By SCOTT W. COLEMAN
Four Points News
Vandegrift has already faced three of the state’s top-ranked football teams this season, including a defending state champion and a pair of state finalists. Now the Vipers (6-5) must take on yet another top-5 team, Cibolo Steele.
The Knights (10-1) ran like a buzzsaw through District 27-6A, outscoring opponents 291-112. Steele’s only loss came in the second week of the season, as they played through a rainstorm and a lightning delay to a 59-56 overtime loss to Lake Travis.
Last season, the Vipers’ postseason campaign cut short in the state quarterfinals by Leander ISD rival Vista Ridge. Steele won four straight playoff games handily before being shut out by top-ranked Katy 38-0 in the semifinals.
If there’s a bright spot heading into this game for Vandegrift, it is the fact that the Knights have allowed at least two touchdowns in six games this season.
The Vipers are running on emotion after a rousing comeback win over San Antonio Johnson last week, something that many on the outside questioned after the Vipers fell 55-0 at the hands of Lake Travis in the regular season finale.
Vandegrift’s defense played two of its best quarters of football in last week’s win over Johnson, showing what Sanders has talked about all season: the resilience of a team that few pundits thought had a chance to be successful in its move up to Class 6A competition.
“This gold ball, it’s special,” said Sanders, holding up the bi-district trophy. “It’s our first gold ball in 6A, and it means a lot.”
The Vipers will need all that emotion and its best plays and playmakers this week, facing a dual threat quarterback in Texas Tech-commit Xavier Martin, who has 1483 passing yards on the season with 14 passing TDs to just three interceptions. Martin is also the team’s second-leading rusher with 589 yards and eight touchdowns. Martin has three 100-yard games on his record this season and he’s speedy as well, boasting a season-long 68-yard breakaway run.
Junior running back Brenden Brady touches the ball 16 times a game and averages 6.7 yards a carry on the ground. Brady has 14 rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown. CJ Willams is Steele’s leading receiver with 729 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Knights have held onto the ball, only turning it over 10 times this season. They’ve also managed 35 sacks and 67 quarterback hurries this season and are plus-five in turnover margin. Both of those are areas of opportunity and challenge for Vandegrift. The Vipers have been opportunistic on defense, with 17 interceptions and 14 fumbles, and if Vandegrift can force a few turnovers in the game, it will improve their odds greatly. On offense, though, protecting Alex Fernandes and paving the way for the Vipers’ ground game will be crucial.