In the day and age of the spread offense, there’s still a lot to be said for old-school, smash-mouth football. Run the ball, play defense, advance in the playoffs. That has been the mantra for every team in our coverage area that qualified for the post-season – Navarro in Class-3A, Division-II, Marion in Class-2A, Division-I, and even Lifegate in TAPPS Six-Man, Division-II.
With teams built around a strong running game and dominant defense, each program finds itself three rounds deep into the playoffs for the first time in the history of their respective schools.
Navarro, as you’ve no doubt heard by now, put on a blocking and tackling CLINIC in its 31-0 shutout of San Antonio-Sam Houston at Lenhoff Stadium in Friday’s area round game. The Hurricanes, coached by former Baylor All-American and NFL Pro Bowl cornerback Gary Green, were supposed to be an unstoppable combination of mamoth size and blinding speed, but they looked utterly and completely lost against a tougher, more physical Panther team that out-executed them in every facet of the game.
Sam Houston’s defensive line outweighed Navarro’s offensive line by an average of something close to 60 lbs per man, but it was the smaller Panthers who consistently won the battle up front, generated a big push off the ball, and as a result, churned out 414 rushing yards. The statistical beneficiaries were backs Eric Schleier (207 yards, 3 TD), and Kirk Chalmers (161 yards), but let’s give big props to Zane Zimmerman, Ronnie Carter, Justin Velasquez, T.J. Shannon, Ruben Hernandez, tight-end Cody Jandt, and the rest of the o-line rotation for physically WHIPPING the bigger, allegedly more athletic Sam Houston defenders lined up on the other side.
The Hurricanes boasted the same imposing size on their offensive line, and Navarro’s smaller defense held them to 14 total yards. Digest that for a minute….FOURTEEN total yards. That’s as dominant a defensive performance as you’ll ever see. Zane Conline, Tate Johnson, Roman Esparza, and Travis Delany absolutely manhandled the collection of Sam Houston behemoths on the other side, and that allowed linebackers Chris Sestak, Schleier, Jordan Poole (who returned a pick 31 yards for Navarro’s first touchdown), and Sean Hancock, as well as d-backs John Bormann, Gage Bowles (also had an INT), and Bryan Aguilar to completely bottle up the Hurricanes explosive skill-position players like Javoi Lawson and JeQuan McBride.
Again…it comes back to blocking and tackling. You’re not going to see a team in the Texas high school football playoffs, at any level, who does those two things better than the Navarro Panthers. Might see a bigger team. Might see a faster team. Might see a team with more talent and more future college players. But you will not, will not, and I mean WILL NOT see a team that executes better or gets any more out of the talent it does have than Navarro.
Go check the Panthers out against Mathis (another Slot-T team) in the 3A-Division-II Region 4 semifinals this Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Rutledge Stadium in Converse. If you can’t attend, listen to the broadcast on 1580-AM, KWED, or at www.seguintoday.com.
Marion has also won its first two playoff games by running the ball and playing defense, but the Bulldogs are as versatile on offense as any 2A team you’ll find. They’ll line up in the I-formation on one play with a fullback and tight end, and without changing their personnel grouping, they’ll line up in a five-wide spread with an empty backfield on the next snap.
Sean Hesler has been spectacular in two post-season games, delivering Youtube worthy (heck…SportsCenter worthy) highlight-reel quality touchdown runs against both Hempstead and George West. His summersault in the air over two defenders and into the end zone against the Longhorns last Thursday (33-7 Marion win) was breathtaking to watch. Tailback Doug Giles has been the meat-and-potatoes man, gashing defenses between the tackles. Fullback Sean Wolff might lead block out of the I on one play, carry for 12 yards on the next, and catch a 30-yard pass on a skinny post out of the slot on the next. Tight-end Austin Langemeier can flex out as a wide receiver at any time, and wideout Nathan DeHoyos is a lock for First Team All-District 13-2A, D-I at his position after leading the district in catches and receiving yards during the regular season. Versatility is the name of the game for these guys, but it’s still the power running game that allows everything to fall into place.
As for Marions’ defense? How about an average of seven points and 135 total yards per game allowed through two playoff games. How about 60 total yards for three-plus quarters for George West after its initial 80-yard TD drive in the Bulldogs 33-7 win Thursday night. Defensive ends Derek Pierce and Langemeier are emerging as a nightmarish tandem for opposing O-lines to deal with, middle linebacker Victor Garza is as sure a tackler as you’ll see, and Hesler and DeHoyos are so good in the secondary that Marion has the luxury of loading extra guys in the box to defend the run. This isn’t to leave anybody else out, but those are the guys who really stood out against George West.
Again…run the ball, play defense, advance.
Marion meets Lago Vista – a team that defeated the Bulldogs 46-20 on October 22 en route to the District 13-2A, D-I championship – in the third round of the playoffs at Burger Stadium in Austin on Saturday at 7 p.m. Of course, we’ll have the broadcast live on 1580-AM, KWED, and at www.seguintoday.com, with pre-game coverage at 6 p.m.
Lifegate follows this formula as well, though most wouldn’t associate those principles with six-man football. When you think six-man football, you think wide open. You think choose up sides in the back yard – one mississippi, two mississippi, three mississippi, five guys running deep, throw it deep. Lifegate can certainly play that way if needs or wants to, but the Falcons’ bread and butter has been keeping the ball on the ground with Matt Akin and Caleb Tate, a duo that has been virtually unstoppable this season.
You also associate six-man football with scores that read more like basketball, but Lifegate has kept its opponents in the neighborhood of 14 points per game this season. That’s dominant defense in 11-man football, and it’s almost unheard of at the six-man level. It’s as big a reason that the Falcons are legit state championship contenders as anything they do on offense. The same guys – Akin and Tate – lead the way, and Tyler Swisher and Kolton Coffman have really emerged on that side of the ball as well.
Run the ball, play defense, advance.
After downing Lubbock-Christ the King and Wichita Falls-Notre Dame in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Lifegate earns a rematch with the team that eliminated them in 2009 – Brenham Christian Academy – in Leander this Saturday at 2 p.m. We’ll have the broadcast on 1580-AM, KWED, and online at www.seguintoday.com, with pre-game coverage at 1:30.