High School Football

Panthers secure 3rd in district with inspired win over Hightower

By Dennis Silva II | Sports Editor
Posted 11/27/20

Having already clinched its second playoff berth in three years of varsity play via last week’s win at Angleton, Paetow still felt it had a lot to prove.

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High School Football

Panthers secure 3rd in district with inspired win over Hightower

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Having already clinched its second playoff berth in three years of varsity play via last week’s win at Angleton, Paetow still felt it had a lot to prove.

Against perennial regional power Hightower on Friday morning, the Panthers played like it.

Paetow upended Hightower 10-7 in a District 10-5A, Division I defensive showcase at Legacy Stadium. Junior Anthony Fuentes’ 41-yard field goal with 3:39 left sliced right down the middle and the Panthers’ defense and run game came up with clutch plays late to secure the win.

The win awarded the 7-1 Panthers the No. 3 seed out of the district, setting them up with a bi-district playoff meeting against Goose Creek Memorial at Stallworth Stadium in Baytown in two weeks. Hightower (3-4) is the No. 4 seed and will face district champ Port Arthur Memorial in the postseason.

Manvel is the District 10-5A, DI champion. Richmond Foster is second. All four playoff qualifiers out of the district are ranked in the top 10 in Class 5A in the Houston area high school football media poll: Manvel No. 1, Foster No. 3, Paetow No. 6, and Hightower No. 7.

“I don’t think anybody picked us before the season to finish No. 3 in a district like this,” said senior running back Damon Bankston, who had 85 yards on 19 carries and the Panthers’ lone touchdown of the game. “We just had that underdog mentality. Against a team like this, we had a lot to prove and we came out here and we did it.”

The scoreless first half was a punt-fest as Hightower averaged 1.4 yards per play and Paetow averaged 0.8.

But Bankston’s 13-yard run to cap off Paetow’s 5-minute, 13-second drive to open the second half ignited the Panthers. Though Hightower answered 46 seconds later on Charles Shelling’s 19-yard run, that was the last that would be heard of from the Hurricanes.

“We made a few adjustments and started to run directly at them, pound them inside,” Bankston said. “We scored that opening drive and that gave us a real momentum boost. We rolled off that the rest of the game.”

Fuentes’ kick ended up the game-winner, and Hightower hardly threatened the rest of the way. Hightower’s final drive fittingly ended in a sack of senior quarterback Jakolby Longino, and Bankston had a 13-yard run for a first down to allow Paetow to run out the clock.

Longino was sacked six times for a total loss of 49 yards. Senior defensive end Agumba Otuonye had three of those sacks. Senior defensive lineman Andrew Rutherford had two.

“Their (offensive) tackles weren’t very good, couldn’t move their feet very well,” said Otuonye, who has six sacks this season. “So, I just took advantage of it, worked moves and got after the quarterback.”

Gotte was impressed with the effort of the 6-foot-4, 260-pounder playing just his second season on the D-line.

Otuonye was a running back as a sophomore, a 6-1, 185-pounder who ran a 4.6 40-yard dash as one of Paetow’s better athletes. But he was moved to tight end the following spring and then to the defensive line prior to his junior season last year, putting on 45 pounds over the course of the season.

“He’s just naturally progressed over time,” Gotte said. “He’s got a long way to go, and that’s the encouraging thing. He’s got so much potential that he can reach if he keeps working.”

Gotte said Otuonye’s technique with his footwork and hands have improved considerably.

“You can’t just line up and chase the ball with us,” Gotte said. “Fits have to be right, steps have to be right, punches have to be right, eyes have to be right. So him being able to understand the position is where he’s grown a lot.”

Physically, Otuonye, who holds 10 scholarship offers and has drawn significant interest from Ivy League schools, said more time in the weight room and a conscientious effort to remake his body have been essential.

“I’ve bought into the process and trusted what the coaches and my teammates have done for me,” he said. “I rely on them as they rely on me.”

Gotte implored his defense to be disciplined, play fast and get to the ball. From Otuonye to Rutherford to junior defensive back K.J. Truehill, the Panthers did that.

Entering the game, Hightower averaged 42.7 points on 424 yards per game. The Panthers held the Hurricanes to 151 total yards. The seven points are the fewest Hightower has scored since a 21-2 loss to Friendswood on Oct. 25, 2019.

“I haven’t seen a better effort from our guys defensively,” said Gotte, whose defense ranks No. 1 among all Katy ISD teams in yards against. “It reminds me of Huntsville last year, but Hightower’s offense is as explosive of an offense as I’ve seen this year. Them and Manvel. Our defense did a great job.”

Paetow has one last non-district game remaining before the playoffs begin. The Panthers host Deer Park at 7 p.m. Thursday at Rhodes Stadium.

Gotte said he wants his team to continue getting better.

“There is a lot to improve on,” he said.

Getting the third seed is nice, but simply coming out of a hellacious district like 10-5A, Division I has him optimistic about his team’s chances in the postseason.

“In this district, with these teams, I felt like just getting into the playoffs we could have a chance to be successful,” Gotte said. “I wasn’t sure who we’d face, but when you face Hightower, Foster, Angleton, and even Terry is better this year … I felt like we’d have a chance either way.”

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