KATY — A rivalry boasting tradition and nostalgia got a Katy performance boasting tradition and nostalgia as the Tigers were at their truest in beating The Woodlands, 21-14, in their 14th meeting on Thursday evening at Rhodes Stadium.
The Tigers, who hold an 8-6 edge in the series, had 44 rushing attempts to 11 passing attempts and rode junior tailback Seth Davis to a gritty, physical win of attrition. Davis compiled a career-high 227 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries, and Katy twice used clock-chewing, 10-plus-play drives to hold The Woodlands off late in the first and second halves.
"That's who we are," Katy coach Gary Joseph said. "That's our identity. We knew how explosive they were offensively. We had some injuries, but our kids didn't take a backseat to anybody. They came out and played hard. They complemented each other, and the kids are starting to grow more chemistry and more trust."
Katy (4-0) had a time of possession of 27 minutes and averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
"Keep running the ball, pound it down their throats," Davis said. "That was the plan. We do something called 'push sweep' (in practice) where we just run the ball every single play, so we're conditioned. Stuff like that helps us."
It worked. Playing keep-away limited opportunities for the Highlanders' precocious dual-threat sophomore quarterback Mabrey Mettauer and a deep corps of receivers led by senior Ben Ferguson.
The Woodlands (2-2) struck first on Ferguson's 21-yard touchdown reception from Mettauer less than four minutes into the game. It didn't take long for Davis to respond with a 7-yard run a little more than two minutes later.
The game remained tied until it appeared The Woodlands got some luck after Katy's Axel Robertson missed a field goal following a 15-play, 68-yard drive. But shortly thereafter, Katy senior defensive back Brady Englett picked off Mettauer near midfield, and one play later Davis was in the end zone again on a 49-yard spree.
Wow. @FootballKaty just did that. after a terrific, stretched interception by DB Brady Englett, @_SethDavis21 explodes past a clearly winded Highlander defense for a 49-yard burst. 14-7 Katy, 2:10, 2Q. #txhsfb @KatyJungle @khs_live @texashsfootball pic.twitter.com/OhmiD8YW1B— Dennis Silva II (@densilva02) September 17, 2021
"It changed the momentum," Englett said of his pick, Katy's first this season. "I saw him coming across the field, saw the ball tipped and happened to be in the right spot at the right time. The offense was able to get a nice touchdown to end the half and it was an opportunity for us to get ahead."
Katy extended its lead to 21-7 50 seconds into the fourth quarter on a 20-yard Isaiah Smith scoring catch. The Woodlands answered with a Mettauer 2-yard keeper with 6:58 left, but, again, the Tigers' running game and stingy defense held off any threat of the Highlanders late, with the defense forcing a key turnover on downs and the offense eating up time.
"We focused on not letting the quick game get going and containing that quarterback in the pocket," Englett said. "We played a lot better as one today."
The game was a pivotal step forward for Davis, who came in averaging 17.3 carries per game this season after sharing backfield duties last season as the No. 2 back. But in a big game, against a strong defense, the 5-foot-7, 155-pounder showed he can put the offense on his back and carry the load if need be.
Prior to Thursday, Davis had never had more than 19 carries in a game.
"Seth is a great competitor," Joseph said. "There's a difference in what he brings than the other backs, as far as more experience and a little bit quicker burst on things."
The win was also important because Katy was far from full strength. The Tigers have had a rash of injuries to start the season.
Four senior starters (receivers Nic Anderson and Ronnie Schneider, cornerback Bobby Taylor and left tackle Jace Butler) did not play.
Senior Antonio Silva and junior JR Ceyanes played admirably in place of Anderson and Schneider, Englett was strong in the defensive backfield, and senior Terrence Ochai played well in place of Butler. Junior Damian Neveaux was also a standout at linebacker with 10 tackles and a sack.
"It's next man up, and we expect them to perform," Joseph said. "Everybody knows from the very beginning that we're not going to win the championship with just 22 kids. We have to have depth and kids who are willing to sacrifice and not get playing time until their number's called, and then when it's called, they step up."
>> NO DWELLING ON MISTAKES: The Tigers have nine turnovers through the season's first four games, including a fumble on a kickoff return to start the second half on Thursday. "It's always a concern, but we don't dwell on the negative," Joseph said. "If we start doing that, then it sometimes becomes a paranoia. We'll get it corrected. A lot of the mistakes we're making are self-induced. The ones that bother me are the ones where our fundamentals aren't real good, and we've just got to continue working on fundamentals."
>> DISTRICT PLAY LINGERS: The Tigers wrapped up the non-district season 4-0 and begin district play next week against Seven Lakes. "We've played some good football teams, and I think it'll show up at the end of the year how good of teams they were," Joseph said. "They help our kids grow up, more than anything else." Katy hopes to return to the top of the district after its 12-year district-title win streak was snapped last year by Tompkins.
>> PUNISHING PLAYMAKERS: Katy had five players with five or more tackles against The Woodlands: senior defensive back Carson Marshall (five), junior defensive back Johnathan Hall (six), senior linebacker Ty Kana (six), Englett (six) and Neveaux (10). Joseph said he was proud of his run defense. The Tigers held The Woodlands to 116 yards on 26 carries, 4.5 yards per tote.