By ZACH SMITH, Hill Country News
Many players for Cedar Park and Vandegrift have been facing off against each other since the sixth grade.
The Timberwolves and Vipers get the regular season started Friday night at 7 p.m. at Monroe Stadium.
“They’re going to be tough and big,” said Harry Witt, Viper senior. “It’s going to be intense. For a lot of guys, it’ll be their first (varsity) game. I remember mine and it was pretty tough. I tell them to control their emotions and treat it like it’s any other day.”
Vandegrift had a historic season last year, going undefeated during the regular season and winning the District 13-6A title outright for the first time in school history. The Vipers made it to the third round of the playoffs, the first trip past the second round since jumping up to Class 6A.
The Timberwolves finished second in District 11-5A DI and made it to the second round of the playoffs.
“It’s always a competition with them and we know they’re going to give it their best and they know we’re going to put it all on the line,” Cedar Park senior Tammer Alzer said. “It has a lot of excitement to it. Everyone knows it’s going to be a good game and everyone is ready to play.”
Vandegrift beat Cedar Park 29-13 in the opener last season at Gupton Stadium for just the second time in the nine-year history of the rivalry.
The Timberwolves were a proficient passing team a year ago but struggled to consistently move the ball on the ground. Jonathan Stockwell was the leading rushing with 676 yard and five touchdowns during his junior season.
Stockwell leads a rejuvenated backfield this season that was far more consistent in the running attack during their preseason scrimmage against Westlake last weekend.
“We ran the ball better against them than we did the previous two or three years,” Cedar Park head coach Carl Abseck said. “It’s not like you’re gonna break off big chunks of yardage but we were most consistent, which, to me, was important to see.”
Abseck added he was happy with how the secondary played against the Chaps’ big, physical receivers.
For Vandegrift, stopping the run has always been a strong suit, and head coach Drew Sanders said the Vipers continued to have success with that in their scrimmage against Belton last weekend.
But his main focus for the first game of the regular season is getting the rushing offense in a rhythm early on.
“Once we got on track on offense, we ran the ball better, but it took us a little bit,” Sanders said. “So hopefully we can start the game moving the ball well in the run game. We’ve got a lot to learn and a lot to get better at.”
The Timberwolves’ pre-district gauntlet continues next week with a home game against perennial playoff team Cedar Ridge and continues the non-district schedule against San Angelo Central and Katy Cinco Ranch.
The Vipers travel to face Killeen Ellison next Friday before jumping right into district play on Sept. 13 against the Raiders.
Excitement always ratchets up for the first week of the regular season, and this week is no different. This game will help both squads find out who they really are and what their strengths and weaknesses really are.
“We can see everything rising,” Alzer said. “We’re all going through our gameplay and trying to execute. The coaches are going to be harder and the team is going to work harder. We know it’s a big game this week.”