The road to state is never an easy task and the 51-31 victory over Smithson Valley served as a reminder that teams can't be defined by record alone. At 10-1 and a win over Judson, the Rangers showed Westlake that they too had big play capabilities. An explosive run followed by a sensational catch and Westlake saw its first double digit deficit in 2017.
The offensive line took center stage against a rugged 4-3 Smithson Valley defense. The goal was to be physical and the quintet of Armstrong, Wilkin, Webster, Sherhart, and Aylor churned out not one but two 100 yard rushers. Nakia Watson's 152 yard performance on 28 carries wore down the Ranger defense in the second half. Taylor Anderson sliced and diced his way to 102 rushing yards while igniting the Westlake passing game. Anderson completed 71 percent of his passes while throwing for three scores and running for another. Watson found the end zone on four occasions, two by land and two by air.
While the usual suspects in Taylor Anderson and Nakia Watson took the majority of the headlines, it was junior Penny Baker that proved to be a more than reliable target for the Westlake passing attack. Baker secured eight receptions for 90 yards and a 31 yard touchdown reception. Baker along with Mason Mangum caught 14 of Anderson's 21 pass completions.
Despite the explosive plays that lead to the 24 first half points allowed by the Westlake defense, Tony Salazar's squad regrouped in the second half. Smithson Valley completed just one offensive series in the third quarter. The Rangers' second possession carried over into the fourth quarter and the Chaparrals allowed just seven points in the second half. Those adjustments went along with a mind-boggling third down conversion rate. The Chaparral offense converted on 10 of 12 third down opportunities, causing the chains to move 83 percent of the time.
The Vela SaberCats are the other 12-0 team in the Region IV semifinals. The young men from Edinburg are led by their first year head coach John Campbell who's orchestrated a high powered offense to go along with a defense that specializes in the turnover. In 12 games, the SaberCat defense has forced 27 turnovers and given Vela a staggering +17 turnover ratio. The Vela defense has scored five times and have taken three punt returns to the end zone in 2017. Daniel Enriquez (#36) is the proud owner of three interception returns for scores and the aforementioned punt returns can also be found in the safety's portfolio. In total, Vela defenders have intercepted opposing quarterbacks 16 times and Daniel Enriquez has acquired nearly half of that lot with seven picks.
Offensively, the Vela SaberCats have torched their 2017 opponents. Vela has scored 40 points or more in seven of their 12 wins and go into the Region IV Semifinal averaging just over 45 points per game. However, the playoffs have humbled the powerful SaberCat offense. Vela is averaging just 31 points per game in their two playoff wins, a full 14 points below their regular season average.
That said, Vela has already faced adversity in these 2017 playoffs. The Bi-District Championship game featured a knock down drag out affair with Hanna. Despite a 28-14 lead at halftime, Hanna scored 12 unanswered points before the SaberCats added a fourth quarter field goal to lead Hanna 31-26 with eight minutes to play. The Eagles took the next drive downfield and scored the go ahead touchdown with five minutes left in regulation. While their two point conversion try failed, Hanna still had a 32-31 lead.
Vela's next possession resulted in a punt and gave Hanna a chance to seal the victory. However, with just over one minute to play, Hanna punted the ball back to Vela. With the wind behind him, Austin Garza took aim from 54 yards away.
Garza was the Vela offense in the second half as the SaberCats relied on his six points to edge out Hanna. The momentum carried into the Area Championship with a 28-10 win over Eagle Pass. Sophomore quarterback Nate Garcia is yet another dual threat quarterback who operates at a maturity beyond his age. Of the two captains listed for Vela, Garcia is one of them cementing his leadership role in spite of his graduation year. Garcia has the stats to back up his captaincy. The sophomore has completed 67 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,580 yards, 25 touchdowns, and just five interceptions.
Garcia manages a passing attack that features a fellow sophomore and the lone SaberCat wide receiver north of six feet in height. Justin Cantu (#2) leads all Vela receivers with 61 catches for an eye-popping 819 yards and seven touchdowns. Cantu might not be the only threat in the SaberCat offense, but if the Vela offensive line can hold off a quick Westlake defensive front and give Garcia time, he'll find Cantu.
On average, the Vela offensive front checks in at 246 pounds per man. Helping out that average are two bookend tackles and both tip the scale at 280 pounds. Jayden Borjas (#77) boasts a six-foot-five-inch frame making him the man to beat especially when the Cats decide to run. As deadly as Vela has been through the air, the SaberCats average right at six yards per rushing attempt and have scored 41 of their 64 touchdowns on the ground. Leading that rushing attack with 18 touchdown runs is Aaron Alvarez. The 190 pound junior battering ram shares the duty with senior Sam Valenzuela, but Alvarez is the main man as he's run for 795 yards on 117 carries.
Our tailgate show begins live at 7pm on AM-1300 The ZONE. Listen live to No Huddle with Todd Dodge. Make sure you stay tuned to our halftime coverage as we recap the first half highlights. Our halftime features the thoughts of Luke Armstrong, our Chap of the Week. As you leave Akins Wildcat Stadium, 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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