Since its last playoff appearance in 2010, luck has not been on Hillcrest’s side.
Last season, the Panthers swept their nondistrict games before stumbling down the stretch and missing the playoffs despite a 6-4 overall record. The prior year, Hillcrest finished 4-3 in district play but still were squeezed out of the postseason on a tiebreaker.
The Panthers are hoping for a breakthrough this season, starting tonight against W.T. White at Franklin Stadium. And they have reason for optimism with 16 starters returning from a year ago, including nine on offense.
The returnees include dual-threat quarterback Arico Evans, who rushed for 11 touchdowns last season and passed for 11 more. Terrell Haley and Makell Haley each were major contributors in the rushing game. And on defense, Carlos Thompson and Gkarri McCoy are back to anchor the line.
Tonight, they will face a White squad looking to emerge from a prolonged tailspin that has produced 10 consecutive losing seasons, including a 1-9 mark last year. The Longhorns return nine starters on defense.
The schedule could also work in Hillcrest’s favor this season. The Panthers will play eight of their 10 games at their home stadium, including six of seven games in District 11-5A.
Other key games this week:
Jesuit at Arlington Bowie
7:30 p.m. Friday at Wilemon Stadium, Arlington
The Rangers have to travel to Arlington for their season opener, but it’s still much closer than the flight to Ireland last year. Jesuit returns several key components of a team that reached the third round of the UIL playoffs for the first time in 2013. QB Bo Schneider leads the way after throwing for 3,185 yards and 31 touchdowns last year, including a sensational playoff run. The perennial power Volunteers have made the playoffs in each of the past eight years, and lost in the bi-district round to Southlake Carroll last season.
Cistercian at St. Mark’s
7 p.m. Friday
The Lions were 8-2 and came within one victory of an SPC title last year, falling to Houston Kinkaid in the final. St. Mark’s returns WR William Caldwell, who had 965 yards and nine touchdowns for an offense that scored at least 42 points in each of its final five games. In their opener, the Lions must contend with Cistercian RB Dare Odeyingbo, who tallied 1,791 yards and 23 touchdowns a year ago, when the Hawks finished 6-4.
ESD vs. Houston Second Baptist
5 p.m. Saturday at Herrington Stadium, Bullard
The Eagles will open their first season under new head coach Richard Williams in the Brook Hill Fall Classic. ESD fell in the SPC semifinals last fall following a 6-3 regular season, and several offensive weapons are back this year, including RB Jack Johnson, who finished with 1,767 yards and 27 touchdowns. Second Baptist likewise has a potent offensive attack returning from a squad that reached the TAPPS playoffs.
Parish Episcopal at Carrollton Ranchview
7:30 p.m. Friday at Standridge Stadium, Carrollton
The Panthers start the season with three games against UIL opponents, including Ranchview, which has posted just one winning season in its 10-year history. But the Wolves return athlete Raghib Ismail, son of the former standout receiver, from a playoff team. Parish has high hopes after an eight-win season and a postseason run, along with the return of RB Dominic Williams, who had 1,211 yards last year as a freshman.
Thomas Jefferson at FW North Side
7:30 p.m. Friday at Clark Stadium, Fort Worth
The Patriots, of course, have not won more than two games in a season since 2002, but they did win twice in 2013, so hope springs eternal again with a season opener against North Side, another struggling program going through a similar stretch of futility. The Steers have lost 20 straight games dating to 2011. For Jefferson, dual-threat QB Kendrick Bright returns after accounting for 12 touchdowns last year.
Fort Worth Christian at Shelton
7:30 p.m. at JPII Athletic Complex, Plano
Shelton went winless last season but has optimism this fall in part because of Taylor O’Neal-Givens, who was a standout for the Chargers as a sophomore both as a running back and a safety. The Chargers face a tough assignment in their season opener against the Cardinals, who won eight games last season, reached the second round of the TAPPS playoffs and have most of their key playmakers returning.