Tigers wear down Unicorns for shot at third straight crown
Let's face it, fans of the last 10 years of Katy Tiger football are more than a bit spoiled with all the rings, wins and blowouts.
On Saturday afternoon at a foggy Rice Stadium, the 2009 incarnation of the program went back to its roots to finally make the Unicorns of New Braunfels disappear.
Katy turned on the power rushing attack in the fourth quarter, chewing up 121 of its 197 ground yards on the day in the final 12 minutes to score the game's only offensive touchdown and run out the clock for a 14-6 victory.
Now 14-1, Katy will take on Abilene (15-0) for the Class 5A Division II state title next Saturday night at the Alamodome in San Antonio at 7 p.m.
With its 7-0 halftime lead cut to 7-6 on two New Braunfels' short field goals, the Tigers put together the drive of the post-season, devouring 5:48 off the clock and chewing up 77 yards in 13 plays to take a 14-6 lead with 7:49 left in the fourth quarter on a one-yard quarterback sneak by sophomore Brooks Haack.
The drive was punctuated by the brilliant, vicious running of junior Donovonn Young. After sitting the bench for a pair of series for fumbling in the first half, Young was the picture of consistency, rushing for a Katy-best 139 yards on 21 carries.
The drive will be remembered for two huge Young runs and one lucky catch by Katy junior Greg Morris. On third-and-seven at the Katy 26, Haack's pass glanced high off Morris' shoulder pads, only to have the plucky receiver recover and snatch it out of the air for a 10-yard gain.
Early in the fourth, the Tigers faced fourth-and-one at their own 45. After a lengthy discussion that resulted in offsetting penalties, Young pulled behind the left side of his line to pick up 12 yards to the Unicorn 43-yard line.
"We had to get some momentum back," Katy head coach Gary Joseph said of the gamble. "They had been in our end of the field the entire third quarter and we had to exert our will on offense."
Four plays later, Katy faced third-and-three at the New Braunfels 26 and Young, refusing to let any one defender tackle him, spun off Unicorn after Unicorn all the way to the two-yard line, setting up Haack's sneak.
Young said the first-half fumble, which was recovered by New Braunfels at its own six-yard line, focused him to come out stronger.
"Whenever there's a fumble, going to the sideline is the worst feeling in the world," Young said. "I was able to take time and focus on building myself up and getting ready to go out there and helping the team whatever way I could."
Down eight points, the Unicorns would have two shots left, getting as deep as Katy's 35 with three minutes to play, before a holding penalty wiped out a fourth-down touchdown to running back Jeremy Garcia that would have brought New Braunfels within a two-point conversion of tying it up.
"They snuck that running back out of the backfield and he got past our linebackers," Katy senior safety Sam Holl said.
"When I saw him dive into the end zone, I wasn't feeling so great, but everyone was already yelling for the flag."
Rather than go for in on fourth-and-two, New Braunfels punted the ball back to Katy, confident its impressive defense could hold the Tigers with 2:51 left in the game.
But the momentum of the previous drive, and Katy's endurance and strength overwhelmed the Unicorn defenders at the point of attack. Young rushed for 21 yards on the first play of the drive, and fullback Joey Chapman went for 23 on the next.
A holding call slowed the Tigers some, and they eventually faced a fourth-and-four at the Unicorn 26 with 41 seconds left.
Never doubting their rushing attack, the Tigers sent Chapman over right guard for a seven-yard gain to seal the win and a third straight trip to the state title game.
"It was a huge motivator to have the call come into the huddle that we were going to go for it and the play was going to me," said Chapman, who finished with a career-best 49 yards on four carries.
"We really came on strong at the end. Donovonn kept his composure after his fumble. That was huge for us."
The Tigers advance to the 5A state title game for the ninth time, all since 1994. Katy has previously won the state championship in 1959 (1A), 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2008.
Until the rushing game got cranked up in the fourth quarter, Katy's defense was the story of the game.
The Tigers notched two first-half interceptions - one each by Channing Pate and Kevin Turcois - to keep the Unicorns off the scoreboard.
Pate intercepted a Garcia halfback pass on New Braunfels' first drive, but the Unicorns took the ball back when Haack tossed an ill-advised pass in traffic that was intercepted by Dustin Oelsen.
That Haack would start Saturday for the Tigers was the worst-kept secret in Katy last week. That he took every snap was more of a surprise, but after the interception he held his own, completing 5-of-9 passes for 60 yards.
New Braunfels defense put tons of pressure on Haack, sacking him four times.
"With a name like the Unicorns, you're not exactly expecting a lot of them," Katy senior safety Sam Holl said. "Other than our own defense, that was the best we've seen the whole year."
After Young fumbled on the 12th play of Katy's best drive of the first half, Holl shined on special teams, returning a punt 41 yards for a touchdown to give Katy a 7-0 lead with six minutes left in the half.
Holl has now scored a touchdown in the Tigers' last four games. Not bad when you're a safety.
After Turcois' interception, New Braunfels had one last shot to get points on the board, but Zachary Swanson recorded his fourth blocked field goal of the season, swatting down Aaron Hayduk's 52-yard attempt.
The Unicorns came out in the second half with fresh legs, and used their tremendous kick and punt return ability to almost take the game away from Katy.
A big kickoff return to open the third quarter gave the Unicorns possession at their own 40, and a 38-yard pass from quarterback John Simmons to Ross Johnson was the lynch pin in getting to first-and-goal at the Katy 8.
After two runs failed, Simmons was sacked on a free blitz by linebacker Quentin Garrison, forcing the Unicorns to settle for a 32-yard Hayduk field goal that made it 7-3 with 7:51 to play in the third.
After their defense stopped Katy's offense - largely by bottling up edge runner Will Jeffery, who was held to a season-low 22 yards on 15 carries - the Unicorns got a 54-yard punt return by Matt Schmid to start their next possession at the Tiger 21.
Again New Braunfels had first and goal, and again they settle for a field goal, this time a 27-yarder by Hayduk that made it 7-6 with 1:43 to play in the third.
As many critics of the spread insist, the offense's short-field deficiencies were on full display Saturday.
New Braunfels ran 13 plays from the Katy 30-yard line or closer. In those 13 plays, the Unicorns rushed the ball nine times for a total of seven yards and completed just 1-of-4 passes for nine yards and two interceptions.
For the game, the Tigers held the Unicorns to 162 yards of offense, just 40 on the ground. Simmons finished 14-of-25 for 122 yards and two picks. Garcia gained 30 yards on eight carries.
Katy advances to the 5A title game against an Abilene squad that survived a gut check of their own Saturday in Waco, beating Klein 29-21 by the skin of their teeth as a Bearkat receiver was gang tackled at the one-yard line with no time remaining on a last-ditch Hail Mary pass.
Both Abilene and Katy have six state championships to their school name. The difference is, Abilene's last came in 1950.
Nick Georgandis, Sports Editor, Katy Times Sports