Playoff seeding on the line at Cedar Hill

Winner of Friday night’s game will have upper hand in bid for bi-district home field

Bill Spinks
Waxahachie Daily Light
Waxahachie defenders swarm Mansfield Lake Ridge running back Marcus Hayes during the Indians' 30-21 victory at Lumpkins Stadium on Sept. 24. The Indians return from the district-wide bye week with a huge game at Cedar Hill this Friday night that carries major playoff seeding implications.

What would a Class 6A bi-district football playoff game at Lumpkins Stadium be like?

To take an important step toward accomplishing the feat, the Waxahachie Indians have a tough but not impossible assignment ahead of them on Friday night: Beat Cedar Hill on the road.

The Indians (4-1, 2-0) have a clearly-delineated path to the postseason laid out for them: Just beat Mansfield High for homecoming on Oct. 22 and Waco High on Oct. 29, and any additional victory would be gravy.

But if the Tribe want more than just getting an invitation to the dance, they must also beat Cedar Hill on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at Longhorn Stadium.

The Class 6A playoffs are a final vestige of the old University Interscholastic League system, where big and small schools don’t get separated into divisions until the postseason.

Under this system, four playoff qualifiers are established based on district results. The two playoff teams with the larger enrollments are placed in Division I, and the two teams with the smaller enrollments go into Division II. Seedings are based on district results.

Duncanville (4,529 students) and DeSoto (2,925) are the two largest schools in 11-6A and are universally expected to qualify for the postseason and go into the Division I bracket. In fact, Duncanville already owns the edge for the top seed by beating DeSoto, 42-21, on Sept. 17. Cedar Hill (2,634) and Waxahachie (2,495) are next in size and would go D-II if form holds.

Head-to-head competition will be used to break ties — which is what makes Friday night’s tilt so crucial. The No. 1 seed in each division gets home field for the first round, so whoever gets the win Friday night will have a chance to stay in their home stadium in Week 12.

The Indians last year qualified for the playoffs for the first time in the state’s largest classification. But for the bi-district round, they had to travel to Temple, which owned home field as the No. 1 seed out of District 12-6A in the D-II bracket. The Tribe’s playoff experience was short-lived as they were sent packing, 38-0.

But this year is different in many ways. The Indians are led by first-year head coach Shane Tolleson, who was defensive coordinator for 2020 Class 5A Division I state champion Denton Ryan. Under Tolleson and new WHS defensive coordinator Eugene Rogers, a young group of defenders is playing inspired football, holding opponents to a district-best 17.8 points per game.

The Indians’ offense has had its struggles, but junior tailback Iverson Young has provided a shot of energy. The transfer from Red Oak has carried the ball 97 times for 568 yards and five touchdowns through five games, including two scores in their last outing, a 30-21 win over Mansfield Lake Ridge.

Junior Jayden Becks has added 338 yards and three rushing TDs on 65 carries on the year, and junior quarterback Roderick Hartsfield Jr. has added four TDs on the ground.

The Indians are a run-first team under offensive coordinator Mike Dormady, but Hartsfield has thrown three touchdown passes on the year so far, and all of them have been in crucial situations.

Hartsfield’s two TDs to Keith Abney Jr. both came in overtime against Rowlett and Ennis respectively, and his touchdown to Joseph Lankford against Lake Ridge opened up the winning margin. Abney is the team receiving leader with 10 catches for 212 yards, and Lankford has six catches for 137 yards.

Meanwhile, Cedar Hill (3-2, 2-0) opened district play with a 38-21 win over Lake Ridge and a 36-0 shutout over Waco. The Longhorns are tied with the Indians and Duncanville for first place in 11-6A.

Junior quarterback Cedric Harden is the dual-threat catalyst for the Longhorns, leading the team in rushing with 419 yards and 11 touchdowns. Harden has also completed 37 of 82 passes for 524 yards and four scores, with three interceptions.

The Indians will have big games later in the season against both Duncanville and DeSoto. But for right now, the opportunity to gain a playoff seeding advantage over Cedar Hill is the task at hand.