By ZACH SMITH, Hill Country News
SAN ANTONIO — When things got tight for Vandegrift on Saturday, the Vipers leaned on the one group they knew would never let them down: Each other.
“We have this rule: players trust players, players trust coaches, coaches trust players and coaches trust coaches,” junior wide receiver Miles Coleman said. “We always follow that and trust each other.”
Vandegrift scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter before Hayden Arnold hit a 37-yard field goal as time expired to give the Vipers a 38-35 win over nine-time state champion Katy and advance to the state championship game for the first time in school history.
The Vipers will face off against DeSoto in the Class 6A-DII state title game Saturday at 3 p.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“We have a huge self-belief in ourselves,” Senior quarterback Brayden Buchanan said. “We knew we could come out and win this game. We continued to fight, we pulled it out and we’re going to Jerry World (this) week.”
Buchanan completed 22 passes for a career-high 453 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and also rushed for one score.
Coleman finished with seven receptions for 183 yards and a touchdown while also completing both pass attempts for 31 yards and two touchdowns.
“I talked with (offensive coordinator Blake) Mouser before the game and we both said we wanted to let it all hang out,” head coach Drew Sanders said. “To beat a nine-time state champion, we really had to put all the cards on the table, and I thought we did that (Saturday).”
Junior defensive back Alex Foster led the Vandegrift defense with nine tackles, while Cruz Orta, Andrew Scott and Blain Becker all finished with five tackles apiece.
The Vipers pushed their winning streak to 14 games.
They’re always been confident, but they really locked in after a season-opening loss to Dripping Springs, and their confidence was bolstered when they avenged that loss in the regional finals on December 2.
“That loss lit a fire,” Foster said. “All the work we put in over the offseason, we knew there was still more to get. As soon as playoffs started, there was a different energy in the locker room and on the field.”
Sanders said before the game that getting big plays would be a key to success, and he got plenty of them in the first.
Colman took a double pass and threw his first touchdown of the season on the Vipers’ first drive of the game. He followed that up with a 75-yard touchdown reception early in the second quarter.
Katy got its fair share of explosive plays, too, including a 74-yard reception by Micah Koenig late in the second quarter.
But Vandegrift drove 70 yards in 10 plays before Buchanan threw his second touchdown of the game to Jase Skoglund just before halftime.
It took until the fourth quarter for the explosive plays to start back up.
Katy took its first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter when Micah Koenig caught a screen pass and took it 92 yards for his second touchdown of the game.
But the Vipers would not go quietly, as Buchanan hit Beck Ormond for an 83-yard gain and scored on a one-yard sneak two plays later. Coleman threw his second touchdown of the game with another double pass that reinstated the Vandegrift lead with three minutes left.
“We’ve prepared it all year, and I was ready to make the throw,” Coleman said. “Coach Mouser always has tricks up his sleeve.”
Katy needed just three plays before running back Seth Davis, who rushed for 251 yards and two touchdowns, broke loose for a 64-yard score to tie the game with under two minutes to go.
Vandegrift didn’t panic, driving 55 yards to set up the game-winning field goal.
“We had belief in ourselves,” Buchanan said. “We continued to drive the ball. There were a few huge plays and a huge penalty, and we let Hayden do the rest, and he took care of it.”@ByZachSmith and @HCNSports on Twitter and Instagram