High School Football

PRIME TIME PANTHERS

Paetow looking forward to showdown with No. 5 Foster

By Dennis Silva II | Sports Editor
Posted 11/6/20

Despite a program only in its third year of varsity football play, Paetow is no stranger to big games.

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High School Football

PRIME TIME PANTHERS

Paetow looking forward to showdown with No. 5 Foster

Posted

Despite a program only in its third year of varsity football play, Paetow is no stranger to big games.

Last season, when the Panthers went 8-3, was full of them. There was the game at A&M Consolidated when both teams were undefeated midway through the season. There was a thrilling come-from-behind home win against perennial regional power Huntsville that secured the program’s first playoff berth. There was the regular season finale at Lamar Consolidated, a loss that cost the young Panthers at least a share of the district title.

And after all that, from the disappointing playoff debut loss at Whitehouse through an offseason plagued by a global pandemic to a regular season that is stainless so far, the Panthers face arguably their biggest test yet when they line up against regional titan Richmond Foster at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Legacy Stadium with a District 10-5A, Division I zone play championship on the line.

Because of scheduling challenges presented by COVID-19, the nine-team district split into zones for this season. Paetow is zoned with Wisdom (which chose to forfeit the rest of its season following its 64-0 loss to the Panthers on Oct. 22), Fort Bend Kempner, Rosenberg Terry and Foster. The other district zone consists of Manvel, Hightower, Angleton and Milby.

Paetow is 3-0 in zone play, with wins over Wisdom, Kempner and Terry. Foster is also 3-0 in zone play, with wins over Terry, Kempner and a Wisdom forfeit. The winner of the Paetow-Foster game plays the winner of the other zone, likely to be either Manvel or Hightower, to determine the overall district champion.

If the 5-0 Panthers wish to keep their district championship hopes alive, they will need to overcome a 4-0 Foster team ranked No. 5 in the state and outscoring opponents by an average of 37.8 points per game.

Foster is ranked No. 1 in the Houston area high school football media poll. Paetow is No. 4.

“I expect a war, hopefully,” Paetow coach B.J. Gotte said. “They’ve got a great team and Coach (Shaun) McDowell does a great job. They’re an established program. They’re well-known in the area as a team that runs deep every year. We’re a young program that really hasn’t proven much in that regard. I tell our guys they’ve earned the right to play in important games. They’ve earned this, and now they can go out and give it our best. That’s all we can focus on, every day being at our best so we can play our best and we’ll see what happens.”

The Panthers walked that talk last week. When they could have easily overlooked an average Terry team with the Foster matchup looming, they didn’t. They dominated Terry 45-0 and outgained the Rangers 368-60 in total yards.

Paetow held Terry, which entered the game 2-1 overall, to 1.2 yards per play.

“It’s momentum,” said junior defensive back K.J. Truehill, who had an interception for one of Paetow’s two takeaways. “You get a shutout like this, it only gives you more confidence going into playing a team like Foster.”

Paetow coaches and players say they’ve learned from playing in last year’s big games. Gotte is betting on that.

Perhaps no player is more evident of that maturity and growth than junior quarterback C.J. Dumas Jr., who has completed 43 of 76 passes for 650 yards and seven touchdowns to two interceptions this season.

Dumas is the embodiment of the team’s no-nonsense, workmanlike state.

“Confidence is a big thing for me right now,” said Dumas, who has not thrown an interception since the Oct. 2 win over Morton Ranch. “Being a sophomore on varsity last year, I always felt like I had something to prove. I feel like I’ve been attacking that the right way, just trying to get better every game, every practice. I’m just trying to focus on my craft.”

Dumas, who has started receiving recruiting interest from Arizona State, is no longer overthrowing receivers as he had been earlier this season. He has heeded quarterbacks coach Lane O’Connor’s advice to trust his throwing mechanics.

Since that Morton Ranch game, Dumas has completed 23 of 36 passes.

“Every week, he continues to get better, and it’s a credit to his work ethic, it’s a credit to how he approaches the position,” Gotte said. “He takes it serious and he’ll continue to make strides. We’re going to need him to play well. He’s getting better, and that’s encouraging.”

As the run game remains steady with the electric Damon Bankston and dazzling Jacob Brown and the passing game continues to improve under Dumas, it’s the Panthers’ defense that solidified Paetow’s contender status.

The Panthers have nine takeaways. A devastating pass rush led by Alexander Kilgore, Sultan Bakare and Agumba Otuonye has 20 sacks. The pass coverage is filled with ball-hawking playmakers like Truehill, Carl Simon and Kentrell Webb.

Take the Terry game, for example. The Rangers boast an athletic trio in quarterback Kellen Stewart, running back Michael Odom and receiver Trumaine Mitchell. They combined to average 232.6 total yards of offense with 11 touchdowns through Terry’s first three games.

Against Paetow, they were held to 45 total yards.

“I feel really good where the defense is at right now,” Truehill said. “Foster has a really high-powered offense, but I think our defense can handle them well. I like how we’re pursuing to the ball and everybody is handling their own jobs, focused on their own role and not worried about anyone else.”

Gotte said his team does an admirable job taking one day at a time, staying focused. Last season helped establish that mindset.

“If we just focus on us and don’t worry about anything else, we’re going to play well,” Dumas said.

But there is also a distinct sense of urgency, something that wasn’t there last season.

“Our kids understand how important these games are, and they know to enjoy it,” Gotte said. “When it’s over, it’s over. You don’t know when that is until it comes, and then you can’t do anything about it. I’m proud of their urgency and maturity and camaraderie they have with each other.”

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