K.J. Penson

Hightower quarterback Kendron Penson Jr. winds up to throw a deep pass during a Sept. 3 game against Westfield. Penson ran for a touchdown and threw for another as the Hurricanes defeated Manvel last Thursday. (Photo by Landan Kuhlmann)

Hightower has not won a District 10-5A football crown since moving into the district in 2018, and has not won a district title of any kind since 2015. But they’ll have a chance to take a major step toward breaking those streaks in a state-ranked showdown this week.

The Hurricanes (6-1, 5-0 district) travel to Katy on Thursday to play the Paetow Panthers (7-0, 5-0) in a game that could go a long way in deciding the District 10-5A crown. It is also a showdown between two of the state’s best in Class 5A Division I, with Hightower ranked 10th by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football and Paetow entering the game ranked 9th.

Hightower sophomore quarterback K.J. Penson has been on fire in district play, completing nearly 62 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns and just one interception while adding three scores rushing. He’s averaging 214 passing yards per game, and has thrown multiple touchdown passes in four of the Hurricane’s five district contests. USC commit Caleb Douglas (537 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Kaleb Johnson (530 yards, 4 touchdowns) have been his primary targets.

If the Hurricanes’ passing attack does get bogged down or they want a change of pace, sophomore running back Jeremy Payne has stepped up to the task. Payne has run for 600 yards and a touchdown this season, while averaging 8.5 yards per carry. He has been especially strong in District 10-5A competition, averaging nearly 103 yards per game and 9.5 yards per carry, including 100-yard efforts against Terry, Manvel and Foster.

Treylong Beloney leads the Hightower defense with 5.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss this season, while Robert Staten has four sacks and two fumble recoveries along with a team-leading three forced fumbles.

On their opponents' side, the Panthers’ ground game has been the driving force for an offense putting up about 405 yards and better than 55 points per contest. Jacob Brown has run for 636 yards and 12 touchdowns to lead the Panthers, while Damyrion Phillips has 525 yards and eight touchdowns of his own. Quarterback C.J. Dumas is completing better than 67 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns, and receiver Kole Wilson (389 yards, 5 touchdowns) is their leading receiver.

The Panthers defense is led by a pair of linebackers in Alex Kilgore (40 tackles, 10 TFL, five sacks) and Daymion Sanford (41 tackles, 11 TFL, five sacks), and safety Kentrell Webb has three interceptions for a unit that has shut out each of its last four opponents.

Here are a few more players and matchups to watch this week:

Bush (4-3, 4-0 District 20-6A) vs. George Ranch (4-3, 2-2): Bush RB Adrian Cormier

Much of the focus has been on the Broncos’ defense, but the senior running back is proving to be an offensive weapon that defenses have to plan for. Cormier’s 638 rushing yards and 91.1 yards per game are both second in District 20-6A to the Longhorns’ Hymond Drinkard. He has topped 100 yards in each of his last three games, and will likely be a focal point again Saturday as the Broncos seek to continue their perfect district slate.

And Drinkard (747 yards, 12 touchdowns) will be a stiff challenge for a tough Bush defense, as he has found the end zone at least once in every game so far this season. But it’s not a one-man show for the Longhorns, as they also feature 20-6A’s leading passer in Cole Murphy (1,313 yards, 12 touchdowns) and receiver in Joseph Wilson (565 yards).

Willowridge (4-2, 4-1 District 11-5A) vs. Sterling (5-3, 5-1): Willowridge RB Javin Chatman

The Eagles are largely a ball-control offense, and the senior running back will likely be the lead man once again this week. Chatman has 514 rushing yards, which ranks third in District 11-5A, and five touchdowns. He has topped 100 yards each of the last two weeks, including 104 yards in last week’s contest against a stingy Marshall defense.

Sterling quarterback Jaylon Davis is second in 11-5A with 612 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, and will be a tough challenge for the Eagles’ defense. Defensively, Jeremiah Malbroue (64 tackles) and Garrett Green (74 tackles) will be tasked with slowing Chatman down.

Stafford (3-4, 1-1 District 12-4A) vs. Columbia (5-1, 2-0): Stafford RB Jamaal Wiley

After being bottled up in the Spartans’ district opener Oct. 8 against El Campo (seven carries, 25 yards), the sophomore tailback was back on track last week with 207 yards and three touchdowns against Needville. As is the case most weeks, he’ll need to have a strong game if Stafford hopes to upset Columbia on Friday.

The Roughnecks bring a potent rushing attack to town this weekend, one that is averaging nearly 340 yards per game. Jordan Woodard is the primary back (814 yards, 14 touchdowns), but Jourdan Concepcion and Xavier Butler have also combined for 685 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns between them.

This week’s schedule

Thursday

Kempner at Manvel, 6 p.m., Freedom Field

Willowridge vs. Houston Sterling, 7 p.m., Hall Stadium

Hightower at Katy Paetow, 7 p.m., Rhodes Stadium

Friday

Clements vs. Austin, 7 p.m., Hall Stadium

Stafford vs. Columbia, 7 p.m.

Saturday

Bush vs. George Ranch, 1 p.m., Hall Stadium

Ridge Point vs. Elkins, 1 p.m., Freedom Field

Dulles vs. Travis, 6 p.m., Hall Stadium

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