HOUSTON – When senior quarterback Gavin Session went down with a season-ending injury, Craig Stump turned to the next man up.
Sophomore Zion Brown.
The young signal-caller has worked his way through six games as the full-time starter, two of those as playoff wins over Deer Park (49-10) and Dickinson (22-21), to get Atascocita (9-2) back to the Regional Semifinals for a seventh consecutive season.
"I think the biggest thing is being more aware of his surroundings," Atascocita coach Craig Stump said of Brown's development. "A lot of times with a young guy that hasn't played much they are really focused on what they are doing and as a quarterback they may not know the receivers are lined up wrong. I think being more comfortable, obviously, and being aware of the environment and not having tunnel vision."
His development has been aided by Session.
Despite the injury, that hasn't deterred Session from being at every Atascocita game and virtually being another coach for the Eagles on the sidelines.
"Gavin has done great," Stump said. "I know he's disappointed in his injury, but he's been to every game. He sits with [Zion] on the bench and talks to him after I get done talking to him. I've encouraged that along the way. I told Gavin he was doing a great job helping, especially in those first couple of games."
As Atascocita pushes into the third round, Ridge Point – the team that ended their 2020 season with a 55-45 loss in this exact round – is awaiting them Friday night at University of Houston's TDECU Stadium.
The catalyst to the Ridge Point offense is senior quarterback Bert Emanuel Jr.
The Panthers' signal-caller last week against Cy-Fair in a 41-20 victory went 8 of 20 for 118 yards and had 14 carries for 155 yards and three touchdowns.
"His running ability is what makes him go," Stump said. "Not only the quarterback runs that are designed but on pass play that isn't there, if you don't stay in your rush lanes, he'll see a crease and go. He's big and tall. He just glides and he's hard to tackle, it's like he has grease all over him when you watch film.
"I think on passing situations it's real important that you make him play quarterback. Make him go through a progression and throw the ball, which is easier said than done because he can pull it down and run."
To get to the program's second State Quarterfinal in three seasons, Stump admits they have to clean up their mistakes from their win over Dickinson, especially with turnovers and on special teams.
But as far as the "big game" aspect goes, this Atascocita group is battle-tested.
This year wins over District Champion Klein Collins, perennial-power Allen and playoff teams Klein Oak, Denton Guyer, Summer Creek and C.E. King all grace the 9-2 record.
“Our guys have shown all year that they’re going to show up and play,” Stump said. “They’ve been in too many big games. They know how these games go. I think with that early-season schedule we don’t get flustered. It’s about the end of the game that matters. We’ve just got to do what we have to do to get to that point.”