KATY—Paetow assistant football coach Chris Maust liked what he saw when he looked into the eyes of the Panthers as they walked from the bus into the locker room before Thursday’s District 10-5A, Division I showdown against Hightower.
Maust, a military veteran, believes the eyes say a lot about a person. They don't lie. And what he saw left him practically beaming.
"Oh, they're focused," Maust said, nodding. "They are locked in."
In only its fourth year of varsity play, Paetow longs for the big game. Players welcome any chance to show what they can do on a premier stage.
Thursday was no different.
Maust's evaluation was on the money, as the Panthers dominated Hightower, 55-7, at Rhodes Stadium to clinch at least a share of the district championship, remain undefeated at 8-0, and hand the Hurricanes their first loss in district play.
.@kolew1lson!!!!! What a tremendous grab and then the dynamic run to follow. 82 yards for a touchdown. 14-0 @PaetowFootball, 1:40, 1Q. #txhsfb @PaetowAthletics @PaetowHS_ABC @KatyISDAthletic pic.twitter.com/gdUsM8Erog— Dennis Silva II (@densilva02) October 22, 2021
Paetow is 6-0 in 10-5A, Division I, the only undefeated team in district.
"It's been kind of a saying at Paetow the past week that this was the game of the year for us," said senior quarterback C.J. Dumas, who completed 11 of 17 passes for 228 yards and four touchdowns to one interception. "Hightower came in thinking this was their game to win, but we went out and proved to everybody that we're not a team that rolls over. Playing at our level, nobody can stop us."
Paetow outgained Hightower 493-201 in total yards. The Panthers' defense produced 10 sacks, limiting the Hurricanes to minus-29 yards on 26 carries.
Paetow forced two turnovers and did a good job containing Hightower's top playmakers in sophomore running back Jeremy Payne (eight carries, 25 yards), and senior receivers Caleb Douglas (six catches, 67 yards) and Kaleb Johnson (four catches, 91 yards, touchdown).
"It was big to stop the run game, but it was even bigger to shut down the passing game," said sophomore defensive lineman Logan Thomas, one of a plethora of Panthers who had multiple sacks. "They have some good players on offense, but we did our job. We knew their tendencies. It's all about practice. We work hard during the week, and it paid off."
Coach B.J. Gotte said the defense is an unselfish one. All 11 guys fit their gaps and make the play when it's there. It starts with the leaders, like senior Kentrell Webb in the secondary, junior Alex Kilgore inside and senior Jacob Johnson on the line. As simple as that.
Well, not exactly. The Panthers run a 3-4 defense, but more often than not, it morphs into a four-man front after the snap. It's essentially an offset 4-2-5 alignment that can flummox any offense, particularly one like Hightower's that starts four sophomores, including at quarterback.
"We just wanted to dominate them, suffocate them," junior linebacker Daymion Sanford said. "Bring the pressure. This was a good game for us."
Offensively, the Texas high school football world was introduced to Paetow's junior running back Damyrion Phillips. Starting just his fourth game following an injury to senior starter Jacob Brown, Phillips scored a season-high four touchdowns.
"When Jacob got injured, I sat down with 'D' and said, 'This is the time you've been waiting for,'" Dumas said. "He was nervous at first, but I just told him this is stuff he's been doing his whole life.
"He's playing way beyond our expectations, and whenever Jacob does come back, we're going to have two powerhouse guys back there."
The 5-foot-8, 160-pound Phillips had 153 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries and two catches for 50 yards and a touchdown.
"It was really nerve-wracking having to step up and take that big role," Phillips said. "But just practicing, working hard … the outcome is how it is now. Practice is the game for us. The scout team prepares me. The offensive line opens holes for me. That's really all it was."
After the game, players talked matter-of-factly of the impressive win. They spoke of it almost nonchalantly. As if winning was expected. And maybe it was.
Their real work, all attested, was handled during the week of practice leading up to the game. For as much as they have a thirst for marquee contests, the Panthers are up for them because they know they're ready for them.
"I told them from the jump that you don't have to do anything different in 'big' games," Gotte said. "If you're always doing your best and you've always prepared a certain way, keep doing what you're doing. The environment around you changes, but the game doesn't."
>> O-LINE STARS: The Paetow offensive line played admirably Thursday, an irrepressible force behind a relentless rushing attack that produced 265 yards on 31 carries for 8.5 yards per tote. "There were people saying our line hadn't really played anybody yet or come out and faced a real challenge," Dumas said. "But they proved tonight they can come out and compete with one of the best defenses in 5A. I might have to go and take them to Texas Roadhouse after this." Gotte particularly commended the play of seniors James Bailey and Jeremiah Richard.
>> NO REST FOR THE WEARY: Next up for Paetow is Manvel, which is 5-2 (4-1 in 10-5A, Division I) heading into its game against Kempner on Friday. Manvel is perennially one of the top teams in Region III, and when the Mavericks and Panthers meet next week at Freedom Field, Manvel is expected to be 5-1 and Paetow 6-0 in district. "If you want to play high-level football, you have to play high-level teams," Gotte said. "You can't be afraid to compete against those teams. I talk to these kids about being excited for these opportunities. We're young. We haven't written our story yet. They've earned the right to be in these games, and now it's enjoying it and building on it."
>> HURRICANES STAND OUT: Johnson had Hightower's only touchdown of the night on a 44-yard scoring catch from sophomore Kendron Penson Jr. with 2:45 left in the third quarter. Penson completed 16 of 25 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown and an interception.