It all comes down to this

Football must defeat New Braunfels to reach playoffs.

Not ready to end the season, senior defensive lineman Will Gibbens and his teammates look to punch their ticket to the playoffs with a win against New Braunfels.

Grace Collazo

Not ready to end the season, senior defensive lineman Will Gibbens and his teammates look to punch their ticket to the playoffs with a win against New Braunfels.

Jackson Posey, Sports Writer

It all comes down to this. Win, and they’re in. Lose, and the Rangers will (likely) be sent home.

A year without the playoffs would be a lost season for a team that has been a playoff mainstay for years, and a loss in the final matchup – a big no for a team so close to the postseason – would mark the school’s first losing season in nearly two decades.

Don’t tell the team, but we should all be just a little bit grateful for that early-season loss to Clemens. Sure, it would’ve clinched the school a playoff spot. But late-season drama is always exciting, and a win-or-go-home game to close out the year is about as exciting as it gets.

The caveat, of course, is that if Steele loses to East Central, the Rangers will clinch. But the Hornets have nothing to play for, having already been eliminated, and Steele is fighting for their lives.

The Rangers can’t lean on that. The winner of the New Braunfels game will make the playoffs, that much is a given, and that has to be how they approach this game. 

New Braunfels is a mystery box. They beat football powers such as Seguin and division rival Clemens but fell to an eliminated East Central squad by two touchdowns. Stats aren’t much help either – MaxPreps has the Unicorns at an unfathomable 100.3 tackles per gamegame, nearly twice that of the highest NFL per-game average (Arizona Cardinals; 57.25/game). That being said, all Unicorn stats must be taken with a grain of salt. 

Despite the general lack of a dominant ground game – the Unicorns are averaging just 95 ground yards per game – they have an intriguing passing game. Quarterback Trey Johns had a remarkable start to the season (117 completions, 1,374 yards, 10 TDs) before falling victim to the injury bug in the fourth quarter  against Steele. He was replaced by sophomore Peyton Driggers, who has slashed 55/657/5 thus far.  Driggers has a much better QBR so far (112 to Johns’ 81.3), as he’s completed 70.5 percent of his passes with a higher yards-per-attempt average. He also has more rushing yards (179) and attempts (44) than anyone on the roster. Johns hasn’t seen the field since Driggers was called upon in that Steele game.

Their offensive line has an interesting talent in Rylan Meek, a 6-foot-2, 265-pound center who’s trying to prove a point after making the state all-star team but going largely unrecruited. A dual-sport athlete (baseball), Meek will have a tough matchup against the Rangers’ terrifying defensive line.

Wide receive Ethan Duliban, too, has a bone to pick with the world as he is off the recruiting radar despite hauling in 47 catches for 582 yards and three touchdowns in nine games. Watch out for him against a Smithson Valley team that has struggled with giving up big plays.

A young, up-and-coming quarterback trying to right the ship; an offensive lineman and receiver with something to prove; and a team that is so hungry for an upset. It’s a potential trap game for the Rangers, who see New Braunfels’ losing record and history (they haven’t pulled off more than six wins in a season since their 11-win campaign in 2009, and even that was with a different coach), and might fall victim to apathy.

But the Rangers, too, are fighting for their lives, and when the games get tighter, and the lights shine brighter, talent wins out. New Braunfels has some quality pieces, but they aren’t there yet. Maybe in a few years, with more time to develop budding star Driggers. But for now, this is Smithson Valley’s time. Quarterback Levi Williams is not going to finish his high school career knowing he lost a winnable game to a lesser foe. It will be close – but the Rangers come out on top.

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