Eagles' explosiveness stands between Katy and history
If the Katy High School football team wants to bring home its seventh state championship overall, fifth this decade and third in a row come Saturday, the Tigers need to emulate their predecessors of six years ago.
Katy's 2003 incarnation holds the keys to how the Tigers can beat the Abilene Eagles (14-0) - control the clock, play great on special teams, and win the turnover battle.
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"The way we beat Southlake back then is the thought we have right now," Katy head coach Gary Joseph said Tuesday morning.
"We haven't moved the ball real well. When they're on the field, we've got to tackle, there's no two ways about it."
Much like Southlake Carroll did in 2003, Abilene comes into the game with a fearsome offensive attack. Running the ball out of the spread, the Eagles are averaging 267 yards per game on the ground this year, having torched Klein for 303 in last week's 29-21 semifinal win.
They'll match that strength against Katy's top defensive strength - stopping the run. The Tigers haven't seen too many pure running teams this post-season, but next to no one has run the ball on them with any sort of success for 2009.
Katy (14-1) is limiting opponents to a meager 110.4 yards per game on the ground, and just 240.6 per game overall.
If the Tigers can hold Abilene to anywhere near those low-ball averages, they'll be in business for a three-peat. But keeping the Eagles' high-scoring offense off the field will be a must, which means Katy's own 'O' will need a much-more impressive performance than the first three quarters of last Saturday's 14-6 semifinal victory against New Braunfels.
Through 36 minutes last Saturday at dreary Rice Stadium the Tigers managed just 136 yards of offense, and only 76 of that on the ground.
But by holding down the New Braunfels' offense enough to fatigue the Unicorn defense, Katy finally found the scheme that worked, bowling straight ahead time and again with junior tailback Donovonn Young and junior fullback Joey Chapman.
Young had a career-best 139 yards on 21 carries and doled out the punishment over and over in the fourth quarter. His biggest concern Saturday will be holding onto the ball. He fumbled at the Unicorn five-yard line in the first half, and nearly let the ball slip away at the two in the fourth quarter.
Chapman was a surprise to both sides of the stadium when he suddenly became rumbling and stumbling through the Unicorns' front seven.
The junior carried the ball four times for 49 yards.
The Tigers' offensive line deserves plenty of credit for the breakout fourth quarter. After struggling to protect sophomore quarterback Brooks Haack against the New Braunfels' rush, the Hawgs - most notably Connor Cox, Travis Knauss, Carlo Villarreal and Shep Klinke - came through in the clutch to drive their opposites off the line of scrimmage.
"I'm not sure if it will be the power running game again on Saturday, but we've got to be able to run the football," Joseph said. "We need to be able to thrown when we want to instead of when we have to. If we allow other teams to dictate when they blitz, we're in trouble."
Abilene runs a 3-4 defense designed to go up against the frequent spread offenses it sees in West Texas.
They will sport one of the smallest defensive lines Katy has seen this year, highlighted by returning starters Hunter Cooke (5-10, 200) and Josh Brooks (6-4, 200) on the ends.
The Eagles are allowing just 12 points per game, and when Klein hit 21 on Saturday last, it was just the third time all year a team had gotten out of the teens on offense.
The Bearkats' comeback in a 29-21 defeat made Abilene look mortal for the first time all post-season. The Eagles outscored their first four playoff opponents 163-41.
With athletes at most skill positions, the Eagles shine in the secondary with senior Karsten Goodman, a three-year letter-winner.
"They will be the fastest, most aggressive defense we've seen this year, and I'm not just saying that because it's the state championship game," Joseph said.
"They'll play us like everyone else, with the safeties down and the cornerbacks manned up. They predicate everything on their speed. They're going to try to outquick us and get more people to the point of attack than we can block."
When the War Eagles have the ball, Katy has to contain, because plays broken into the secondary will go for long distance gains and scores with Abilene's speed.
Leading the charge for Abilene is junior running back Herschel Sims, who has exploded for 2,245 yards and 34 touchdowns this season, averaging 160 yards per game and 8.9 per carry.
He's also caught 25 passes for 410 yards five touchdowns.
After a ho-hum start to the post-season, Sims came alive against No.1-ranked Cedar Hill, carrying the ball 30 times for 274 yards and four touchdowns, then adding 208 yards on 33 carries the next week against Arlington Bowie.
"The kid's a really good running back," Joseph said. "When he gets into the secondary, he's even better. We have to keep him bottled up."
Sims is hardly the Eagles' only option running the ball. Fellow junior tailback Tony Curtis averages more than nine yards a carry in gaining 983 yards on 106 touches. He's score 16 times.
Herschel Sims' cousin Ronnel Sims is the trigger-man in the Eagles' spread. Ronnel has run for 949 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 8.2 per gain, and thrown for 1,686 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Sims has completed almost two-thirds of his attempts, but has thrown nine interceptions.
Herschel is the Eagles' leading receiver, followed by Jarvis Hunter with 19 catches for 311 yards. Parker McCay and Darius Joseph each have four touchdown grabs for Abilene.
Def. FW Dunbar, 56-13
Def. Abilene Cooper, 49-37
Def. Tyler Lee, 34-29
Def. Burleson, 37-3
Def. FW Paschal, 66-0
Def. Weatherford, 33-14
Def. Haltom City, 63-0
Def. Richland, 45-14
Def. North Crowley, 63-0
Def. Arlington Lamar, 42-10
Def. EP Coronado, 45-7
Def. Cedar Hill, 41-17
Def. Arlington Bowie, 35-7
Def. Klein, 29-21