The Prosper Eagles reached the regional finals for the first time since 2009 with a commanding 38-14 victory over The Woodlands Highlanders in Waco on Nov. 30.
Prosper led by 10 after the first half, but three unanswered touchdowns early in the second half put the game away and punched their ticket to a regional final for the first time since becoming a 6A program before the 2018-19 academic year. They will face off against the Rockwall Yellowjackets for a shot at their first state semifinal berth since the Eagles’ won the 3A state title in 2008.
Prosper’s junior quarterback, Jackson Berry, completed 22 of his 32 passes for two touchdowns and 312 yards. He also rushed for 26 yards and two touchdowns in 11 attempts. His anything-but-average passer rating of 120.83 was his lowest of the playoffs, in which he’s had an incredible run. In three games, he’s thrown for nine touchdowns and 807 yards with a completion percentage of 72.7 and an average passer rating of 145.1.
Senior running back JT Lane and sophomore wide receiver Tyler Bailey each gutted the Highlanders’ defense for more than 8 yards per carry. Lane carried the ball 115 yards in 14 touches, while Bailey rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown in 12 attempts.
Wide receivers Hayden Metcalf and Cameron Harpole shouldered the load for the Eagles’ receiving core. Metcalf, a senior, caught 10 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. Harpole, a junior, had a blistering 24.6 yards per catch as he racked up 123 yards and a touchdown in just five receptions.
Junior kicker Brad Larson was perfect again in the game as he completed all five extra point attempts and made a 20-yard field goal.
Both teams suffered some offensive struggles early. On the opening drive, Prosper was forced into two fourth down situations and they elected to go for both. They converted a fake punt on fourth-and-one to move the chains for the first time but couldn’t convert on fourth-and-five just outside of the red zone. On the other side of the ball, the Eagles held The Woodlands to just seven plays all quarter and forced an interception.
Prosper took advantage of the short field senior Jorden Miles’ diving interception gave them by eating up 39 yards in six plays before Berry flew over the wall of linemen and dove across the goal line to put his team on the board first.
The Woodlands responded with a seven-play, 47-yard touchdown drive set up by a 50-yard kick return. Jobarre Reed crashed through the center of the line and into the end zone to even the score.
After trading punts, the Eagles flew down the field in eight snaps and scored on a 4-yard jet sweep by Bailey to cap a 70-yard drive that spanned just under three minutes.
On the following drive, Prosper’s defense locked up the Highlanders’, but a muffed punt gave The Woodlands the ball back just 9 yards from the end zone. Once again, the Eagles’ defense came up big as Tate Nichols’ blitz forced Highlanders’ quarterback Cody Howard to throw an ill-advised pass straight to Aidan Siano, who returned the ball six yards before being brought down.
With a minute and 30 seconds on the clock, Prosper rode the momentum their defense gave them and drove 82 yards in eight plays, then sent Larson out to kick a 20-yard field goal just before time expired in the first half.
The Woodlands started the second half with the ball and methodically drove the field over four-and-a-half minutes before Malik Johnson took a shovel pass from Howard around the right side for 15 yards and a touchdown, their last points of the contest.
The Eagles wasted no time in striking back, as they scored on a 13-yard connection between Metcalf and Berry just two minutes and eight seconds later. After keeping the Highlanders from moving the chains, the Eagles marched 39 yards in four plays before Harpole took a six-yard pass from Berry and sliced through the secondary for an extra 40 yards and a touchdown.
Prosper forced the Woodlands into a three-and-out for the fourth and final time, then their offense put the game even further out of reach with a six-play, 75-yard drive which ended as Berry waltzed through the middle and into the end zone.
Joshua Graham and Deven Leith-Mathis intercepted passes from Howard on back-to-back possessions and Prosper used those opportunities to run out the clock and officially secure their trip to the regional finals.
Prosper floats to 11-2 after their victory over the Woodlands. They have a tough test ahead of them, as Rockwall’s (11-2, 6-1) high-octane offense toppled Allen’s state title hopes with a 60-59 win in the second round. The Yellowjackets earned their regional final berth with a 37-27 comeback win over Klein Oak in the semifinals.
The Eagles’ 37.3 points and 428 yards per game are nothing to turn one’s nose up at, but Rockwall averages an even higher 47.6 points and 487.9 yards per game. Their defense is far more pedestrian, however, as they allow nearly double Prosper’s 16.6 points and 250.5 yards allowed per game.
Prosper’s secondary will be tasked with stopping Rockwall’s four-star wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Smith-Njigba, an Ohio State commit and the seventh-ranked receiver nationally according to 24/7 Sports, leads the Dallas area in receiving with 91 catches, 1,896 yards and 31 touchdowns. He has 100-yard receiving games in nine of 10 games in which he was healthy, including two 300-yard performances and his 252-yard, five touchdown outing against Allen. If Prosper can manage to cover him enough to slow down his production, they greatly increase their chances of winning this game, as Rockwall showed when he went down with an injury on the first play against Longview in a 49-3 loss.
Game time for the 6A-Region II Final is set for 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 in The Ford Center at The Star, which is connected to the Dallas Cowboys’ corporate headquarters in Frisco.
The Woodlands vs Prosper Box
1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q F
The Woodlands 0 7 7 0 14
Prosper 7 10 14 7 38
PR- Jackson Berry 1-yard run (Brad Larson kick), 1:23
TW- Jobarre Reed 1-yard run (Fabrizio Pinton kick), 9:40
PR- Tyler Bailey 4-yard run (Brad Larson kick), 4:21
PR- Brad Larson 20-yard field goal, 0:01
TW- Malik Johnson 15-yard pass from Cody Howard (Fabrizio Pinton kick), 7:24
PR- Hayden Metcalf 13-yard pass from Jackson Berry (Brad Larson kick), 5:16
PR- Cameron Harpole 46-yard pass from Jackson Berry (Brad Larson kick), 2:50
PR- Jackson Berry 2-yard run (Brad Larson kick), 10:37
The Woodlands Prosper
First Downs 10 26
Total Net Yards 279 576
Rushes-Yards 26-85 41-257
Passing 78 312
Comp-Att-Int 10-20-4 22-32-0
Punt Returns 1-0 0-0
Kickoff Returns 6-132 1-25
Interceptions Ret. 0-0 2-6
Sacked-Yards Lost 1-1 1-4
Punts 5-46.2 2-40
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 3-1
Penalties-Yards 1-15 2-20
Time of Possession 21:25 26:35
PASSING: The Woodlands, TEAM 1-(-1), Cody Howard 10-20-1-78-4; Prosper, TEAM 1-(-4), J. Berry 22-32-2-312.
RUSHING: The Woodlands, B. Wheeler 14-47, M. Johnson 3-27, C. Howard 4-10, A. Shaw 2-3, J. Reed 1-1-1, J. Calhoun 3-4; Prosper, JT Lane 14-115, T. Bailey 12-97-1, J. Berry 11-26-2, E. Guintu 1-8, F. Naumann 2-5, M. Linnebjerg 1-1, G. Peck 1-1.
RECEIVING: The Woodlands, M. Johnson 3-28-1, J. Calhoun 3-26, M. Bulovas 2-14, B. Wheeler 2-10; Prosper, H. Metcalf 10-141-1, C. Harpole 5-123-1, T. Bailey 5-33, JT Lane 1-8, K. Nickerson 1-7.