By CLINT FOSTER
The University Interscholastic League officially announced the new Texas High School football districts, Monday morning, and as usual the realignment came with plenty of excitement and intrigue.
The next two years are sure to produce many interesting storylines across North Texas, with Gordon and Strawn finally reunited in district play, District 7-6A’s gauntlet of member schools and Mineral Wells finding a new home in District 4-4A.
The Rams lose all five of the district opponents they’ve grown accustomed to the past two years – the UIL essentially swapped Mineral Wells for Alvarado to transform District 6-3A into a slightly different District 5-4A. But as the ink dries on the new district lineups, Rams fans will notice plenty of familiar foes.
In addition to Mineral Wells, District 4-4A includes Graham, Burkburnett, Decatur, Wichita Falls Hirschi and Gainesville – three of whom the Rams faced just last season.
At first glance, it’s a pretty strong district as all five teams besides Mineral Wells made the playoffs in 2013.
But how do the Rams specifically stack up against the new competition?
Let’s take a look...
2013 record: 14-1, (lost in 3A-D2 semifinals to Argyle, 38-14).
Last meeting with Mineral Wells: 2013, Mineral Wells lost, 51-7.
Summary: Arguably the strongest program of the class, the Steers are always a force to be reckoned with. They rolled through the first 14 games of last season, encountering little opposition to their high-powered offense or their stiff defense. Graham loses senior quarterback Ben Davis and running back Dillon Gonzales next year, but returns a wealth of offensive weapons and could easily be the favorites to take home the district crown and make another push deep into the playoffs.
2013 record: 4-7 (lost in first round of 3A-D1 playoffs to Kennedale, 57-28).
Last meeting with Mineral Wells: 2013, Mineral Wells lost, 24-8.
Summary: The Bulldogs have presented the closest thing to a mirror image of the Rams over the past two years. Although the Rams lost a hard-fought game in 2013, they bested the Bulldogs, 41-6, at home in 2012. Based on past history, the Burkburnett game will likely be one of two games Mineral Wells must win each year to make a push for the playoffs.
2013 record: 9-4 (lost in third round of 3A-D1 playoffs to Chapel Hill, 55-40).
Last meeting with Mineral Wells: 2011, Mineral Wells lost, 64-28.
Summary: Similar to Graham, Decatur has consistently proven itself as a strong competitor in 3A football. Last year, the Eagles relied heavily on a high-scoring offense led by TCU-bound quarterback Grayson Muehlstein. But the 2013 Eagles were senior-laden and could be a wild card going into next season with a lot of fresh faces. In their last meeting, the Rams lost a heartbreaker to Decatur, being outscored 35-0 in the second half after taking a 29-28 deficit into halftime. If the Rams bring their A-game or even find a way to beat the Eagles next year, this game could easily bud into the Rams biggest district rivalry.
2013 record: 7-4 (lost in first round of 3A-D1 playoffs to Springtown, 49-27).
Last meeting with Mineral Wells: 2013, Mineral Wells lost, 68-0.
Summary: Hirschi is a team that tends to live and die on its speed and athleticism. While they may not always be the most disciplined team, if you can’t catch them, not much else matters. Rams fans will be familiar with the Huskies from non-district play over the past few years and, like Burkburnett, this will be a game Mineral Wells has to circle on their calendars in red ink and win every year to be successful. Mineral Wells couldn’t keep up with the Huskies in Wichita Falls last year, but grinded out a 27-22 win at home in 2012. The bad news for the Rams is that the Huskies return all three of their top-tier offensive weapons – Cedrick Battle and twin brothers Terrance and Torrence Cooper – all of whom gashed the Rams in their 2013 loss.
2013 record: 11-1 (lost in third round of 3A-D2 playoffs to Gladewater, 24-17).
Last meeting with Mineral Wells: 1969, Mineral Wells won, 25-14.
Summary: The newest face to the District 4-4A group, Gainesville adds a new layer of strong competition to an already top-heavy district. The Leopards have proven to be consistently successful, especially in the past two seasons during which the Leopard posted undefeated regular seasons en route to back-to-back District 9-3A titles.
Decatur will be most familiar with the Leopards, as the two have met on the gridiron every year for the past 10 years. The Rams, on the other hand, will be the least familiar as the only team in District 4-4A to not play Gainesville at least once in the last decade – in fact, the 2014 will be the first time for the Rams and Leopards to play in almost half a century. Like Decatur, Gainesville will lose many key seniors, but the Leopards will return quarterback Mason Copeland. Backup running back and third-leading receiver Damarius Farr will be surely expected to step into a big role next year. The Graham-Gainesville game will definitely be one to watch with interest next season.