A year ago, Hillcrest had its best year since 2000, coming within five points of an undefeated regular season and a District 11-5A title.
The challenge for the Panthers now becomes carrying that momentum into this season, given that Hillcrest lost most of its playmakers from a squad that finished 9-2 after a first-round playoff loss to Terrell.
The Panthers will feature plenty of new faces when they take the field on Friday against neighborhood rival W.T. White at Loos Stadium in the season opener for both teams.
Hillcrest lost standout quarterback Arico Evans, who signed with TCU. Brian Clifton, who threw only four passes last season, likely will inherit that spot. Others who are back include receiver Diego Cera, who caught 10 passes including two for touchdowns, and Gkarri McCoy, a defensive lineman who rushed for four scores as a part-time fullback.
Meanwhile, the Longhorns also showed progress last season, finishing 5-5 overall and narrowly missing a playoff spot in District 9-6A. But they return 12 starters who hope to improve on White’s 37-13 loss to Hillcrest a year ago.
Dual-threat quarterback Jackson Fults leads the Longhorns after passing for 10 touchdowns (with just four interceptions) and rushing for 1,119 yards and 12 scores last season.
White has not appeared in the postseason since 2007 and has not posted a winning season since 2000.
Other games to watch this week:
Arlington Bowie at Jesuit
7:30 p.m. Friday
Notable: Jacob Palisch will make his first varsity start as Jesuit’s QB as the replacement for standout Bo Schneider, who signed with Central Florida. … Bowie racked up an amazing 872 yards of total offense in a 72-49 win over Jesuit last season. … The Volunteers will be led on offense by QB Donoven Davenport and RB DeAndre Cook.
St. Mark’s at Cistercian
7 p.m. Friday
Notable: The Lions open the season with some question marks on offense, although leading WR William Caldwell returns after catching two long touchdown passes in a 27-19 win over Cistercian last season. … The Hawks also return a top receiver in Connor Ryan, who also will work with a new quarterback. … St. Mark’s lost in the SPC semifinals last year.
ESD vs. Houston Second Baptist
7 p.m. Saturday at Bullard Brook Hill
Notable: For the second straight year, ESD kicks off the season at the Brook Hill Classic in Bullard. … The Eagles won an SPC small-school championship last season behind a high-powered offense that included returning RB Nakeie Montgomery. … Second Baptist returns plenty of talent after finishing 6-4 last year and qualifying for the TAPPS 2A playoffs.
Carrollton Ranchview at Parish Episcopal
7:30 p.m. Friday
Notable: The Panthers finished last season with 11 straight wins, including the TAPPS 2A state title. … Although QB Tom Stewart graduated, RB Dominic Williams (2,365 yards and 34 touchdowns) and WR Xavier Suggs (1,448 yards and 17 touchdowns) both return. … The Wolves finished 9-3 last season in Class 4A and won a playoff game.
Pantego Christian at Greenhill
7 p.m. Friday
Notable: The Hornets opened the season last week with a 63-20 win over Dallas independent school A-Plus Academy. … Greenhill has plenty of new faces, including McKinney Boyd transfers Konnell and Kassidy Woods, as it seeks its first winning season since 2002. … The Panthers topped Greenhill 28-12 last season on its way to a 6-5 campaign.