It wasn’t completely so new of a circumstance for Katy backup quarterbacks Jacob Bernard and Bryce Nirider.
Yes, Bernard, a senior, was making his first varsity start. And true, Nirider, a sophomore, was seeing more meaningful snaps, directing the “2’s,” or backups, opposed to his typical third-string stewardship.
But practices at Katy High, coaches and players attest, prepare players for ‘the next man up,’ something coach Gary Joseph preached all week long leading up to Friday’s 45-3 win over Morton Ranch at Rhodes Stadium.
No. 2 state-ranked and No. 10 nationally-ranked Katy improved to 6-0 overall, 2-0 in District 19-6A.
With junior starting quarterback Bronson McClelland serving the first of a two-game absence for disciplinary reasons, Bernard and Nirider combined to complete 8 of 12 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown on a 53-degree and windy evening, managing an offense that produced 343 total yards, 18 first downs and no turnovers against a defense that had surrendered an average of 15.7 points on 228.2 yards entering the game.
.@FootballKaty senior QB Jacob Bernard (15) warming up with the starters prior to tonight’s game against Morton Ranch. Sophomore Bryce Nirider will see a fair amount of snaps, though. #txhsfb @Katyfootball pic.twitter.com/CphFVYtxAB— Dennis Silva II (@densilva2) October 12, 2019
“Our kids prepare well, and they’ve prepared well since they’ve been here,” Joseph said. “It’s not that we don’t have confidence in them. We do. It’s our job to not put them in situations that can blow up to where they could lose their confidence. You could see them gain confidence as the game went on.”
Bernard played two series to every one for Nirider. Bernard attempted just one pass in the first half, completing it for nine yards to junior tight end Fernando Garza III, as senior running back Ron Hoff established tempo and ball control early.
Hoff ran for 114 yards on 20 carries in the first half, though it was Bernard who was responsible for Katy’s lone touchdown through the first two quarters, a 1-yard sneak with 6:40 left in the first quarter.
“Mainly, I just got more first-team reps,” Bernard said of the week of practice heading into the game. “As a team, we prepared great for this game. It wasn’t just me. Credit to our coaches, credit to our guys. I felt like we didn’t miss a beat, so I was proud of that.”
The second half was more of a comfort zone for Bernard. He completed his first four passes for 53 yards and finished the game on 6 of 7 passing for 65 yards, including a three-yard rollout scoring toss to Hoff with 5:08 left.
“I thought we moved the ball well, especially in the second half,” Bernard said. “We came out in the second half and really started to move and score points. It was a lot more efficient.”
Joseph said Bernard’s improved play as the game went on was a testament to his maturity and opportunity.
“The biggest thing for us was keeping him out of situations that weren’t going to be favorable to him,” Joseph said.
Bernard said he was not nervous. He was a third-string quarterback and played four games last season, completing 3 of 4 passes for 63 yards and a touchdown.
He had played sparingly in two games this season prior to Friday’s game, completing 4 of 6 passes for 58 yards and no touchdowns.
“I felt good. I was confident. I was ready to go,” Bernard said. “The only adjustment, really, is the speed between the (starters and backups). We still all practice together. I still get reps with the offense normally. I’m always working to do things the right way, and (quarterbacks) Coach (Scott) Rich does a real good job making sure we’re all being developed and working hard throughout the week.
“You never know what can happen at any given time, so we stay ready.”
First TD pass of the season for @Jacob_J_Bernard, 3-yard rollout to @ronaldhoffjr. 38-3 Katy, 5:08, 4Q. Tigers capitalize off fumble recovery by Jaylen Phillips. #txhsfb @FootballKaty @Katyfootball pic.twitter.com/fj8Z3GtGgY— Dennis Silva II (@densilva2) October 12, 2019
Senior center Brayden Gammel praised Bernard’s leadership mentality and smarts on the field.
Gammel also said the Tigers’ offensive line, which has been dominant this year, takes it upon itself that the offense is productive.
“The goal here is to always move the ball. That’s what we’re going to do,” Gammel said. “It doesn’t’ matter who’s in the backfield, we know it’s up to us. That’s what we take pride in.”
Nirider , who had completed 2 of 5 passes for 25 yards and a touchdown entering the Morton Ranch game, had his moments, completing 2 of 5 passes for 19 yards.
Nirider impressed Joseph in leading a 77-yard scoring drive at the end of the first half that resulted in a field goal and a 10-0 lead with six seconds left. On that drive, Nirider had a key run for seven yards that kept the chains moving.
“They knew they had responsibility on them, and that’s part of it. They did well,” Joseph said of his quarterbacks. “They managed the offense and did what we wanted them to. The coaches didn’t want to overload them. We continued to establish momentum, we opened it up more and they did what they had to do to have a chance to be successful.”
They also had support.
Hoff finished with 127 rushing yards and two touchdowns, one receiving and one rushing.
Senior Bryan Massey started the second half with a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, untouched down the visitors’ sideline. Senior linebacker Jaylen Phillips had a key fumble recovery deep in Morton Ranch territory that led to Hoff’s touchdown catch from Bernard.
However, not all went well. Starting offensive linemen Justin King and Drew Murphy, both seniors, left the game with significant injuries.
“The kids are going to have to have that ‘next man up’ thinking, like we’ll need with our offensive line,” Joseph said. “Hopefully we can have other people step up.”