The 12-2 Rockwall Yellowjackets will make their first appearance in the state football semifinals since 1987 on Saturday.
But they’ve drawn a tough assignment: the 14-0 Duncanville Panthers, who are ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 5 among high school football teams in the nation.
The Class 6A, Division I state semifinal will kick off at 2:30 p.m. at the new McKinney ISD Stadium, where a standing-room-only crowd is expected.
“They’re really good,” said Rockwall coach Rodney Webb. “They’ve gone 29-1 over the past two seasons.”
As Webb pointed out, it took a 45-yard Hail Mary pass from Dematrius Davis to A.J. Carter on the final play of the game for Galena Park North Shore to beat Duncanville 41-36 in the state finals last year at AT&T Stadium.
Webb said the Panthers’ quarterback Ja’Quinden Jackson is a “dynamic, Vince Young type of player.” Jackson has thrown for 1,624 yards and 20 touchdowns, completing 97 of 158 attempts, and has run for 940 yards and 15 TDs on 88 carries.
Duncanville’s offensive and defensive lines are the biggest Webb has seen this season.
“They have a five-star safety (Chris Thompson Jr.) on defense,” said Webb.
“They’re legit,” he said.
But so are the Jackets, who are averaging 48.4 points and 494.6 yards per game.
Sophomore quarterback Braedyn Locke directs that explosive offense. Locke has thrown for 4,254 yards and 51 touchdowns. He’s 259-of-424 with nine interceptions.
Senior wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba is close to breaking an all-time state record for career receiving yards. Smith-Njigba, who is headed to Ohio State, has been named the Gatorade state football player of the year. He’s caught 104 passes for 2,094 yards and 34 touchdowns this season and 291 passes for 5,346 yards and 63 touchdowns in his career. Jordan Shipley of Burnet holds the career receiving yardage record at 5,424 yards.
Smith-Njigba scored six touchdowns in the Jackets’ 59-42 quarterfinal playoff win last week over Prosper at the Ford Center at The Star. He ran for a pair of 1-yard touchdowns and caught touchdown passes of 14, 53, 45 and 2 yards from Locke, who was 25-of-32 passing for 451 yards and six touchdowns.
Locke also threw for touchdowns of 66 and 68 yards to wide receiver J.J. Williams, who caught three passes for 145 yards. Williams ranks as Rockwall’s second-leading receiver with 48 catches for 738 yards and six TDs.
Duncanville won its semifinal game 49-35 over Southlake Carroll. Jackson completed all eight of his passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 129 yards and three TDs on 12 carries.
Trysten Smith also ran for 174 yards and two TDs for Duncanville on 19 carries.
Smith leads the Panthers for the season with 1,574 yards and 23 TDs on 161 carries.
Roderick Daniels is Duncanville’s top receiver with 45 catches for 695 yards and seven TDs.
Rockwall has battled back from 14-point and 13-point deficits in its last two playoff wins, including a 37-27 regional win over Klein Oak.
“Our kids are used to it,” said Webb. “They don’t panic.”
Webb said he scheduled some tough non-district games, including former 5A state champion Highland Park, to get the Jackets ready for a playoff run.
The Rockwall fans have been turning out in big numbers for the playoffs, with bigger crowds than the opposing fans, including Allen.
“It’s a huge shot in the arm for these kids,” said Webb.
Webb said the Jackets are “tickled to death” to be playing in the semifinals. They were not ranked among the state’s top 10 teams for much of the season.
“We feel like we’re playing with house money,” he said.