s Texas Football thinks they’ll make it back. They’ve played like the best team in the district through two weeks of games, but it’s prime-time now. The Rangers kick off district play with maybe their most important games of the year – at Wagner and vs. New Braunfels – and winning those would put them in the driver’s seat for an 11th-straight playoff berth.