The hunt for perfection is never easy, but at Westlake between 1990 and 2002, perfection seemed attainable every year. In 1996, the Westlake Chaparrals delivered on the quintessential perfect season claiming the school’s only state championship in football with a 16-0 record. Tonight, the 2017 Chaparrals have an opportunity to secure the first undefeated regular season since 2000 and capture an outright district championship, a claim that Westlake hasn’t made since 2011.
As you may have noticed, the Austin area has grown since the year 2000. Want proof? Last week’s opponent, Leander, was a single high school district for 99 years. From 1899-1998, if you lived in what is now the sprawling suburban area of Leander/Cedar Park, you were a Lion. In 1998, Leander ISD opened a second high school in Cedar Park. Nine years later, Leander ISD now has six high schools with three of those schools competing at the 6A classification.
Vista Ridge opened in 2003 and in 2008, the school got serious about football and hired Rodney Vincent. The former Austin High head coach was hired at Vista Ridge following three consecutive playoff appearances. Vincent was also the head coach of record during Austin High's infamous two wins over Westlake. How many times has Austin High beat Westlake in football? You guessed it; just twice.
Vincent went 1-9 in his first year at Vista Ridge, but the 2010 team roared back with a nine-win season and a playoff berth. The Rangers have made the playoffs in five of the last seven years and in 2015, the Rangers earned their first trip to the 5A State Semi-Final. Vista Ridge finished 2015 with a 12-3 record.
Vista Ridge’s first year of 6A football was filled with adversity. An injury ridden season led to a 3-7 record, but the Rangers still earned a bi-district playoff game with San Antonio Churchill. Vista Ridge exploded offensively in the first quarter, scoring 21 points and the Rangers lead the Chargers at the half 31-24. Vista Ridge took Churchill to the limit but fell 41-38 to end their 2016 campaign. For perspective, the Churchill squad that narrowly escaped a first round loss to Vista Ridge managed to advance to the state quarterfinals a year ago.
In 2017, Vista Ridge has secured four wins while playing one of the toughest schedules in Central Texas. Their five losses include Dripping Springs, Bowie, Vandegrift, Hays, and Lake Travis. All five are playoff teams.
Senior quarterback Jacob Taute has remained healthy this season and at six-feet and four-inches, he looks like a traditional pocket passer, but it’s his running ability that keeps opposing defenses honest.
Taute’s 80 carries for 425 yards and four rushing touchdowns accounts for one-third of the impressive Ranger run game. Traditionally, Vista Ridge has enjoyed success in the passing game, but 2017 has seen the Rangers rush for 2,110 yards, 20 touchdowns, and an average of 6.9 yards per carry. Joe Goodwin has supplied the lion share of the carries and leads the team in rushing with 701 yards on 102 carries. The explosive feature of the Ranger running game is Jamil Pittman who is averaging 10 yards per carry. Pittman has less than half the carries as Goodwin, but has scored nine of the 20 rushing touchdowns.
Through nine games, Taute has completed just 48 percent of his passes for 1,466 yards. However, the improvement from 2016 to 2017 can be seen in the turnover ratio. Coming into the regular season finale a year ago, the Rangers had turned the ball over 20 times with 15 of those coming via interception. This year, Taute has thrown 13 touchdown passes and just five interceptions.
Jamil Pittman is the Rangers’ swiss army knife. As mentioned above, he can line up and run the ball as a traditional running back. Pittman can also split out as a true wide receiver and stretch the field with his speed. He is the team’s leading receiver and heads into his final home game with 30 receptions for 657 yards and five touchdowns. Pittman can even sneak in at the quarterback position and catch opposing defenses off guard. In 2017, Pittman has thrown two passes, completed both, and both for touchdowns. His versatility extends to the defensive side of the ball. On October 6th, Pittman returned an interception 63 yards for a score that sealed the win over Leander. Overall, Pittman has scored 15 times in 2017 and has had a hand in 17 of the Rangers’ 36 touchdowns.
Todd Dodge’s message to his team this week is simple.