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Armwood-Miami Central, Westlake- De La Salle among state title picks

This is it. After a trying regular season, after weeks of training in weight rooms and on practice fields, the high school season finally culminates this weekend. It's going out with a bang. Not only do California, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania -- four of the nation's undisputed prep football hotbeds -- host their respective title games, but the matchups are loaded with talent. It's one more chance to shuffle the national rankings -- and become a storied state champion.

The excitement starts now. Here are 10 games to watch.

No. 3 Miramar (13-0) vs. Plant (13-1)

Plant's ground game has been unstoppable of late, rushing for 200 yards in each of its last six games. Miramar's has been equally impressive, collecting 1,975 yards on the year. In a matchup of Florida Class 8A powers, I like the Patriots -- and their vaunted "Dark Side" defense. Cornerback Tracy Howard and Co. have held opponents to 28 second half points all season, an incredible average of 2.2 per game.

The pick: Miramar 24, Plant 17

No. 8 Lake Travis (15-0) vs. Midway (12-2)

Lake Travis' quest for an unprecedented fifth consecutive Texas 4A Division I title ends in Cowboys Stadium, with the Cavaliers clashing with upstart Midway. History should be in the making. Though Lake Travis could have issues with Panthers' tailback B.J. Kelly, Baker Mayfield and the offense have too many weapons -- Varshaun Nixon, Zach Austin and Colin Lagasse each have more than 1,000 all-purpose yards -- for Midway to handle.

The pick: Lake Travis 42, Midway 28

No. 9 Westlake (14-0) vs. No. 17 De La Salle (12-1)

The quarterbacks may be the story entering the game -- Westlake's Justin Moore and De La Salle's Bart Houston are both blue-chip prospects -- but Dashon Hunt will be the story after it. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound dynamo racked up 1,973 all-purpose yards (1,231 rushing, 194 receiving, 548 return) in 2011, also serving as a lockdown corner (six interceptions). His impact narrowly tops a strong senior showing from Spartans' linebacker Michael Barton.

The pick: Westlake 31, De La Salle 27

No. 10 Southlake Carroll (15-0) vs. Fort Bend Hightower (13-2)

Coming off the most magical victory in program history, a 28-24 thriller over Dallas Skyline, Southlake Carroll can cap its storybook season with a win over Fort Bend Hightower. It gets its Hollywood ending. Though the Hurricanes boast a high-octane offense, their defense has struggled in stints. Quarterback Kenny Hill -- 4,000 all-purpose yards, 45 touchdowns in '11-- exploits it.

The pick: Southlake Carroll 30, Fort Bend Hightower 23

No. 12 Armwood (14-0) vs. No. 18 Miami Central (13-0)

Despite a markedly inconsistent four-week stretch, one in which it's allowed an uncharacteristic 20.8 points per game, Armwood possesses more talent than any team Florida. Eleven seniors hold D-I scholarships -- seven to BCS conferences schools. Still, there's something about running back Joe Yearby. Central's do-it-all sophomore has rushed for 2,059 and 22 touchdowns, 557 and six in his last three games. He's the difference in a hard-hitting classic.

The pick: Miami Central 17, Armwood 14

No. 13 Miami Norland (14-0) vs. Wakulla (12-2)

By almost any account, Miami Norland shouldn't be here. It trailed 20-0 in the second quarter of last week's semifinal against Palmetto, all but assured a premature playoff exit. Then feature back Duke Johnson took over. The Miami commit galloped for 375 yards and three touchdowns, single-handedly vaulting the Vikings into the Class 5A final. His momentum carries over: Johnson runs wild, and Norland captures a state title.

The pick: Miami Norland 31, Wakulla 20

No. 19 Manatee (12-2) vs. First Coast (13-0)

Since dropping two of three games to open the season, Manatee has been dominant, outscoring opponents 424-119. Even more telling: It's won the turnover battle 17-6. Three-star safety Clinton Heaven zeros in on erratic quarterback DeAndre Johnson (54.9 completion percentage), and the opportunistic Hurricanes edge First Coast in the fourth. The Buccaneers' star-studded receiving corps -- led by Alabama-bound Chris Black -- gets its yards. It's not enough.

The pick: Manatee 21, First Coast 17

No. 20 Cibolo Steele (15-0) vs. Dekaney (13-2)

After riding running back Malcolm Brown to the Class 5A Division 2 title last year, Cibolo Steele has been brilliant in his absence. It already has one more win than last season, benefiting from the stellar play of dual-threat quarterback Tommy Armstrong. It hasn't faced a talent like Trey Williams. The explosive Texas A&M commit has galloped 3,687 rushing yards and 45 touchdowns, and has only improved in the playoffs. He carries the Wildcats to their first state championship -- and ends the Knights' bid at a repeat.

The pick: Dekaney 35, Cibolo Steele 31

Archbishop Wood (13-1) vs. Bishop McDevitt (13-2)

Mentioned in this week's Power Rankings, Archbishop Wood has steamrolled Pennsylvania Class 3A competition. It ran for 568 yards last week against Allen Central Catholic -- and outscored opponents 160-36 since the playoffs began. Five-star defensive end Noah Spence slows some of that production, but he can't do stop all of it. The Vikings -- led by Brandon and Desmon Peoples -- emerge in a high-scoring affair.

The pick: Archbishop Wood 42, Bishop McDevitt 35

Santa Margarita (12-2) vs. Bellarmine Prep (12-1)

If not for a missed extra point in its season-opener at De La Salle, Bellarmine Prep may still be undefeated. It torched opponents by an average of 29 points since, cruising behind the arm and legs of quarterback Travis McHugh (847 passing yards, 1,373 rushing yards). Problem is, Santa Margarita signal-caller Johnny Stanton is even better. He accounted for 3,231 yards (2,027 passing, 1,204 rushing) and 27 touchdowns, and plays behind one of the nation's premier offensive tackles, USC-bound Max Tuerk. Stanton outshines McHugh -- and the Eagles upend the Bells.

The pick: Santa Margarita 31, Bellarmine Prep 24

Last week: 8-2

Playoff record: 37-14

• The controversy over last week's Carroll-Skyline classic isn't over yet. WFAA-TV reported on Monday that the Dallas Independent School District filed a complaint with the UIL to review the questionable onside kick that provided Carroll with the ball -- and ultimately led to its game-winning touchdown. "Yes, it's high school," Sandy Wilson, the president of Skyline's alumni association, told WFAA-TV, "but it's important to these young people because they've got to remember this for the rest of their lives."

• Johnathan Gray could add a few more records to legendary career. The Bearcats' senior phenom, who has rushed for 3,664 yards and 64 touchdowns this season, enters the state title game just one touchdown and 21 points shy of national career touchdown and scoring marks, respectively. Aledo can capture its third consecutive Texas 4A Division 2 crown with a win over Manvel (15-0).

• De La Salle and Mullen (Colo.) have confirmed a matchup in 2012. The Denver Post reported that the two perennial powers, which have combined for five state titles since 2008, will play in Concord, Calif., on Sept. 7.

• Bishop Gorman (Nev.) four-star offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley committed to Notre Dame on Thursday. The 6-6, 280-pound stalwart paved the way for a Gaels' offense that rushed for 2,516 yards in 2011. He becomes the 16th verbal commit in the Irish's 2012 class.

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