Katy High senior defensive end Cal Varner said this week’s of practices were the most focused he’d ever seen of the Tigers.
Katy High senior defensive end Cal Varner said this week’s practices were the most focused he’d ever seen of the Tigers.
Senior running back Jalen Davis said the Tigers felt disrespected but added they “didn’t live up to the legacy” in their loss to Tompkins on Nov. 5 that snapped a 75-game district winning streak.
“A lot of people wrote us off after that game and acted like we were nothing,” Davis said. “It was a wake-up call.”
So, Katy refocused. Retooled. Rebounded.
While No. 10 state-ranked Katy’s 41-13 win over Taylor on Thursday evening at Rhodes Stadium wasn’t perfect, it was a considerable step back in the right direction as the Tigers improved to 6-1 overall, 3-1 in District 19-6A. The offense looked healthier, more efficient. The defense was more violent, livelier.
All in all, the Tigers were spirited, energetic. It made all the difference.
“That Tompkins loss was fuel,” Varner said. “We had to work. We knew we weren’t on top anymore and we have to get back there.”
It started during practices. The Tigers were laser-focused, which is saying something considering how no-nonsense they generally are.
“Nobody was slacking,” Varner said. “Everyone ran to the ball. Everyone hustled. It was amazing. I loved it. Against Tompkins, we were just walking around. We weren’t hustling. That’s what disappointed us.”
That effort and energy carried over against Taylor.
The Tigers outgained the Mustangs 430-250 in total yards. They only committed two penalties for 10 yards. Five different players scored touchdowns: Davis, sophomore running back Seth Davis, senior receiver Fuller Shurtz, senior receiver Taylor Saulsberry and junior receiver Antonio Silva.
Senior linebacker Shepherd Bowling and senior defensive back Jayden Rodriguez teamed to block a 50-yard field goal attempt. Sophomore Brady Englett blocked a punt.
“We know who we are,” Saulsberry said. “We know what we can accomplish. We just played to the best of our ability tonight.”
Sophomore quarterback Caleb Koger, who struggled mightily against Tompkins, was cool, calm and collected in running a machine-like offense that averaged 7.3 yards per play. Koger completed just 8 of 18 passes, with a few dropped balls hurting his completion percentage, but threw for 172 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The 172 yards were the second-most Koger has thrown for this season and the three touchdowns tied his single-game best.
Koger ran Katy's play-action scheme to perfection, deftly fooling linebackers and helping open up receivers. When he wasn’t handing the ball off to the workmanlike Jalen Davis, who rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, he connected with five different receivers.
“In practice, he didn’t seem bothered,” Davis said. “He didn’t seem shook. He put his head down, went to work and did all the little things right. He played with poise tonight. He had everything in control tonight. He looked comfortable.”
Coach Gary Joseph was pleased with his young signal-caller. The same plays that were successful against Taylor were also open against Tompkins, Joseph said, but this time around Koger did not rush throws. He was patient and took what the Mustangs’ defense gave him.
“He’s going to be a good football player,” Joseph said of Koger. “There are growing pains when it’s your first time playing in a big game like (Tompkins). We had a couple of sophomores like that. It’s part of growing up.”
Joseph said he was proud of his team. The Tigers are short-handed with the absence of a pair of three-year varsity starters in senior tight end Fernando Garza and senior defensive lineman Cohen Dearman because of injury. More players went down during the Taylor game, but more stepped up.
Junior Dylan Bennett played well in Dearman’s stead. Senior Emilio Silva has done well in place of Garza.
Against Taylor, senior linebacker Axel Hernandez and junior defensive back JaKorien Haynes came in as reserves and helped steady the defense in place of injured starters.
“It’s good to be competitive when the other kids can come in, and I was proud of them,” said Joseph, who hopes to get Dearman back soon while Garza’s status is more unclear.
After the game, Joseph told his team that now is the time to start ascending. It is a formidable task. The Tigers must play with better consistency while dealing with the ebbs and flows dealt by a pandemic that makes things uncertain week to week.
Katy continues to learn, mature and improve. The Tigers faced adversity with the Tompkins loss. They rallied and regained footing against a Taylor team that has only lost to Tompkins and Katy this season and figures to be a legitimate threat in the postseason.
Now Katy must sustain that momentum and play to even greater heights as only two district games remain.
“We learned that even if you lose, you have to come back ready to play,” Varner said. “We have to learn how to lose. If we didn’t learn how to lose, we would’ve been stuck. We came out here and did what we were supposed to do.
“We’re still Katy. Our season’s not over. We want state. We’re going to state this year. We’re ready.”