Lufkin’s return to the state’s biggest classification means its return to the Houston area. With five of the seven teams in District 12-6A from the Houston area, the Panthers will once again grow accustomed to the trips south that they made throughout a 10-year span.
The Panthers will renew a rivalry against The Woodlands that usually decided the district champion. If early season projections hold true to form, that should be the case once again.
They will also renew rivalries with Oak Ridge, Conroe and College Park, teams they usually dominated in their Houston run in 5A. In fact, Lufkin has a total of one loss against those teams when it was in the Houston area district from 2004-2013, a 27-11 loss to Conroe in 2008.
While the Panthers are moving up a classification, the district won’t be quite as daunting with The Woodlands being the only other team that looks like it has the capability of making some noise in the playoffs.
The Woodlands is ranked 13th in the initial Associated Press poll and 17th in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.
Lufkin is ranked 18th in the Associated Press and 37th in Texas Football.
Outside of those teams, no other 12-6A squad is a part of the preseason polls.
Beaumont West Brook and College Park were each playoff teams last season before being knocked out in the first round.
West Brook is picked to finish third in the district while College Park is picked last.
With The Woodlands and Lufkin leading the way, it should be a five-way race for the final two playoff spots between West Brook, Oak Ridge, Montgomery, Conroe and College Park.
Each of the seven teams will get the season started with non-district action this week. Conroe hosts Cy-Springs on Thursday night.
In other action, Lufkin hosts Longview, College Park hosts Pasadena Memorial, The Woodlands is at Cy-Fair, Montgomery hosts Strake Jesuit, Oak Ridge is at Pearland Dawson and Beaumont West Brook plays in a crosstown matchup against Beaumont Central.
Here is a quick look at this week’s action.
Longview at Lufkin – Two of East Texas’ powerhouses will square off in Lufkin in the season opener. Longview has knocked Lufkin out of the Class 5A playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
This year, they take their rivalry back to the state’s biggest classification as the Panthers will look to end a three-game losing streak against their biggest rival.
With Longview in District 11-6A and Lufkin in District 12-6A, this game may not be the last these two teams see of each other this season.
The Woodlands at Cy-Fair – In two years out of Lufkin’s district, the Highlanders haven’t gone anywhere, winning their district last season, while eventually finishing with a 10-2 record and a spot in the area playoffs.
As is usually the case, The Woodlands still isn’t shying away from the competition as it opens the season against Cy-Fair.
The Eagles return seven players on each side of the ball for a team that is picked to finish in second place in 17-6A.
Oak Ridge at Pearland Dawson – In their fourth season under former John Tyler head coach Dereck Rush, the War Eagles are looking to turn the corner, and they are picked by Texas Football to make the playoffs.
They’ll get a chance to make an early impression against a Pearland Dawson team that went 8-4 and made it to the area round of the playoffs last season. The Eagles are picked to finish third in District 23-6A behind a pair of teams ranked in the preseason poll.
Strake Jesuit at Montgomery – It may be an uphill climb for a Montgomery team that went 5-5 and missed out on the playoffs last season.
In addition, the Bears return only three players on each side of the ball.
They will have a hard time finding the win column in the opener against a Strake Jesuit team that went 8-5 and made the regional semifinals last season.
The Crusaders are picked to finish in third place in 19-6A this season.
Beaumont Central at Beaumont West Brook – Like Lufkin, Beaumont West Brook doesn’t have to wait long for one of its biggest rivalries as it will face Beaumont Central in the season opener.
West Brook is a pick to make the playoffs this season, but it has its work ahead of it with only three returning starters on each side of the ball.
Beaumont Central snuck into the playoffs as a 5-6 team last season and is picked to finish in fourth place in District 22-5A this season.
Pasadena Memorial at College Park – College Park has struggled to make waves at the 6A level, although it made the playoffs despite a 3-8 record last season.
The Cavaliers will try to get some early season traction against a Pasadena Memorial team that has had its own struggles.
The Mavericks missed out on the playoffs with a 3-7 record last year. They are expected to make the leap to the playoffs this season as they are picked fourth in District 22-6A.
Cy-Springs at Conroe – If there is a sleeper in the district, it could be Conroe. After finishing at 4-6 last season, the Tigers return eight starters on offense, including Colby Kizzie, who threw for 1,700 yards.
The Tigers are picked as the sixth-place team in 12-6A.
Conroe has a good chance to start the season with a win as it hosts Cy-Springs, a 3-7 team from a year ago.
Cy-Springs is picked to place eighth in the 10-team District 17-6A, meaning Thursday’s game will be its only non-district contest.