Around this time every season, it becomes acceptable to call certain teams a Cinderella in the Texas high school football playoff landscape. There will always be at least one team that no one expected to reach farther than the second round that has somehow made their way into the regional finals. Always.
This season is no different.
In Winona, a small town of just 576 residents just outside of Tyler, the Wildcats have opened some eyes in the 3A Division II bracket.
Prior to this season, the Wildcats had failed win a playoff game since 1987, and had 10 losing seasons in the past 12 years. After Harmony demolished the Wildcats 82-34 to drop Winona to 4-5 just five weeks ago, it didn’t look like this would be the season that the tide would turn.
Despite the pessimism, Winona won its final regular season game against Edgewood to sneak in the playoffs with a fourth-place finish in District 8-3A.
A opening round 52-27 win against Daingerfield shocked many around the East Texas landscape, but didn’t serve to what was on tap for the weeks to come.
The following week, Winona leading rusher Deundre Wheeler set a school record with 340 rushing yards on just 30 carries to help the Wildcats defeat Leonard by a score of 51-12. After that, the Wildcats overcame a 21-7 first half deficit to defeat Whitewright 35-28 in the regional semifinal.
Wheeler now has 1,245 rushing yards and 22 TDs on the season, joining sophomores Quinn Johnson (961 yards, 16 TDs) and Keylon Kincade Jr. (658 yards, 6 TDs) in the 500-yard plus category for the Wildcats.
Led by third-year coach Keylon Kincade, a former SMU and Dallas Cowboys running back, and his two sons, Braxton and Keylon Jr., the Wildcats are in prime position to upset a 3A powerhouse in the form of undefeated Gunter.
The regional final will take place at Forney’s City Bank Stadium on Friday night at 7:30pm.
109 miles to the west, a slightly larger Duncanville squad is in the fourth round of the 6A Division 1 playoffs for the first time since 2000.
The Panthers came out of the regular season with a District 7-6A title and a 8-2 record, a performance that has not resonated with past Duncanville teams.
After three victories in the state’s most prestigious playoff bracket, Duncanville will play for a regional title to try to get one step closer to their first state championship since 1998.
This long run has not surprised Panther players however, as they saw this coming before the season even started.
“We’ve been working hard since the offseason, and now we’re here,” linebacker Miquon Mayes said. “We got it. We’re going to keep on making this long run.”
That long run will face a major road bump on Saturday when Duncanville will head to AT&T Stadium to face off against Allen.
“I’ve been wanting to play them since I came to high school,” Mayes said. “Now I want to beat them… bad.”