By SCOTT W. COLEMAN. Four Points News
No matter how it ended, Vandegrift head coach Drew Sanders said he’ll have many fond memories of the 2017 football season.
“Our last minute victories over Hays to earn our playoff spot, and over Johnson to earn our second 6A gold ball in school history were so fun. Our team never gave up and always played hard no matter the situation,” said Sanders. “When you play hard all the time, you are always in the game.”
It’s the kind of thing that helps Vandegrift growing as a program.
The senior class departing includes some players who were able to see 53 games — more than five seasons of football — the most successful four-year run in school history.
“We will miss tremendously the seniors in this class. They set the standard for having a family-like atmosphere on the team and in the locker room,” said Sanders.
The season came to a close in a second-round loss to Cibolo Steele for the second year in a row. However, Sanders said this year’s team — and the loss to Steele — were different than last year.
“I was very impressed with our team this year. We had to replace a Division 1 quarterback and almost our entire offensive line and multiple starters on defense (and yet) we improved dramatically,” Sanders said.
“We felt like we could run the ball this year on Steele and we did that. I’m very proud of our offensive line and running backs,” said Sanders. “We knew with their three Division 1 players in the secondary, the windows would be small for our passing game. I was proud overall of how we moved the ball, but we still missed several chances to win the game.”
“The main difference in this year’s game was I felt like we had multiple chances to win. In last year’s game, we really had a hard time threatening to actually win the game,” said Sanders.
Senior quarterback Justin Moore went 12-of-18 for 87 yards with one touchdown and an interception in his final outing as a Viper. Moore finishes with 2,546 passing yards and 25 touchdowns to just five interceptions. He added a pair of rushing touchdowns to his total.
Running back Isaiah Smallwood added 113 rushing yards to his season, finishing his junior season with 1,207 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Wide receiver Peyton Ausley led the team with 74 catches for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns. Justin Florence had 55 catches for 687 yards and six touchdowns.
Defensively, the Vipers forced a pair of fumbles and an interception against Steele, and finished the season with 42 sacks and 40 quarterback hurries.
“I was most impressed with Oso Ifesinachukwu as he injured his hamstring early in the first quarter and had to come out of the game,” said Sanders. “He wanted back in the game even though he couldn’t run. We moved him inside to tackle and asked him just to hold his gap. He played valiantly and set a great standard for our defensive line for the future.”
“Spencer Jones also played very well in the game and even though the stats don’t show it, we made very yard difficult for Steele,” Sanders said.
Ifesinachukwu finished the season witih 122 tackles, including a team-high 14 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Jonathan Roth led the Vipers with 126 total tackles while Nick Hughes and Evryn Smith each had six sacks.
Looking back on the team and the 2017 season, Sanders said it’s the character of the student athletes that made the biggest impact. “They valued all team members, no matter their role and you could see that in the way we played. That’s what I’ll remember most about this senior class… and they were pretty good at football, too!”