Ja'Koby Banks

Marshall quarterback Ja'koby Banks runs down the field during a Sept. 2 game against Elkins. Banks and the Buffalos will be among the area's high school football teams kicking off their playoff run this weekend. (Photo by Landan Kuhlmann)

After three months of play, the playoff picture is set for the area’s high school football teams, who are preparing to kick off what they hope are deep playoff runs.

As they get started this weekend, traditional powers such as Ridge Point and Marshall are looking to replicate last year’s runs to the regional final and state quarterfinals, respectively, while upstarts like the Clements Rangers are looking for a massive upset.

Below are some players to watch in every matchup to help set the stage for this weekend:

Ridge Point (9-1) vs. Katy Seven Lakes (7-3): Ridge Point RB Ezell Jolley

Despite missing multiple games early in the season, the junior tailback still finished the season with 668 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was especially strong down the stretch, running for 383 yards and six touchdowns in the Panthers’ final five district games. He will likely be called upon again Thursday as the Panthers – ranked 20th in Class 6A – start their playoff run.

Sophomore running back Barrett Hudson powers the Spartans’ attack with 835 yards and five touchdowns on the season while averaging nearly seven yards per carry, though Michael Amico (469 yards, 5 touchdowns) can also do some damage.

Travis (6-4) at Katy Tompkins (9-1): Travis QB Anthony NJoku

It’s the final ride with the Tigers for Njoku, a senior and three-year starter for head coach Trey Sissom. He has been nothing short of spectacular this season with more than 2,300 scrimmage yards and 30 total touchdowns – and he’ll want to be at his best for this showdown on Thursday night with the Falcons, who are ranked 24th in Class 6A by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.

Quarterback Cole Francis (2,023 yards, 20 touchdowns) leads a Tompkins offense averaging better than 42 points and 400 yards per contest. Sophomore Caleb Blocker (714 yards, 11 touchdowns) leads their rushing attack, while receivers Joshua McMillan (746 yards, 7 touchdowns) and Wyatt Young (558 yards, 6 touchdowns) are Francis’ favorite targets.

Clements (7-3) at Katy (10-0): Clements WRs Marcus Darnell/Patrick Smith

There’s no way to sugarcoat it – the Rangers’ return to the UIL postseason has brought them a tall task in the form of one of the state’s best, with the Tigers entering postseason play as the 2nd-ranked team in Class 6A by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.

If Clements wants to have any hope of pulling the massive upset, it will likely be by the hands of its top two playmakers. Smith (845 yards) and Darnell (664 yards) combined to catch 83 passes for more than 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns in the regular season, with Smith adding another 417 all-purpose yards.

Katy’s formula for success has hardly changed over the years, and certainly not this season. The Tigers bring their potent rushing attack (347.7 yards per game) into this one, with junior running backs Seth Davis (1,781 yards, 22 touchdowns) and Dallas Glass (940 yards, 13 touchdowns) leading the charge.

Bush (5-5) at Katy Cinco Ranch (6-4): Bush RB Adrian Cormier

The senior has been a workhorse for the Broncos this season, and a big reason for their success. Cormier finished the regular season with 1,095 yards rushing and nine touchdowns in 10 games, and the Broncos might need every last one of them this weekend if they want to win the program’s first playoff game since 2013.

Cinco Ranch brings a potent offense (32.8 points per game) to this one led by junior quarterback Gavin Rutherford, whose 2,213 yards and 23 passing touchdowns paced District 19-6A while throwing just three interceptions. His favorite target has been Seth Salverino, whose 890 yards and nine touchdown catches were both second in the district.

Marshall (10-0) vs. Barbers Hill (5-5): Marshall QB Ja’Koby Banks

The junior signal caller has been nothing short of brilliant all season, finishing the regular season with 2,270 total yards and 37 touchdowns. He was the only quarterback in the district to have at least 1,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing – so look for him and the Buffalos’ offense to have a big day against a Barbers Hill defense allowing more than 34 points per game.

Barbers Hill has their own dual-threat quarterback in Brent Holdren, who had 2,845 total yards (2,117 passing, 728 rushing) and 29 total touchdowns in the regular season. They also have a workhorse in running back Garrett Hagler (1,141 yards, 12 touchdowns), who has run for at least 100 yards on six occasions this year.

Hightower (8-2) at Port Arthur Memorial (8-2): Hightower WR’s Caleb Douglas/Kaleb Johnson

The Hurricanes’ third-place finish in District 10-5A is a little deceiving, with their lone loss coming to the 8th-ranked Katy Paetow Panthers – not to mention a win over 7th-ranked Manvel also on their resume. Hightower was in a gauntlet of a district this season, and these two big-bodied receivers were among the biggest reasons why. They combined to catch 67 passes for 1,364 yards and 10 touchdowns in the regular season, and K.J. Penson will likely call their number on multiple occasions Friday night.

Stafford (6-4) vs. Houston Furr (7-3): Stafford RB Jamaal Wiley

In the Spartans’ final regular season game, Wiley (1,016 yards, 14 touchdowns) became the first Stafford running back to eclipse 1,000 yards in six seasons, and he’ll likely be a focal point again Friday. The sophomore has run for at least 100 yards five times this season, and has scored multiple touchdowns four times.

On the other side, the Brahmans bring their own two-headed running attack into the postseason. Quarterback Camron Heard has run for 1,068 yards and 11 touchdowns so far this season, while Johnny Robinson has been even more lethal in racking up 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns. Robinson has reached 100 yards in seven games, including six straight to end the regular season.

This week’s playoff schedule

Thursday

Class 6A Division I bi-district

Ridge Point (9-1) vs. Katy Seven Lakes (7-3), 7 p.m., Hall Stadium

Travis (6-4) at Katy Tompkins (9-1), 7 p.m., Rhodes Stadium

Friday

Class 6A Division II bi-district

Clements (7-3) at Katy (10-0), 6 p.m., Legacy Stadium

Bush (5-5) vs. Katy Cinco Ranch (6-4), 7 p.m., Rhodes Stadium

Class 5A Division I bi-district

Hightower (8-2) at Port Arthur Memorial (9-2), 7 p.m., Port Arthur Memorial Stadium

Class 5A Division II bi-district

Marshall (10-0) vs. Barbers Hill (5-5), 7 p.m., Hall Stadium

Class 4A Division I bi-district

Stafford (6-4) vs. Houston Furr (7-3), 7 p.m.

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