ROSENBERG — Houston Lamar was intent on stopping George Ranch running back Hymond Drinkard. The Texans weren't about to let the Touchdown Club of Houston preseason team honoree pile up yards and touchdowns in their season-opener Saturday.
If George Ranch was going to win, Lamar's thinking went, it would be because quarterback Cole Murphy, a senior in his first full season as the fulltime starter, stuffed the stat sheet. Not Drinkard.
Well, Murphy starred. Early and often. Permitted as headliner, he stole the show just as the Texans desired.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Murphy sliced and diced Lamar's secondary all night long, completing 21 of 25 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns in leading George Ranch to an intense and physical 38-33 win at Traylor Stadium.
Murphy, who started three games late last season after Sam Miller got hurt, showed off a gunslinger's confidence and arm.
"They piled the box heavy and weren't outnumbered on the edges," Murphy said. "At the beginning, they weren't respecting the outside. So, we had to distribute the ball when we had the advantage."
The Texans accomplished goal No. 1, which was limiting Drinkard, who rushed for 735 yards and eight touchdowns in eight games last year. Drinkard had 37 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
But because of Lamar's defensive persistence selling out on George Ranch's run game, the perimeter was wide open, providing a leading man's role for Murphy.
Murphy threw touchdown passes of 25, 56, 9 and 37 yards, respectively.
.@colejmurphy44 again! This time, a 37-yard flare to @jrj3L. @GRHS_Football rolling now, 38-21, 9:56, 4Q. 328 yards and four TDs for Murphy. #txhsfb @GRHSABC @WeAreGRHS @lcisdathletics pic.twitter.com/rlAwiqfR2E— Dennis Silva II (@densilva02) August 29, 2021
"He just has a better confidence in the huddle and command of the offense this year," coach Nick Cavallo said. "He's a lot more comfortable. Last year, he was the backup and still kind of navigating things. This year, it's his ship, and you can see the command, the checks, the calls he's making. He's very cool-headed, very level, and that's what you need."
Senior Kyle Kiser (6-3, 175) caught four passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Joseph Wilson (5-8, 145) hauled in nine passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. Drinkard found more than enough room flashing out than running in, catching three balls for 72 yards and a touchdown. Junior Gregor Jones (6-4, 170) took in three passes for 33 yards and a touchdown.
"I'm confident in every single receiver we have," Murphy said. "They've got speed, they've got size. I know when they run a route, they're going to get open and catch the ball every time."
His coach is just as confident in him.
"Last year, at the end of the year when Sam was hurt, Cole came in and orchestrated the offense and had some big plays and big moments," Cavallo said. "When we've got a running back like we have back there, it allows some single coverages and things light on the edge. We have a lot of faith in him."
Murphy admitted being nervous last season. Not anymore.
"Now, since it's my last year, I'm going to give it my all and I just want to have a great time and have some fun," he said.
Murphy reads defensive coverages better and has stronger chemistry with teammates. Plus, he understands and appreciates the weapons he has in his receivers. Cavallo understands and appreciates it as well.
As far as everyone else? Well, they eventually will sooner than later.
"(Wilson) is back, but the rest of them are pretty much unknown," Cavallo said. "We feel good about them. They're big, tall, and kind of look like old-school, early 2000s Minnesota (Vikings). They're going to get opportunities because of who we've got in the backfield, and they've just got to capitalize.
"They've worked their butts off all summer and all fall camp. We know they can do it. It just comes down to confidence."
>> GAME-SAVER: Lamar had a shot to win the game. The Texans had the ball on the George Ranch 33-yard line with 24 seconds left and no timeouts. But junior quarterback Kenneth Rosenthal threw two long incompletions toward the end zone, and then was sacked by Longhorns defensive lineman Jacques Franklin, which allowed the clock to run out. It was a game-saving play for the junior making his varsity debut. "He didn't give up," Cavallo said. "The quarterback got flushed up a little bit, and he (Franklin) came from the backside with great hustle and great pursuit. He came up big. Someone had to step up and get off the block and make a play. Very excited for him and for the team."
>> MESSY, UGLY: The game featured a plethora of penalties and one ejection. George Ranch had 15 penalties for 140 yards. Lamar had 14 penalties for 128 yards. It was physical, hotly contested and very emotional. "We're not good enough to put ourselves behind the chains every time," Cavallo said. "The big thing is limiting the penalties. The first game, you don't accept it, but you know as a head coach, there will be some. Now, for games two and to three and on, it's about can we shut those down and can we build."
>> A G.O.A.T. IN ATTENDANCE: Former Houston Texans great Andre Johnson was in attendance, sitting on the George Ranch side.