ARCOLA—Down two starters, prized recruits at that, Katy High kept playing. And even through two blocked punts and two fumbles, the Tigers kept playing.
IOWA COLONY—Down two starters, prized recruits at that, Katy High kept playing. And even through two blocked punts and two fumbles, the Tigers kept playing.
Nothing, or at the very least very little, is keeping Katy down these days, and the No. 9 state-ranked Tigers served up yet another demonstrative reminder in their 49-24 Class 6A-Division II regional semifinal win over No. 21 Shadow Creek on Saturday afternoon at Freedom Field.
Katy advanced to play Clear Falls (8-3) at 1 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 2, at Legacy Stadium. The Tigers (11-1) are headed to the state quarterfinals without senior tight end Fernando Garza (a three-star recruit and Texas A&M signee) and junior defensive end Malick Sylla (a four-star recruit and one of the top prospects in the Class of 2022), who are out for the season with knee and ankle injuries, respectively.
“It’s not about just the defense and the offense and the kicking game, it’s about being a team,” coach Gary Joseph said. “Our kids understand they have to step up and I’m proud of them. Our kids just didn’t surrender. We’ve had injuries and other things go on all year long, and they step up.”
Despite the two blocked punts, one which led to an easy score, and two giveaways in the first half, Katy led by 25 points at halftime against a Shadow Creek team that won the Class 5A-Division I state title last year. The Tigers used an unbelievable defensive effort and efficient offense to surpass the regional semifinal round for the first time since 2017 and keep hopes alive for their first state title since 2015.
“They’re so consistent, so well-coached,” said Shadow Creek coach Brad Butler, who has a history of going up against Katy in the playoffs as he was previously an assistant head coach at Manvel. “They are going to be hard to deal with going forward. I told Coach, ‘Hey, go win one.’ I really felt like whoever came out of this game had a great chance (at winning state). Hat’s off to them.”
Katy outgained Shadow Creek 409-203 in total yards, but 190 of the Sharks’ yards came in the second half.
The Tigers’ defense, once again, was remarkable.
Shadow Creek senior quarterback and Baylor signee Kyron Drones was sacked three times in the first quarter, and six times overall. Senior defensive end Cal Varner III had two sacks. Junior defensive end Cayde Robertson, playing in place of Sylla, had a sack. Senior nose tackle Cohen Dearman, senior linebacker Shepherd Bowling and junior linebacker Judson Ceyanes also had sacks.
“We made sure he was in the pocket and contained, and once we did that, we knew we could collapse on him,” Varner said. “He’s really shifty, and we planned for that and how he can break defenses down with his feet. We were ready.”
Drones was indecisive early and often, and Katy took advantage. Drones completed just 12 of 26 passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Both of those touchdowns came late in the game.
“We were disciplined and patient,” said junior defensive back Bobby Taylor, who had a 17-yard fumble return for a touchdown. “We know he likes to scramble, but we can’t scramble or else their receivers will get open. It’s about knowing when to come up (to play the run), when not to come up. Stuff like that.”
With Sylla already out of action, the Tigers were dealt another blow when senior safety and team captain Dalton Johnson was disqualified with 3:55 left in the second quarter when he was penalized for targeting. Still, others continued to step up, such as sophomore defensive back Arian Parish and senior defensive back Jayden Rodriguez.
“We executed to the fullest,” Taylor said. “It doesn’t get any better than how our defense is doing right now. One man goes down, another steps up. Look at Cayde. He had a heck of a game, and it comes to show that if everybody just keeps working, when it’s their time to shine, they’ll shine.”
While Katy’s defense forced the Sharks to either punt or turn the ball over on eight consecutive possessions following a field goal to open the game, the offense put the game out hand in the meantime.
Sophomore quarterback Caleb Koger was strong in his management of the offense, completing a pair of big-time play-action passes of 50 and 41 yards, respectively, to junior Nic Anderson and senior Fuller Shurtz for the Tigers’ first two touchdowns of the game.
Koger, who completed eight of 15 passes for 193 yards, threw three more touchdown passes—to junior running back Isaiah Smith, senior receiver Taylor Saulsberry and senior running back Aidan McKinney—as the run game of senior Jalen Davis and sophomore Seth Davis finished what Koger started.
Jalen Davis rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Seth Davis rushed for 114 yards on 19 carries. The brothers each had 100-yard rushing performances for the second straight game.
“We knew they were going to come for the run hard, and we did what we were supposed to do,” Jalen Davis said. “Rolled over, O-line pass-blocked well, receivers sealed their routes well. Everything played out like it was supposed to. Exactly how we practice it.”
Davis said the Tigers are a confident bunch.
“You can feel it everywhere,” Davis said. “It’s the whole team. We all know what our job is, and everybody does their job 100 percent. You see the outcome. When we play as a whole unit, nothing can stop us.”
Katy players see themselves as a state championship team. A dominant defense. A persistent run game. An all-for-one spirit.
It all sounds familiar to a program striving for a ninth state title.
“I know we’ll have to continue getting better,” Joseph said. “Other people are going to have to step up. That’s what’s having a football team is about. No matter how many (recruiting) stars any of them have, they’re all football players. They’re all functional kids and they’re all very unselfish. That’s what makes a team.”