Hard work all season by a pair of the state’s highest-ranked teams has fans and players revved up for Friday night.
It’s a battle between undefeated Parkway Panthers and Byrd Yellow Jackets, at Preston Crownover Stadium where a capacity crowd is expected.
Not only are both teams undefeated and ranked in the top four statewide in Class 5A, they are district rivals as well. Both teams seem poised for a deep playoff run, with tonight’s winner having the inside track to the District 1-5A title.
“What makes this game so special is that both teams are undefeated,” said Parkway Coach David Feaster. “There’s not a lot of pressure on this game. The pressure was on getting to this game undefeated. Defeating Bastrop at Bastrop was important. So was defeating a good Calvary team. To get to this game undefeated, we had to take it one game at a time and avoid the pitfall of looking ahead to this game.”
Parkway (6-0, 2-0) is ranked No. 2 statewide in Class 5A. Byrd (7-0, 2-0) is ranked No. 4. For both teams, it is an opportunity to play a high seed playoff caliber team but without the sudden death pressure of the playoffs.
Win or lose, the two teams won’t face each other in the playoffs because Byrd would be in the Select bracket.
Byrd is a Select team because 33 percent of its students come from outside its designated attendance zone. Byrd is one of only two public schools statewide in Division 1, and will compete with nine schools for a state championship in that division.
“We can’t play them in the playoffs because of the rule change,” Feaster said. “Some people feel the Select and non-Select champions should play to avoid an argument about which is better.”
Parkway is coming off a 63-14 homecoming thrashing of Southwood, while Byrd defeated Captain Shreve 28-3 last week.
Byrd is a big physical team that likes to run over its opponents.
“If they wanted to, they could be one of the top passing teams,” Feaster said. “They choose to pound the ball.”
With regular starting quarterback Tyler Howard injured last week, backup Deuce Casten teamed up with 6-3 receiver Jordan Powell for a 60 and a 20 yard touchdown plays against Captain Shreve.
Byrd typically turns to fullback Louis Mills and Dominic Haggerty in its punishing run game. So far this season, Mills has 14 touchdowns and has rushed for 722 yards. Byrd has 2,152 rushing yards through seven games, an average of more than 300 rushing yards per game.
Junior quarterback Tyler Howard rushed for 66 yards on nine carries against Airline, scoring on runs of one and 32 yards. He also had a 39-yard touchdown pass to Powell.
Parkway is led by senior quarterback Brandon Harris, who has completed 88 of 151 passes for 1,689 yards and 19 touchdowns. He has also rushed 37 times for 423 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Byrd probably will give Parkway its sternest test of the season with a swarming defense that is allowing an average of just 16 points per game, with most of those coming against the second and third units in blowout games.
Parkway won last year’s game 44-14, taking advantage of four Byrd turnovers to score 24 unanswered points in the second half. It was Parkway’s first win over Byrd since 1994.
Both teams return 12 starters off last year’s team, with most of Parkway’s on offense and most of Byrd’s on defense, setting up a classic battle.
“They have no weak spots on defense,” Feaster said. “Their special teams are the best we’ve seen.”