(Complete Region IV playoff pairings are listed at bottom of story.)
SAN ANTONIO – It’s something Judson High School football players have said since the Rockets started making long playoff runs in 1982: Spread the red.
That’s red as in Judson’s primary school color, of course.
“We’ve always understood that to win state, you’ve got to be able to win on the road,” Judson coach Sean McAuliffe said Thursday. “It’s always great to win at home, of course, but we’ve always embraced the challenge of trying to win on the road. That’s what the playoffs are about.”
McAuliffe, who turns 44 on Dec. 18, speaks from experience. He was a starting defensive lineman on Judson’s 1992 Class 5A state championship team. The Rockets beat McAllen in the third round of the playoffs at Javelina Stadium in Kingsville that year, and played their last two games at Royal-Memorial Stadium on the UT campus in Austin.
Judson (11-0) will go on its longest trip of the season Friday when it travels to the Rio Grande Valley to play San Benito (8-4) in the Class 6A Division I regional semifinals.
“I’m really excited just to go down there and play a darned good game,” senior offensive tackle John Basaldua said.
In the other 6A Division I regional semifinal,, Lake Travis (10-1) plays Weslaco (11-1) at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome.
The hype for a potential Judson-Austin Lake Travis matchup in the state quarterfinals already has begun, but the Rockets swear they’ve been too focused on San Benito to notice.
“All of us, the leaders of the team, and coaches, of course, just preach to everybody that you have to take it step by step, game by game, and keep moving each and every week,” said blue-chip senior defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal, who has committed to Texas A&M.
McAuliffe dismissed any talk about a rematch with Lake Travis as premature.
“Right now, it’s about getting ourselves ready and playing in a real unique atmosphere,” McAuliffe said, referring to the setting he expects in San Benito. “We’re probably not going to be viewed in a positive light. That’s really it. There’s no magic dust that we spray on our kids to keep them focused. It comes down to them wanting to be that. They have so far this year.”
A win Friday night would put the Rockets three rounds from the 6A Division I championship game, scheduled for Dec. 22 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“We’re looking forward to the trip (to San Benito),” McAuliffe said. “If you’re going to be fortunate enough to go to Dallas, there’s only a couple of ways of getting there from Converse, so we might as well get a road trip under our belt.
“San Benito has got a real good program. People probably don’t know much about them because of the geographic distance from us, but they do a really nice job on offense. They’re an up-tempo, spread team.
“Defensively, they’re very aggressive. They bounce in and out of fronts and do a lot of scheming and things of that nature. For us, it’s going to be a composure deal and a focus deal.”
Judson has advanced to the playoffs 34 times in the last 37 seasons, including the last 12 in a row. The Rockets have won six state championships, including one by forfeit in 1988, but they haven’t captured high school’s biggest prize since 2002.
Judson reached the state semifinals in 2014 and 2015, in McAuliffe’s first two seasons as head coach, but fell in the second round in 2016 and last year. Austin Lake Travis beat the Rockets 47-39 last season, avenging a 65-45 loss to Judson in their season opener.
With both Judson and Lake Travis heavily favored to win in the regional semifinals, how has McAuliffe kept his players grounded and focused on this week’s game?
“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “First of all, we have 45 seniors on our team. We’ve got 10 of them on our defense that have been starting since their sophomore years. They understand that each and every week this time of the year you’ve got to earn the right for another Monday, and the only way to do that is you’ve got to win on Friday in this case.
“This matchup (Judson-Lake Travis) that people are talking about won’t every come if we don’t handle our business this week. That’s really that simple. Our kids have done a great job and the coaches I get to work with every day have done a great job of taking it one week at a time, one opponent at a time. If we do what we’re supposed to do and things work in our favor, we’ll work on next week’s dream matchup that everyone’s talking about next week.”
UIL Football Playoffs
Region IV third-round pairings
(Winners in each classification play each other in regional final)
Class 6A / Division I
Judson (11-0) at San Benito (8-4), Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Austin Lake Travis (10-1) vs. Weslaco (11-1), Saturday, 4 p.m., Alamodome
Class 6A / Division II
Austin Westlake (11-1) vs. Edinburg Vela (12-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Buccaneer Stadium, Corpus Christi
Brandeis (10-2) vs. Brownsville Hanna (10-1), Saturday, noon, Alamodome
Class 5A / Division I
Wagner (11-1) vs. Corpus Christi Flour Bluff (9-3), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Alamodome
Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial (12-0) vs. Mission Veterans Memorial (11-1), Saturday, 8 p.m., Alamodome
Class 5A / Division II
Kerrville Tivy (11-1) vs. Port Lavaca Calhoun (9-3), Saturday, 3 p.m., Bobcat Stadium, San Marcos
Corpus Christi Calallen (11-1) vs. Brenham (8-4), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Comalander Stadium
Class 4A / Division I
Sealy (12-0) vs. Liberty Hill (10-1), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Bastrop
La Vernia (11-1) vs. La Feria (11-1), Saturday, 2 p.m., Buccaneer Stadium
Class 4A / Division II
Rockport-Fulton (8-4) vs. Navarro (9-2), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Alamo Stadium
Cuero (11-1) vs. CC West Oso (8-4), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Heroes Stadium
Class 3A / Division I
Edna (11-1) vs. Altair Rice (11-1), Friday, 7:30 p.m., El Campo
Goliad (10-2) vs. Yoakum (10-2), Saturday, 7 p.m., Cuero
Class 3A / Division II
Blanco (10-2) vs. East Bernard (11-1), Friday, 7 p.m., Pflugerville
Van Vleck (11-1) vs. Tidehaven (6-6), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Rosenberg
Class 2A / Division I
Wallis Brazos (7-4) vs. Mason (12-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Rutledge Stadium
Shiner (11-1) vs. Refugio (10-2), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Farris Stadium
Class 2A / Division II
Granger (11-1) vs. Burton (9-2), Friday, 7 p.m., Rockdale
Falls City (12-0) vs. Woodsboro (12-0), Friday, 7 p.m., Beeville