UIL Football Playoffs
Class 6A Division I state quarterfinals
Austin Lake Travis (11-1) vs. Judson (12-0)
When, where: Saturday, 2 p.m., Alamodome
Next week: Winner plays Galena Park North Shore-Cypress Fairbanks winner in state semifinals.
SAN ANTONIO – It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that Judson senior running back Sincere McCormick has thought of the Rockets’ playoff loss to Austin Lake Travis last year practically every day since that sunny afternoon at Royal-Memorial Stadium in Austin.
More than anything, McCormick remembers the gnawing pain he felt in the pit of his stomach on the bus ride back to the Judson campus in Converse.
“I was sick,” McCormick said this week. “I know it was a big upset last year. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get the win.”
Lake Travis slipped past the Rockets 47-39 in the second round of the Class 6A Division I playoffs, avenging a 65-45 loss in the season opener for both teams last year.
True to his resilient personality, McCormick wasn’t down long. On the Monday after the season ended, he was back in the “lab,” as he calls the Judson weight room, getting ready for his senior season.
“I started working out and getting everybody in tune again, preparing everybody for the next season,” McCormick said. “I just didn’t want to feel that same pain again. I tried to get everybody back on board as a leader and make sure we didn’t feel that same pain again.”
Judson (12-0) will get another crack at Lake Travis (11-1) in a highly anticipated playoff rematch when they meet in the 6A Division I state quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome. The game, one of the marquee matchups in the state this week, also will determine the 6A Division I champion in Region IV.
“I don’t know if rematch is the word,” Rockets coach Sean McAuliffe said this week. “Maybe it’s more like redemption. The kids didn’t play well enough, probably, to win that game and credit goes to Lake Travis. It’s an opportunity to right a wrong in our eyes, and hopefully come back and give them a better game and play up to our capabilities.
“That’s the part that we’re excited about. You get another shot at another top-notch program, one of the best in the state.”
Lake Travis’ only loss during the regular season was to Austin Westlake, 44-14, in a 25-6A game. Westlake (12-1) plays Brandeis (11-2) in the 6A Division II state quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome. That game will the last of a Saturday tripleheader at the Alamodome.
The action starts at 10 a.m. when Wagner (12-1) meets Mission Veterans Memorial (12-1) in a 5A Division I state quarterfinal.
McCormick has had a stellar senior season, rushing for 1,396 yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging 11.1 yards per carry. He also has caught eight passes for 214 yards and one TD.
Described as a “complete” player by Judson offensive coordinator Rodney Williams, McCormick has committed to UTSA.
“He can block,” Williams said. “He can run, obviously. He can catch passes. He’s a great team player. He’s played quarterback for us. He’s that much of a team player. Anything you ask of the kid, he’s going to do it.”
David Brothers, who has seen Judson produce a long line of outstanding running backs since he joined the coaching staff in 1987, ranks McCormick among the best.
“He is the real deal,” Brothers said. “He’s got a lot of talent. You don’t find a lot of kids like that. He has good eyes, good hips, good balance, all of it. He’s a great kid. He gets straight A’s in the classroom.”
Brothers said that Jerod Douglas, who starred on the Rockets’ 1992 and 1993 state championship teams, remains the benchmark for Judson running backs.
“A kid asked me the other day, ‘How do you compare our team right now to the teams in the past?’ I told him, ‘I can’t until you win the state championship, and then we can start talking about comparing. So I put Sincere at the same level. He hasn’t played on a state championship team. Jerod was a different cat.”
Both schools’ football programs are steeped in tradition and have championship pedigrees. Lake Travis has won six titles, capturing five straight in 5A (2007-11) before claiming its last crown in the UIL’s largest classification (6A) in 2016. Allen beat the Cavs 35-33 in last year’s 6A Division I state final.
Judson has won six state championships, all in the UIL’s largest classification, but hasn’t claimed one since 2002. The UIL awarded the Rockets the 1988 title after Dallas Carter was forced to forfeit its championship.
Although the odds were great Judson and Lake Travis would meet in the state quarterfinals this year, McAuliffe understandably dismissed any talk about another playoff matchup with the Cavs when the postseason began. But he knew that, barring a monumental upset, the teams would meet again.
“It’s probably one of those things that at the beginning of the year, you look at your scheduling, and if you take care of business with your games and you’re fortunate enough to stay healthy, we had a feeling that at some point we were going to meet back up with Lake Travis,” McAuliffe said.
Judson lost last year’s playoff game to the Cavs despite outgaining them 509-364 in total offensive yardage. The Rockets finished with 325 yards rushing and 184 passing.
McCormick led Judson’s running game with 165 yards and scored one TD and quarterback Julon Williams, now a freshman at the University of Houston, rushed for 157 yards and two scores.
Although he had success against the Cavs last year, McCormick said he doesn’t expect anything to come easy Saturday.
“I know they’re disciplined on defense,” McCormick said. “They’re one heck of a defense. I mean, they made it this far. But we have a great offensive line. I’ve been fortunate to have a great O-line for four years. I love them to death.
“We have a great brotherhood in the locker room. We always talk about what we see on the field, and what we can improve, get better on. I’m thankful for them every single day.”
McAuliffe had high praise for the Lake Travis defense.
“Their kids are going to play hard from the beginning to the very end,” McAuliffe said. “We’re going to have to work to put points on the board.”
The Cavs’ defense is coordinated by head coach Hank Carter, who is 115-14 since succeeding Chad Morris in 2010. He has led Lake Travis to three of its six state titles.
“They’re just structurally sound,” McAuliffe said, continuing to talk about the Cavs’ defense. “They don’t line up beat. They pick and choose when they pressure, and when they pressure, it’s sound. They’re not turning anybody loose. Their kids play awfully hard. Coach Carter and those guys up there do a great job. He’s a defensive coach. He’s one of the better ones in the state.”
Judson is 3-2 against Lake Travis since the series started in 2012. McAuliffe has been on the sideline for all five games, first as defensive coordinator under Mark Smith in 2012 and 2013 when the teams split. McAuliffe, who is 54-12 since succeeding Smith in 2014, is 2-1 against the Cavs as a head coach. The Rockets beat Lake Travis in 2016 before splitting the two games last year.