The 2017 Westlake Chaparrals rolled into Portland, Texas just outside of Corpus Christi last Friday night and delivered yet another stellar playoff performance as the Chaps defeated the Vela SaberCats 70-14. The Westlake defense allowed seven Vela points while the special teams gave up a 98-yard kick-off return to Brandon Guzman. The Chaps allowed 246 yards of total offense to a Vela team that averaged nearly 410 yards per game in their 12 wins. Despite the lone scoring drive in the second quarter, the SaberCat rushing attack was held to just 66 yards, far below their per game average of 191 yards.
With a sack of Nathan Garcia in the first half of the Region IV Semifinal, junior David Neil recorded his 12th sack of the season and brought his career total to 16.5. Neil now holds both the single season Westlake sack record and is the current career leader in the category beating out the previous mark of 15 career sacks held by Elias Garcia. Senior Braden Cassity is right behind Garcia with 14 career sacks which puts him third all-time. Both Cassity and Neil have recorded 15 tackles for loss in 2017, a single season Westlake record.
As impressive as the defense has been in the run to the Region IV Final, the offense has flourished and improved since the 21-14 win over Lake Travis. The Chaparral offense has scored a minimum of 51 points against the six opponents that have followed Lake Travis. In those six games, three of which have been playoff contests, Westlake has outscored those six foes 353-100.
Senior Nakia Watson shined yet again against Vela with 151 yards rushing on 13 carries and two touchdowns. Watson recorded his 10th game with 100 or more yards rushing while junior quarterback Taylor Anderson rushed for 111 yards on just seven carries and recorded two touchdown runs of his own. Through the air, Anderson has become lethal with his accuracy of late. Of his 19 passing attempts, Anderson completed 15 and five of those completions went for scores. Perhaps more importantly, Anderson has embraced the Todd Dodge offensive mantra of “share the wealth” as seven different receivers hauled in those 15 completions. Mason Mangum snagged two touchdown receptions, while Steven Crider, Jake Ramos, and Cary Andreo caught the other three scores.
Steele’s history is brief, but successful. Since their launch in 2006, the Knights have waged an all-out crusade and have become one of the top teams in the greater San Antonio area. Steele boasts a 105-15 record that spans eight seasons including 2017’s campaign. The Knights competed in back-to-back state championship games in 2010 and 2011 and took home the 5A Division II crown in 2010 with a win over Guyer. Steele fell to Dekaney in 2011 in the state title game and lost to Desoto in the 2016 championship game.
Steele High School opened in 2005 and went 3-7 in its first varsity season in 2006. The Knights have never known a losing season since. In 12 seasons, the Knights are 135-22 and have advanced to at least the state semifinals in six of the past seven seasons.
Steele’s four-game losing streak began with a 34-31 loss to Lake Travis, followed by losses to the eventual playoff trio of O’Connor, Smithson Valley, and Judson. Dropping district games at Steele is a lot like Thursday’s snowfall in Austin; it doesn’t happen often. In fact, the two district losses to Smithson Valley and Judson represented the first time that the Knights had lost twice in district play in the same season since 2009.
Steele head coach David Saenz looked at Steele’s worst start in school history as an opportunity to reboot the season. Senior Onyx Smith was the top target for Xavier Martin in Steele’s 2016 run to the state title. With recruiting on his mind and some quarterback experience, Smith began the year behind center. After a 1-4 start, Saenz relied on his senior leadership, the infamous Knight rushing attack, and a big offensive line to protect 15-year-old quarterback Wyatt Begeal. The freshman was elevated to the starting position at halftime during Steele’s third district game with New Braunfels. Steele led the Unicorns 6-0 and although Begeal fired only four second half passes, he completed all four tosses including a touchdown pass to senior Caden Sterns. Steele beat New Braunfels 26-3 and the Knights’ first district win became the catalyst for the eight-game win streak headed into Saturday’s region final.
With Smith back in familiar territory at wide receiver and steady play by Begeal, the Knights have rolled off eight straight wins. Smith settled in immediately and despite starting six games at quarterback, the senior leads the Knights in receptions and yardage. Armed with 385 yards on 28 catches, Smith is averaging 13.8 yards per reception. Fellow receivers Daniel Jackson and Terrance Ingram all share the team lead in touchdown receptions as the trio has accounted for nine of the 13 touchdown passes.
Steele’s run the ball reputation won’t change with Saenz at the helm. Though this is his inaugural season as head coach, he’s been on the Steele staff since 2007. Collectively, the Knights have rushed for over 3,192 yards and 36 scores in 2017. Leading the Steele attack is a man named Brady. Senior running back Brenden Brady’s 1,837 rushing yards account for 58% of Steele’s ground game. The Rice commit has accrued 24 of the team’s 36 touchdown runs making Brady the prime directive for Tony Salazar’s defense.
There’s no secret to Steele’s offensive game plan. While running Brady right, left, and up the middle might be an obvious goal, the last eight games have proven that teams have a tougher time finding the weakness in the true armor of the Knight offense, the offensive line. Right tackle Nicholas Holiday, center Stanley Mark, and left guard Charley Zeno all returned from the 2016 state finalist team. No Knight lineman is shorter that six-feet-two inches and no lineman weighs less than 265 pounds. The average weight of this fearsome quintet is approximately 284 pounds.
In addition to the explosive run game and the rugged offensive line play, the Steele defense has been a key asset to the eight-game win streak. Since the 35-28 loss to Judson, the Knight defense has held opposing offenses to just 12.9 points per game allowing only one opponent to amass more than 20 points; Weslaco East.
Leading the Knights is strong safety and University of Texas commit, Caden Sterns. The senior defensive back heads into Saturday night’s region final with 90 total tackles, four interceptions, and two fumble recoveries making him an obvious threat to the Westlake passing attack. Along with the quarterback switch, David Saenz elevated Chance Cromartie to a starting role alongside Stearns. The junior’s 85 total tackles trails only Stearns and senior linebacker Alex Allamby for the team lead. If Stearns is the star knight atop the defensive horse, Allamby is the lance. Despite the four early losses, Allamby has delivered a glittering report card. 142 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, a pair of interceptions, a fumble recovery, and two caused fumbles are more than enough evidence that Steele means business in their linebacking corps.
Allamby’s success has roots and they lie in the brilliant play by senior defensive end, Juan Henry. Assigned to challenge opposing quarterbacks, Henry has 11 tackles for loss in 13 games and leads the team in sacks with seven, hurries with 12, and caused fumbles with three.
If there’s a wrinkle in the Knight defense, it’s in the details of defending the run. Strong tackling in the defensive backfield has kept opponents in check, but in Steele’s four losses, the Knights allowed an average of 200 rushing yards per game. In their most lopsided defeat at the hands of Smithson Valley, the Rangers racked up 291 rushing yards. While Steele’s 36-21 win over East in the region semifinal was dominant, the Wildcats still ran for 308 yards on 57 rushing attempts.
Westlake and Steele have met on only two occasions and both games went the way of the Knights in non-district match-ups in 2012 and 2013. Saturday night at the Alamodome will be the first time these two programs meet in the playoffs.
Our tailgate show begins live at 7:30pm on AM-1300 The ZONE. Listen live to Getting Defensive with Tony Salazar. Make sure you stay tuned to our halftime coverage as we recap the first half highlights. Our halftime features the thoughts of Doak Wilson, our Chap of the Week. As you leave The Alamodome, let us join you on The Drive Home as we review the game, run the stats, and hand out our own helmet stickers.
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We hope you enjoyed our television coverage last Saturday evening on our new home for Westlake Football, KBVO-TV. Tonight's Region IV Final broadcast will air LIVE on KBVO-TV in Central Texas. So set your reminders and your DVRs for tonight at 8pm. You'll see our weekly broadcast live. Please check your provider for the correct channel.