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November 18, 2009

Everything is bigger in Texas. And the biggest high school football game in the country this week is in the new Cowboys Stadium.

Allen High School, No. 27 in the RivalsHigh Top 100 football rankings, plays No. 50 Southlake Carroll Saturday. The 5A Division II area championship game is this week's RivalsHigh Game of the Week.

The winner will be a favorite to take home a state championship.

"This is why you play," Southlake Head Coach Hal Wasson said. "This is why you coach, to play in games like this. It's going to be in a great venue. It's against an outstanding opponent. So it should be a lot of fun."

Both teams are 10-1, and both come from winning traditions. Southlake Carroll has won four state championships, including three in a row, this decade. Allen is the defending 5A Division II state champion.

But according to Allen head coach Tom Westerberg, this is all new. The team lost 42 lettermen from last year's state championship team, including virtually all of its starting defense.

"They're not trying to defend a title," Westerberg said. "They're trying to go out and win their own."

Allen comes into the game on the heels of a 35-0 first-round playoff victory over Nimitz last week - its 10th consecutive victory.

The Eagles were ranked No. 2 in the country by RivalsHigh at the end of last year and started this season No. 3 - but they lost a close opener to Longview, now ranked No. 65. The Eagles lost 28-25 after leading by 17 points in the third quarter. That game was also a Rivals Game of the Week, and according to Head Coach Tom Westerberg, it gave a team a fresh perspective.

"Losing's never a good thing, but it forced us to look at a few things," he said.

The Eagles followed up that loss with three victories, including a close 35-28 win over Trinity, and then scored at least 50 points in four of their next five games on their way to a district championship.

They play a spread offense with a tight end, which gives their three-star dual-threat quarterback, Matt Brown, room to attack the defense with both his arm and his legs. Brown is a three-year starter and an Arizona commit.

Should something happen to him, the Eagles can rely on backup Tucker Carter, a two-star pro-style quarterback who led them to four playoff wins and was the MVP of the state championship game after Brown was hurt late last season.

The offensive line is led by four-star offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, a 6-5, 270-pound Texas A&M commit - one of four four-star Texas linemen committed to playing for the Aggies next year. Ogbuehi was an outstanding sophomore defensive lineman who switched sides of the ball to fill a hole in Westerberg's offense, and he has blossomed as a tackle. The other offensive tackle is Luke Burleson, a 6-6, 275-pound three-star Baylor commit.

According to Wasson, Brown and that massive offensive line are a potent combination.

"Any time you get an outstanding player at quarterback with an outstanding offensive line, that poses some issues," he said.

Southlake Carroll comes into the game after defeating Colleyville Heritage 55-7 last week. The Dragons run a shotgun, no-huddle spread offense, but they can run and pass.

The Dragons amassed 206 points their first four games of the season and then suffered a frustrating 28-15 loss to Houston North Shore. As with Allen, the loss was a learning experience.

"I've never been a fan of losing, but sometimes I think it shows the strength and character of your team," Wasson said. "Two things are going to happen: You're either going to respond or not."

They returned to their winning ways with six straight wins, including a 70-21 shellacking of Flower Mound and a 52-0 shutout of Lewisville.

On offense, three-star pro-style quarterback David Piland, a 6-2, 175-pound Houston commit, can pass and run, and he'll be handing the ball to featured running back Tommy Avers, who is putting up good numbers even though he hasn't found a place on the national radar. They'll work behind an offensive line led by three-star offensive tackle Mason Hathaway, a 6-6, 270-pound Colorado State commit.

The defense is led by four-star weakside defensive end Jackson Richards, a 6-4, 245-pound Texas Tech commit who benches 340 pounds and squats 500. Two linebackers, Mitchell Osborne, a 6-3, 210-pound three-star Tulsa commit, and Cade Foster also anchor the defense. Foster is also a two-star kicker headed to Alabama to kick for the Crimson Tide. He kicked for the team as a freshman when it won its last state championship in 2006. Three-star cornerback Kacy Rodgers hasn't played since the fourth game.

Both teams are familiar with playing in big games and in big venues. The Dragons played their first-round game in Cowboys Stadium last week, while the Eagles have played in the Dallas Cowboys' old home, Texas Stadium, as well as in Reliant Stadium in Houston.

According to Westerberg, it won't matter where they are playing once the game begins.

"You just go out and play," he said. "No matter what the surroundings are, you play on a field that's 100 yards long and 53 yards wide."

GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 27 Allen (TX) vs. No. 50 Southlake Carroll (TX)
KEY TO THE GAME: Allen Eagles
Allen The Eagles have been able to move the ball all year thanks to a massive offensive line and dual-threat quarterback Matt Brown, ranked by Rivals as the nation's fourth-best scrambler. They'll need similar success to keep Southlake's equally potent offense off the field.
KEY TO THE GAME: Southlake Carroll Dragons
Carroll The Dragons are led by four-star weakside defensive end Jackson Richards, who squats a quarter of a ton - 500 pounds. He'll need that leg strength as he tries to shed blockers and chase down Brown. Kicker Cade Foster is one of the most prolific in Texas football history and could be a key if the game come down to a crucial kick.
Home away from home
This will be the Eagles' first game in the cavernous Cowboys Stadium, while Southlake will be playing its second game in a row there. It will be interesting to see if players watch themselves on the video screen rather than pay attention to their coaches and the action on the field.
RivalsHigh Game of the Week Prediction. 2009 record (8-5)
Had it not been for a surprising loss to Longview early in the season Allen would still be considered the top team in the state of Texas. They have not shown to have as much as a dent in the armor since then. Southlake plays a fast paced game but also can muscle up on defense. Allen 34, Carroll 26

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