By SCOTT W. COLEMAN, Four Points News
“There’s nothing better than December football.”
Those were the first words Vandegrift offensive coordinator Blake Mouser had for the Vipers after a thrilling — and challenging — 49-39 victory over Edinburg Vela last Friday.
Mouser’s offense, led up front by tackles Jake Helton and Luke Smith, guards Kenny Wood and Ryan Scheel, and center Holton Greenfield, had just paved the way for Travis Brannan to run for touchdowns of 60, 57, 50 and 37-yards on his way to a career-high 422 yard, 6 TD performance. The win earned Vandegrift a second straight trip to the state quarterfinals, where they’ll face off against Leander ISD rival Vista Ridge on Friday.
“Any time you have a 2,000-yard rusher, obviously he’s skilled,” said head coach Drew Sanders. “But you have to have people up front blocking for him.”
And Brannan never forgets to mention those blocking for him when talking about his performance. Including fullback Spencer Jones and tight end Bailey Middleton. Giving credit to his teammates is a part and parcel to a postgame interview with the school’s all-time rushing leader.
On the other side of the field, with tears streaming down his face, Edinburg Vela coach Michael Salinas told his team how proud he was of their performance. His Sabercats outgained Vandegrift by more than 120 yards in the game, and though they never led, the Sabercats kept the pressure up and forced Vandegrift’s starters to play four full quarters of playoff football — something they haven’t done since last year’s state semifinals.
But, that’s also what gave Brannan the opportunity to reach yet another milestone in his illustrious career. “I guess this is what he does when he plays a full game,” Sanders said.
Brannan started the scoring with a 5-yard run to cap the game’s opening possession. Vela running back Robert Guerra responded with a 5-yard scoring run of his own and the chase was on. The teams kept scoreboard operators busy, posting six first-quarter touchdowns as Vandegrift took a 1-point lead after a failed extra point attempt by Vela.
Brannan scored a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter as Vandegrift’s defense helped turn the tide, picking up two of its six total sacks and recovering a fumble to help the Vipers take a 35-20 lead at the half.
A pair of successful onside kicks kept Vela in the game late, forcing the starting defense to stay on the field for the longest they’ve seen this season, as the Sabercats dominated time of possession 31:43 to Vandegrift’s 16:01.
“We must have played 100 snaps (on defense),” Sanders said. “It was hard, because we’d go out and score quickly and then we’d have to go right back out.
It was just 90 snaps, but the Vipers spent much of that time chasing a pair of slippery Vela runners in Guerra and quarterback Fabian Pedraza, who helped the Sabercats amass 592 total yards of offense in the game.
“We weren’t playing really bad defense, we were just missing tackles and they were breaking our angles,” said Sanders. “We just didn’t anticipate how fast they were going to be, so really it is a credit to them.”
“But on the flip side, we continued to fight and found a way to win. Ultimately, it’s a credit to our defense,” said Sanders.
“Playoff wins are sometimes ugly, but if you move on and live another week, that’s all you want,” Sanders said. “And we’re moving on to the fourth round for the second year in a row. I’m so proud.”