With the high school playoffs now in full swing, many contenders face for their toughest tests to date. There's no margin for error. No more time to mature. Each game is part of the mythical pursuit of a championship. It's prep football at its finest.
Here are 10 games to watch for the weekend ahead, several laden with national implications.
Trinity's first two playoff games have followed the same format: steamroll opponents on offense, suffocate them on D. The Shamrocks beat Simon Kenton (Ky.) and DuPont Manual (Ky.) by a combined 127-0 -- and outgained them 881-122. Look for Travis Wright, James Quick and Co. to stick to the script against St. Xavier, though the Tigers will manage to find the scoreboard.
The pick: Trinity 56, St. Xavier 3
The bad news: When Gaffney visited Dorman on Aug. 26, Joey Copeland registered his worst passing performance of the year, throwing for 196 yards and two interceptions. The good news: He also ran for three scores, carrying the Indians to a 35-14 victory. Expect a more consistent showing from the senior signal-caller, as Gaffney beats the Cavaliers for the second time in its past six tries.
The pick: Gaffney 34, Dorman 24
Noted in this week's Power Rankings, Cy-Woods is averaging 42.4 points per game. Katy gives up just 5.3. In a game where something has to give, I'll take the Tigers, with wideout Jordan Thompson (992 yards, 15 touchdowns in '11) finding the end zone on multiple occasions.
The pick: Katy 42, Cy-Woods 10
Fan of smashmouth football? If so, don't miss the Sunset Regional final between Bishop Gorman and Palo Verde. The two have combined for 6,534 rushing yards and 99 touchdowns, and tallied 386 yards in last year's semifinal, a 28-10 Gaels' win. The Panthers are stronger this year, but the result should be the same. Anu Solomon and Shaquille Powell will be too much for Palo Verde to handle.
The pick: Bishop Gorman 35, Palo Verde 20
Heading into last weekend, Good Counsel and DeMatha appeared on a collision course for their eighth consecutive WCAC finals. It was not to be. Trailing 17-6 at halftime, Gonzaga rallied past the Stags, advancing on a Chris Schultz-to-Brady Malone two-point conversion in overtime. Though thrilling, don't expect lightning to strike twice. When the Falcons and Eagles met on Sept. 23, Good Counsel rolled 49-7, with five-star athlete Stefon Diggs accounting for 119 yards and three touchdowns.
The pick: Good Counsel 41, Gonzaga 14
The marquee matchup of the weekend, two of the best teams in Texas 5A Division I -- and arguably the nation -- clash at Cowboys Stadium. There's no shortage of storylines. The Eagles will look to avenge last year's heartbreaking 37-35 loss, while the Trojans will look to continue their championship trend, building off state titles in '05, '07 and '09. Trinity running back Joel Kimpela will do his best Brandon Carter impression (the TCU phenom racked up 255 all-purpose yards in this game last year), but it won't be enough. Alabama commit Alec Morris and the high-flying Eagles finally get the best of their Euless, Texas, foe.
The pick: Allen 33, Trinity 27
If you aren't familiar with Robert Nkemdiche, get to know him. Next year come this time, traditional BCS powers will likely be hounding Grayson's 6-5, 270-pound defensive end with the same fervor they once did Jadeveon Clowney. The consensus top recruit in the class of '13, Nkemdiche should continue to wreak havoc -- and the Rams defense should keep Lowndes in check.
The pick: Grayson 23, Lowndes 10
Here we go again. Bellevue and Lakes enter their Class 3A postseason bout as the top-ranked teams in Washington for the second year in a row, only this time, Lakes may have the more experienced roster. Four-star prospects Cedric Dozier and Zach Banner both return, while Bellevue is without Kendrick Van Ackeren (Hawaii) and Elan Richard (Idaho). History sides with the Wolverines, but I like the Lancers. Levonte Littlejohn -- the 5-11 dynamo with one of the best names in high school football -- will be the difference.
The pick: Lakes 28, Bellevue 27
The other pairing of Texas prep titans, Thursday's Skyline-DeSoto showdown is equally intriguing. It's a recruiter's dream: a combined 15 players hold Division-I offers. In a back-and-forth contest, expect defense to rule the day. The Raiders' linebacking corps (Peter Jinkens, Dominic Spencer and Roderick Moore) makes one more play than the Eagles' secondary (Bryson Echols, Jalen Mills), and dual-threat quarterback Devante Kincade comes through in the fourth.
The pick: Skyline 24, DeSoto 20
St. Xavier quarterback Griffin Dolle's roller coaster season continues. After completing just 16 passes with three interceptions in the previous two weeks, he went 9-of-10 for three touchdowns against Colerain (Ohio), leading the Bombers to a surprisingly easy 28-15 win. His better version shows up here, and Steve Specht's defense -- as it typically does -- silences the Crusaders in a crucial spot.
The pick: St. Xavier 20, Archbishop Moeller 17
• Another anticipated Ohio Division I duel, Mentor (11-1) plays St. Ignatius (10-2) on Saturday. When they last met on Sept. 9, Mentor collected 608 yards of total offense, with quarterback Mitch Trubisky throwing for 469.
• Storyline to watch: Camden County's (Ga.) scoreless streak. After giving up a fourth-quarter touchdown on Oct. 21, the Wildcats have recorded three straight shutouts, blanking Johnson, Beach and North Cobb. They take on Marietta (6-5) -- averaging 25.6 points -- on Friday.
• Team on the rise: Westlake (Calif.). Following their 35-14 beatdown of St. Bonaventure, the Warriors open the playoffs against Eastside (4-6). Defensive tackle Justin Solis and Co. should roll through the CIF bracket, likely securing a Dec. 9 finals date with Arik Armstead and Oaks Christian.
• Team fading fast: Servite (Calif.). The Friars narrowly escaped in each of the past two weeks, eking Mater Dei and Santa Margarita by a combined eight points. They play overmatched Woodrow Wilson (5-5), a game that could be closer than expected.
• Upset watch: No. 20 Central Catholic (Pa.) meets Upper St. Clair (10-1) on Friday, a showdown that could spell the undefeated Vikings downfall. Against common competition, both teams are 3-0. USC has been more dominant, outscoring those opponents 139-20.