Houston, Tx. Nov. 29, 2019: Katy's Jalen Davis (28) carries the ball during the regional semifinal playoff game between Katy Tigers and North Shore at NRG Stadium in Houston. (Photo by Mark Goodman / Katy Times)

HOUSTON – As is typically the case year in and year out, Katy’s rushing attack had been a source of strength throughout this season, averaging 204 yards per game. But North Shore was able to neutralize Katy’s bread-and-butter in the Tigers’ 56-35 Class 6A-Division I regional semifinal defeat on Nov. 29 at NRG Stadium.

The Tigers finished with just 79 yards on 24 carries, well off their season average and good for only 3.3 yards per tote. North Shore’s pass rush and discipline playing assignment football were significant factors.

“We have to be able to establish something running-game wise, and we just didn’t do it,” Katy coach Gary Joseph said. “We have to find a way to be more physical up front. North Shore did a better job than we did.”

Joseph lauded the improved play of North Shore junior defensive tackle Aaron Brown since the teams met in their August season opener, a 24-21 Katy win.

Katy was forced to pass 17 times, completing nine. Junior quarterback Bronson McClelland had 138 passing yards, but 72 of those came early in the first half on a scoring pass to Steven Stiles against busted coverage.

Otherwise, the Tigers managed just 4.1 yards per pass attempt.

“Stopping the running game like they did really put us behind the eight-ball,” Joseph said.

It was an especially tough game for senior starting running back Ron Hoff, who played for the first time in two weeks after suffering a high ankle sprain against Ridge Point on Nov. 15. Hoff finished with 10 carries for 27 yards, and his longest carry went for nine yards.

In contrast, Hoff had 32 carries for 206 yards and a touchdown in the first game against North Shore.

North Shore coach Jon Kay said the team identified Katy’s running backs as a personnel area they needed to focus on. That led to one big play—the McClelland-to-Stiles play-action bomb—but the focus on the run otherwise bottled the Tigers up.

“They got one turned loose in the first quarter, but I think our kids made the adjustments and our coaches had a great plan,” Kay said. “I don’t know that we’ve played that well defensively against them before.”

While McClelland used the bootleg several times in the first half to find open receivers, by the second half North Shore was bringing constant and consistent pressure, with the Tigers down double-digits and in obvious passing situations.

McClelland finished the first half 6-for-8 passing, but only completed three more passes the rest of the game. At one point in the fourth quarter, he was forced to throw the ball out of bounds on four straight plays across two possessions, and a fifth attempt resulted in an intentional grounding call for a 22-yard loss.

Katy only managed three carries greater than 10 yards, and not coincidentally, they came on the only touchdown drive by the offense in the second half. The drive started with an 18-yard carry by junior running back Jalen Davis, and McClelland had passes of 14 and 13 yards, along with a scramble for 15 yards.

Davis scored on a draw from 10 yards out, keeping the Tigers in the game, 42-28 with 5:06 left in the third quarter. Katy added a touchdown later on a special teams play, but the Tigers wouldn’t score another touchdown on offense. Katy had 43 rushing yards on that one drive, and 36 yards the rest of the game.

Kay complemented his defensive line for playing well with its hands and keeping linebackers clean to make plays.

“Their fits, the way they flowed. They were just there,” said Davis, who totaled 44 yards on eight carries. “You could tell they studied. That was good coaching on the defensive side. Those linebackers, those cornerbacks … those are really good athletes.”

While Hoff graduates following a breakout season that saw him catch the eye of NCAA Division I programs, Davis and fellow junior backup Sherman Smith return next year for Katy.

Smith, too, suffered an ankle injury early in the first quarter of the Ridge Point game like Hoff, but did return to the field in a limited role against North Shore. Davis, who totaled 365 yards and three touchdowns on 68 carries in the postseason, said he wants to bring a leadership role next season and predicted this offseason will be his best yet as far as strength and conditioning.

“I learned to step up and how to handle adversity,” Davis said. “I learned how hesitation can hurt you; just take it and run. Go. Know what you’re doing, play hard and trust God’s plan and we’ll be good.”