Big Country Game of the Week: Ballinger, Spearman meet in state-ranked battle
THE BEARD'S PICKS LAST WEEK: 29-3 (.906); 11-man: 15-2; Six-man: 14-1
OVERALL: 345-85 (.802); 11-man: 177-38; Six-man: 168-47
Ballinger had to wait a week, but the Bearcats kick off the playoffs Friday in a battle of state-ranked teams.
No. 10 Ballinger will meet No. 5 Spearman in Floydada after advancing via Odessa Compass' forfeit in bi-district. It's the Bearcats' first area-round game since 2007, and a win would mark the team's first region semifinals since 2002.
Although the open week was unexpected, Ballinger coach Chuck Lipsey said it gave the team a chance to scout Spearman — when they weren't scouting Lubbock Roosevelt, which lost to the Lynx 63-34 on Friday.
"We got offense and defensive work on Spearman one day and then Roosevelt the next day," Lipsey said. "We'd just kind of rotate through the week, so at least it got us kind of a little jump start."
The Bearcats (10-1) closed the regular season with a 42-0 win over Sonora to clinch their first outright district title in 12 years. Ballinger's lone loss is to undefeated Llano, which is ranked No. 7 in Class 3A Division I.
The Bearcats have hung their hat on defense. The team allows 9.3 points per game and has given up more than 14 points only once. Spearman (10-1) represents the toughest challenge thus far.
The Lynx haven't scored fewer than 42 points in a game. Their only loss was a COVID-19-related forfeit to No. 1 Canadian in early October.
Lipsey said Spearman and his team run a lot of the same offensive formations. Four-star athlete Brenen Thompson, who lines up in multiple positions, is the most dangerous weapon. But the Bearcats also have to account for Jack Wilkerson at quarterback and receiver Brayden Klafka.
"(Thompson) is one of the fastest guys in the state," Lipsey said. "If he gets away from you, we're not going to have anybody that can catch him. We've got speed. We've got mile-relay speed, they've got sprint speed. Not only (Thompson), but (Klafka) is a good player. Their quarterback does a good job of getting it to them."
Junior quarterback Carter Arrott leads the Bearcats, who also feature running back Garrett Dixon and athlete Tyler Vaughn. Similar to Spearman, Lipsey said, Ballinger likes to get the ball to its skill players, including Weston Rollwitz, in space.
All-state lineman Adam Winn leads a senior-heavy group in the Ballinger trenches. Lipsey said play at the line of scrimmage will be a big factor Friday.
"It's going to be that way on both sides of the ball," Lipsey said. "That's been our goal all year long: winning the battle in the trenches. They've done a good job of it. Friday night we're going to definitely have to do that."
The thing that stood out the most about when I saw Ballinger beat Bangs three weeks ago was their defense. The Bearcats have a truly dominant line, which can do a lot of things for a team.
I expect Spearman to avoid running into the heart of the defense and taking advantage of its speed on the outside. If Ballinger can continue to rally to the ball, they'll be in decent shape.
This game will come down to big plays. I think the Lynx have just a bit more firepower.
PICK: Spearman 27, Ballinger 20
If there were two Stephens
Sweetwater (8-1) vs. Celina (4-4)
Don't let the records fool you, these teams should make for a great matchup.
Two of the Bobcats' losses are to teams ranked in 4A D-I's top four. Celina gave No. 1 Argyle one of its closest games in a 35-21 loss in Week 3.
The Mustangs are red hot, scorching Levelland 69-24 for their eighth consecutive win. Sweetwater is averaging 49.6 points per game and hasn't scored fewer than 32 in a contest.
Friday will be the Mustangs' toughest test, facing a Celina defense coming off its second shutout. Expect a good one at Tarleton Memorial Stadium. Our very own Jordan Hofeditz will be there covering it.
PICK: Celina 32, Sweetwater 28
Keep your eyes on:
Eastland (8-3) vs. Bells (9-2); PICK: Eastland by 10
Albany (9-1) vs. Ralls (7-3); PICK: Albany by 8
Balmorhea (8-1) vs. Jayton (10-1); PICK: Balmorhea by 6
The Beard's picks
ARGYLE vs. Stephenville
SPRINGTOWN vs. Big Spring
JIM NED vs. Dalhart
CANADIAN vs. Bangs
POST vs. Anson
Hawley vs. SUNDOWN
CISCO vs. Olton
HAMLIN vs. Petrolia
Knox City vs. HAPPY
WESTBROOK vs. Garden City
May vs. JONESBORO
Blackwell vs. MATADOR MOTLEY COUNTY
Throckmorton vs. STRAWN
Fannindel vs. GORDON