High School Football

Despite difficult ending, Panthers appreciative, grateful for season

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 12/17/20

Paetow’s impressive football season came to an abrupt and disappointing end Thursday when the program was forced to shut down because of an abundance of COVID-19 cases, canceling Saturday’s Class 5A-DI area playoff game against New Braunfels Canyon as a result.

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High School Football

Despite difficult ending, Panthers appreciative, grateful for season


Paetow’s impressive football season came to an abrupt and disappointing end Thursday when the program was forced to shut down because of an abundance of COVID-19 cases, canceling Saturday’s Class 5A-DI area playoff game against New Braunfels Canyon as a result.

The game had already been rescheduled once when it was moved from Thursday to Saturday when Katy ISD was informed of cases in the program on Wednesday afternoon. The rescheduling was done “to ensure the Katy ISD emergency management team has sufficient time to conduct contact tracing and ensure student athletes and staff are cleared to continue practicing and preparing for upcoming competitions,” per a district release to the Katy Times.

Less than 24 hours later, after six more positive cases were reported early Thursday afternoon, the game was canceled altogether. It will go down as a “no contest,” and not a forfeit, for Paetow. Canyon gets a bye and advances to the regional semifinals next week.

It’s a heartbreaking end for Paetow’s 33 seniors who were freshmen when the school opened its doors in August 2017. Paetow is the first Katy ISD football team this postseason to see its season end because of COVID-19, and the second in all. The Seven Lakes team tennis program had its area playoff game canceled because of cases in October.

“It was a hard-fought season,” team captain and senior linebacker Christian Tibbetts said. “I can proudly say we made history and left a legacy being the first four-year class at Paetow. It sucks that we didn’t go down at least swinging due to the virus; that part hurt the most. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t take away anything our seniors and everyone on our team did to contribute to our success.”

Paetow finished 9-1 this season and was coming off the first playoff win in school history, a 70-18 rout of Baytown Lee, last week.

“It’s been about these seniors and their work ethic and them defying the odds,” Paetow coach B.J. Gotte said. “These seniors came in as incoming freshmen when we had strength and conditioning camp in the parking lot at the junior high by the dumpster because our facilities weren’t ready yet. Just working, building and molding this into what’s it turned into. They’ve defied the expectations of what people have for start-up programs.”

A couple of Paetow football players said they weren’t feeling well on Monday and were sent home. One tested positive, which triggered the district to have the entire team tested. Through that process, over Tuesday night and through the day Wednesday, a number of kids on the varsity roster tested positive. The district’s emergency management team met to create a mitigation plan. The kids who tested positive were removed, and the plan was to test the entire team and program staff over the next three days to show if the mitigation plan was removing the positive cases.

But six more positives showed up Thursday, and the emergency management team decided it was in the best interest of the kids and their health to not play.

Positive cases affected 18 varsity starters for the Panthers, particularly throughout the offensive and defensive lines, tight ends, and outside linebackers, but Gotte had confidence he could still field a competitive team for the game with varsity backups and junior varsity starters.

“I told our leadership when they called to get my input that I’m a fighter,” Gotte said. “If we can’t play, it’s not going to be because I say we can’t play. We’re going to keep swinging until they tell us we can’t. If they’re asking my opinion if we can put a competitive team on the field? Yes. Will we be as competitive as before we lost 18 starters? No, but we will compete. We have kids who have trained and prepared for this.

“But as it pertains to COVID, that’s their (EMT) call. If they didn’t feel it was safe, I supported them 100 percent. That’s their job. But as it pertains to me as a football coach, I’m not worried about the health and safety of our kids on the football field as it pertains to being football players.”

Gotte’s focus was on the positives and opportunities of a negative situation. There were opportunities for seniors who had not played much this season to play a lot this week. Some of the younger kids who had not played a varsity game, this was a chance for them to get big-game varsity reps as well.

“My focus is always competing and seeing what happens,” Gotte said. “The kids were excited about moving forward and playing, and then we got the call we couldn’t play. We had ‘X’ amount of positives one day, ‘X’ amount of positives another day. It shows community spread. I do know leadership’s plans are thorough and well thought-out and they’re trying to do what’s in the best interest of kids.”

The seniors were sophomores when the Panthers went 3-7 in their inaugural year of varsity play in 2018. As juniors last year, that turned around remarkably to 8-3 and a first playoff appearance. This season, Paetow was ranked in the top five in Class 5A in the Greater Houston area with signature wins over Barbers Hill, Class 6A Morton Ranch, Angleton, Hightower, Class 6A Deer Park and Lee.

“I think what I take away most is we set the standard of excellence,” Tibbetts said. “You know, being here since the start of SAC camp workouts in the parking lot to fighting in the second round of the playoffs years later is big, really. Thanks to our coaching staff and staff overall, there’s a lot, man. The encouraging thing is we can always get better. And that’s what I expect out of these underclassmen. I want to see Paetow win a state championship, and I’ll be around to see it happen.”

Senior captains this season were Tibbetts, defensive back Carl Simon and offensive lineman Demetrius Elko. Gotte remembers going to Katy Junior High to talk to prospective Panther athletes the spring before the school opened. He met with four kids. One of those was Tibbetts, then a ‘C’ team lineman who eventually played an essential role in setting a winning foundation for the Panthers program.

“Most people associate going to a new school as a sentence,” Gotte said. “Our seniors get to say that they played in big games, competed in the playoffs, and our kids now feel they can go into big games and have a chance. Our kids believe they can win. For us to be at that stage, with our seniors getting to experience that, is probably the most memorable thing for me.

“Once the dust settles and the smoke clears from all this … we’re fortunate to get to play 10 games. There’s a lot of teams that didn’t. We’ll enjoy the fact we got to play. There’s a lot of people across the country who are dealing with a lot worse than we are. We’ll pick ourselves up, celebrate what we accomplished, go back to work and be appreciative for what we had.”

Paetow High School, Paetow Panthers, COVID-19, high school football, playoffs, sports, Katy ISD, Katy, Texas


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