MELISSA (12-1) VS. HEMPSTEAD (14-0)
8 p.m. Thursday, Cowboys Stadium
What: Class 2A Division I state championship game.
When we saw them last: Melissa took down Muleshoe 49-36 in the state semifinal thanks to three Melissa rushers who accounted for 348 of Melissa’s 350 yards in the game. Quarterback Wes McQueen passed for 163 yards and rushed for a team-leading 145 yards. Hempstead ousted Tatum in the semifinals 21-14. Running back Archie Taylor racked up 146 yards and a touchdown in the game.
Last in the playoffs: Melissa’s 2011 playoff run is the longest in the school’s eight-year history. Melissa was knocked out of the playoffs last year in the area round in a 56-27 rout against Grandview. Hempstead’s 2010 season ended quickly with a 20-7 bi-district loss to Marion.
Key matchup: Melissa’s experienced offense against Hempstead’s defense. The majority of Melissa’s seniors have started since their sophomore year. McQueen has been solid for his team since he stepped into the QB role three years ago and has done thing but improve since. With 2,398 yards passing this season for 22 touchdowns, the air game is locked down with McQueen under center. Melissa’s run game has found its stride in the playoffs and has actually carried the offense to the state title game. Melissa’s now balanced attack will have a tough test against a Hempstead team that has recorded 17 interceptions, 14 fumble recoveries and 46 sacks against this season.
Players to watch: The emergence of Melissa’s ground game is thanks to a tandem of running backs, John Young and Kristov George, who have combined for 1,609 yards. Hempstead defensive end Alex Trujillo leads the team with nine sacks. On offense, quarterback Obie Wilder distributes the ball to a committee of receivers. Taylor takes most of the load in the ground game.
Prediction: Melissa 35, Hempstead 31.