Two of the top high school football teams in the state will square off Friday night when Steele and Judson meet for only the sixth time in their budding rivalry.
Weather permitting, an overflow crowd of more than 7,000 is expected to jam into Lehnhoff Stadium, where Steele plays its home games, for the District 25-6A showdown. Kickoff is at 7:30.
Steele (8-0, 4-0) and Judson (7-0, 3-0) are No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the KENS 5 Class 6A area rankings. The Knights are No. 5 and the Rockets No. 7 in the Associated Press 6A state poll.
“We’ve told our kids that this is the kind of game you could remember for a long time, just because the records of both teams going into and being told all season by fans that it would be a big game,” Judson coach Sean McAuliffe said. “It should be exciting.”
Judson and Steele both came within a few plays of advancing to the state finals last year, with the Rockets falling to Cypress Ranch 38-31 in the 6A Division I semifinals and the Knights losing to Katy 27-20 in the Division II semifinals.
Steele leads the series against Judson 5-0 and beat the Rockets 23-22 last year, winning the game on a 1-yard run by quarterback L.G. Williams with 16 seconds left. It was the Knights’ second one-point victory against the Rockets. Steele hung on for a 25-24 win in 2010, the first time the schools met, and went on to take the 5A Division II state championship.
Williams is now a freshman at Texas State but most of the key players from last year’s game, including blue-chip senior defensive ends Mark Jackson (Steele) and Alton Robinson (Judson), both committed to Texas A&M, are back. And so is Judson quarterback Julon Williams, who made his first start against the Knights as a freshman last year.
“He played beyond his years last season in that game,” Steele coach Scott Lehnhoff said of Williams. “He’s an outstanding runner and he does an outstanding job with all their reads on the run options, and he’s been accurate with his passing. It’s hard to believe he’s just a sophomore. He plays a lot older than that, just the way he handles himself.”
Both coaches had plenty of good things to say about the team they’ll face Friday night.
“First of all, they’re extremely talented at the skill positions,” McAuliffe said. “They’ve got a set of receivers that can run. No. 7 (Antoine Cox-Wesley) can not only run, he has great eye-hand coordination and has made some catches that I don’t know if your average high school kid is going to be able to make. Their quarterback (Xavier Martin) is a true dual threat. He has a great touch on the deep ball and he can run.”
The Knights’ offense hasn’t skipped a beat with Martin at quarterback, averaging 407.6 yards – 219.1 rushing and 188.5 passing – and 44.3 points.
Martin, a junior who already has committed to Texas Tech, has completed 88 of 126 passes with only one interception for 1,428 yards and 14 TDs. Senior Bryson Denley is Steele’s leading rusher with 58 carries for 578 yards and 14 TDS.
Cox-Wesley, a senior, has 26 receptions for 362 yards and six TDs. Denley and Cox-Wesley also have committed to Texas Tech. C.J. Williams, a junior, is the Knights’ leading rusher with 34 catches for 644 yards and five TDs.
Jackson anchors the Steele defense with 13 tackles for loss, including six sacks. Junior outside linebacker Jacy Ivory also has six sacks and 12 total tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Junior safety Jayden Jackson is the team’s leading tackler with 72 stops, including a team-high 15 for loss.
“Steele is also very strong up front on both sides of the ball,” McAuliffe said. “They’re physical. They do a good job with their schemes. Defensively, they’ve got the defensive end, the Mark Jackson kid, who makes plays all over the place. They’ve got a real good front seven. They’ve got great athletes and they’ve done a great job of coaching those kids.”
Judson is also loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. Any discussion of the Rockets’ offense starts and ends with Williams, who has completed 51 of 96 passes with five interceptions for 841 yards and seven TDs.
“The biggest thing that jumps out at you about Julon is he’s got more of a command of what we’re trying to do offensively,” McAuliffe said. “He’s his own worst critic. If he throws a bad ball or makes a bad read, he can get on himself pretty quick. He’s a heck of a competitor.
“He wound up right at 1,800 yards of total offense last year and he’s sitting at around 1,200 yards this year with three games left in the regular season. He’s having another great year. As he goes in the passing game, we tend to go.”
Sophomore Jay Miller has rushed for 577 yards and six TDs on 67 carries to lead the Judson ground game, and senior Dreshon Govan, who has six catches for 254 yards and three TDs, is the team’s top receiver.
Robinson (four sacks) and senior safety Dominique Ramsey (52 tackles) are the Rockets’ defensive leaders.
“Alton can take over a football game when he’s ready to do it,” Lehnhoff said. “You’ve got to know where he’s at on every play. You may have to change things protection-wise just to help yourself out. He’s a dominant player.”
Lehnhoff’s praise of the Rockets didn’t stop with Robinson and Williams.
“Their front seven defensively is as good as anybody, and maybe the best we’ve ever played against,” Lehnhoff said. “They’re big, they’re athletic, they’re physical. They’re exceptional up front. Their offensive line does a great job. They understand their scheme. It’s simple but they execute it well.
“They’ve got some great athletes. It’s tough to get off those blocks. They’ve got some big, athletic guys that can get around you. Their depth at the running-back positions is really remarkable.”
Judson’s 47-27 victory against rival Wagner three weeks ago extended the Rockets’ state record for consecutive winning seasons to 39.