Katy finished its undefeated regular season like it started: with a dominant defensive performance that brings to mind explosive Tiger defenses of the past.
The Tigers held Taylor to 171 total yards and compiled six takeaways in a 57-0 regular-season finale win at Legacy Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 7, that clinched their 11th consecutive undefeated district title.
No. 2 state-ranked and No. 8 nationally-ranked Katy (10-0 overall) had four interceptions and two fumble recoveries as Taylor had turnovers on 35.3 percent of its possessions.
“Anytime you make a team turn the ball over in a football game, you feel like you should win,” senior linebacker Jaylen Phillips said. “We still need to clean up on some stuff, but it was a good night for us.”
It was the fourth consecutive shutout for Katy’s defense, and its fifth of the season. Entering the game, Katy ranked fourth in the Greater Houston area in yards allowed per game.
The six takeaways were a season high for the Tigers. This season, Katy has 22: 13 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries.
The Tigers are allowing 7.5 points on 163.8 yards per game heading into Friday’s Class 6A-Division I bi-district playoff game against Ridge Point at 6:30 p.m. at Legacy Stadium.
“Everyone does their job,” junior defensive lineman Cohen Dearman said. “Everyone fits what they’re supposed to do. Everyone does what they’re supposed to do. That’s how it is. If each individual does what they’re supposed to do, then as a team we’ll win.”
This Katy defense is powerful in all phases, a stark contrast to defenses of the last couple of years when inconsistency and tackling woes were causes for concern.
It starts up front, which has been a pleasant surprise for Katy. Dearman, seniors Jayden Holcomb and Timothy Nugent, and sophomore Malick Sylla have consistently been able to intrude opposing backfields. That allows the linebackers and secondary to cover.
“That pass rush is something else, way better than last year,” senior defensive back Daylin Johnson said. “They’re getting to the quarterback faster. Because of them, we have better opportunities to make plays on the ball.”
The linebackers—Phillips, senior Hagen Losa, junior Shepherd Bowling and sophomore Ty Kana—are playmaking dynamos, as sharp dropping back in coverage as they are rushing the quarterback.
The secondary is a precocious, physically gifted bunch that continues to get better each week with more and more reps. Juniors Dalton Johnson and Hunter Washington, and senior Bryan Massey are natural ball hawks, and depth has been established with Daylin Johnson, senior DQ Dawson and sophomore Bobby Taylor.
More significant than all of that physical talent, however, is the intangible “buy-in.” Massey said while last year’s seniors were as committed as this year’s, the difference is that the underclassmen are more bought in and focused.
“We play for each other,” Phillips said. “That’s what we’re doing, and that’s what Katy is built upon. Playing for the each other, and playing for the brother beside you each and every down.”
The awakening for the defense was the Oct. 3 35-30 win over Tompkins. The Tigers gave up 478 total yards as the defense played on its heels during most of the second half.
The Tigers’ defense played irresponsibly, trying too hard to make the big play and win one-on-one matchups.
Since then, coach Gary Joseph said the defense is playing better as a team. Phillips said they went back to the basics during practices—run hard to the football, tackle and wrap up, and play fast.
“It showed us where we were, and where we needed to be,” Massey said of the Tompkins game. "We should have played better in that game than in any game we’ve played. Our focus in practice is better. There’s no more joking around. No more fun. It’s a much better commitment to practice.”
Daylin Johnson said the recipe for success since the Tompkins eye-opener has been simple.
“We read our keys and we do what we’re coached to do,” he said. “When we do that, we can have a lot of success.”
The Tigers are a fast, physical, experienced defense that heeds adjustments well. The Taylor game was a perfect example.
After Taylor junior quarterback J. Jensen III had success with the passing game early, completing 14 of 25 passes for 184 yards in the first half, he struggled mightily in the second half, completing just 7 if 14 passes for 13 yards as the Tigers varied blitz schemes and attacked Taylor’s size with speed.
“They made up their mind they were going to pick us apart throwing the ball, and our kids did a good job making plays,” Joseph said.
And Joseph has confidence that his defense will continue to do so against what figures to be a nightmarish gauntlet through a ridiculously competitive Class 6A Division I playoff bracket.
“We’re fixing to play some really good people,” Joseph said. “I saw somewhere where we’re going to have to play five of the top 10 teams in the state to win the whole thing. Nobody does that. But that’s fine. That’s the path we have. The only thing we can worry about is the next one. It’ll be a long haul, but I know we’re up for it.”