By JOHN BLACK
HOUSTON (Sp) - Putting together perhaps the greatest defensive performance in school history here Saturday night, the La Porte Bulldogs beat the state-ranked and nationally-touted Katy Tigers, 9-7, to advance to the fourth round of the Class 5A playoffs.
Let's repeat that. THE LA PORTE BULLDOGS BEAT THE KATY TIGERS. As it turned out, the third time was the charm.
The Bulldogs, under the direction of head coach Jeff LaReau, thus face a rematch with District 21-5A rival Port Arthur Memorial, which beat Spring Branch Memorial. The setting will be Reliant Stadium, with kickoff set for 1 p.m. this coming Saturday.
It will be a rematch between La Porte and Memorial. The Dogs won the first contest, in late October, to claim the 21-5A championship, and now the two teams will have a rare opportunity to meet again in the same season. You might say this speaks well of the competition in 21-5A this season, what with two teams from the same district reaching the fourth round of post-season play.
But to be honest with you, there is no need to worry, right now, about that Memorial game next week. We need to focus on this mighty win over the seemingly invincible Tigers. Before the game, the Katy head coach was touting the La Porte defense as being one of the best in Texas. And when it was over, LaReau said the game featured two great defensive football teams. It is hard to argue with either one of them.
There were several factors in this game. For starters, kickoff was delayed an hour because foul weather forced a late start in the 1 p.m. game. Also, there was a very stiff breeze blowing out of the northwest - not straight across from the home side (Katy) of the stadium to the visiting (La Porte) side, but almost. We will add that the stands were virtually packed, and that the Bulldogs had a very large and boisterous bunch of boosters behind them - and a very happy bunch, we might add, at the end.
So now let's get to the action on the field.
The Bulldogs played excellent defense in the first half and went into the dressing room trailing by just a point at 7-6.
La Porte won the opening flip and decided to defer to the second half, so the Tigers wanted the ball, which meant the Bulldogs had the wind in the first period. The Tigers could get nothing going on their first possession as Malik Graves defended a pass, Ellis Hutchinson made a tackle to hold a passing play to six yards, and Chad Sutherland, Alex Jones and Hoza Scott combined for a big stop on third and four to force a punt.
The Dogs did manage a first down on their opening offensive effort as Keith Whitely stepped off five yards, Josh Vidales added four and Whitely got two to move the chains. But the drive was halted at that point, so Josh booted a fine punt out of bounds at the Katy 14.
Again, the defense was up to the task. Scott and Cameron Whilley combined for a tackle and no gain; Scott and Chris Hickey teamed for a sack and a loss of seven; and Sutherland had a big rush that forced an errant pass, leading to another Tiger punt.
That punt was fielded by Whitely at the Tiger 35 and he sprinted and spun and twisted for an excellent return of 29 yards, giving La Porte a first down at the Katy six.
Keith took a direct snap but could get no yardage, and Taejon Wearen was also stopped for no gain. But on third down Vidales took the snap out of the shotgun, started to go right, switched direction, took off to the left and followed blocking all the way into the end zone. It was 6-0 in favor of the Bulldogs with 5:07 left in the first quarter.
That's the good news. The bad news is that there was a miscue on the extra point attempt and holder Whitely tried to circle wide right for the two-pointer but was stopped a yard short, so the sure-footed Eric Medina did not get a chance to make it 7-0.
Katy got the ball after the ensuing kickoff on its own 20 because Medina blasted it out of the end zone. And their first run was snuffed by a jarring tackle by Sutherland. But the Tigers managed a couple of first downs, and got a gift on a personal foul call against the Bulldogs, allowing Katy to set up in La Porte territory.
No problem, however, as Hutchinson and Sutherland and Scott smoked a runner for a short gain; Scott put on a big rush that forced an incomplete pass; and another pass was off the mark as well, so the Bulldogs got the ball back on their own 14.
Whitely carried three times and converted one first down, but the Katy defense managed to hold from that point and two bad things resulted: 1) the Dogs had to punt, and 2) the first quarter had ended so Vidales had to punt into the wind, which meant the Tigers had the wind to their backs.
And soon thereafter disaster struck La Porte. Aaron Nance-Garrett and Trevor Holmes had combined to made a big stop on a first-down run and the Tigers were flagged for illegal procedure and missed a pass as Hoza Scott had a big rush. But on third and 11 the Tiger quarterback fired deep down the left side. Defender Malik Graves was in position but slipped on the wet Tully Stadium turf and the receiver gathered it in and scored the first - and only -- Katy touchdown. The extra point made it 7-6 in favor of the Tigers with 10:04 still left in the second period.
The Dogs got the ball back on their own 20 and Vidales made a big play on third and long for a first down. Josh took a snap out of the shotgun and went right, saw no room, cut way back to the left, circled wide and covered 17 yards in all for a first down to the Tiger 36. That was it, however, and Katy got the ball back on the Bulldog 47.
But again, no problem. Sutherland made successive jarring tackles to limit the Tigers to just two yards on those first two plays, and Hutchinson defended a pass successfully so another punt was forced. And once again, the Dogs had the ball at their own 20.
Two good things happened: 1) With the halftime clock running down, Whitely ran hard on a third and four to make a first down and keep the clock running; and 2) once a punt was a necessity, Vidales booted a beauty into the wind and the Tigers were backed up all the way to their 14.
Cameron Whilley made a big stop for a loss of three on first down, and after a pass and another run failed, a punt was forced. The Dogs ran the clock out, and it was a one-point game at halftime.
It stayed that way for a long time. La Porte had to punt after its first possession of the second half, but so then did the Tigers. Alex Jones had a big rush and should have been awarded a sack, and Graves picked off a pass on third down to give the Dogs the ball back on their own seven.
Whitely had a great run of 12 yards to the 19, and soon after stepped off seven more to move the chains again. But eventually the Dogs had to punt, and Vidales booted a dandy. It covered 52 yards in all against that stiff wind, putting the Tigers back in a hole when they figured to have excellent field position.
We will pause right here to point out that Josh had to punt nine times in all, and he did a masterful job in very difficult circumstances. While the Dogs were able to later take advantage of poor Tiger punts into the wind, Katy was never afforded that luxury, thanks to Vidales.
Anyway, back to the action. Sutherland put on a big rush and Hutchinson made a big hit on the ensuing Katy possession, and Jones also had a nice tackle. And after the Tigers ran for a first down, Whilley and Scott combined on a sack for a loss of five; Victor Holmes made a great open-field tackle; and the Dogs actually were able to overcome an unbelievably bad call by one of the officials. He flagged a Dog defender for pass interference even those the pass was a) too high, b) out of bounds, and c) there was no interference anyway.
But while the Tiger fans were patting themselves on the back for that gift, Hoza Scott put on a big rush that forced a fumble by the quarterback, and Cameron Whilley recovered to give the Dogs the ball on their own 45. And even though another Vidales punt soon followed, again the Tigers could not get good field position.
So Katy got the ball back but again could not move it, and the big play was a strong pass defense by Nance-Garrett that forced another punt. And this punt was not good, so the Dogs had good field position. They could not move it, so Vidales calmly booted a sweetheart of a kick that died on the Katy seven.
So now Whilley and Jones combine for a tackle and Scott tipped an aerial attempt and Mark Guzman and Whilley combined for a stop, so here comes another Katy punt.
This time the Dogs took advantage of great field position, starting at the Tiger 41. Johnathan Lewis stepped off six yards and Whitely went up the middle, made a cut, sprinted forward, then ducked his head and bulled his way to the Katy 16. Three running plays later and the Dogs had the ball in perfect position for kicker Eric Medina.
Now folks, this was a big kick. Teams do not get many chances to beat the Katy Tigers. There was that pesky wind, and the pressure had to be enormous. But the snap was perfect, the hold was perfect, the blocking was perfect and the kick was perfect. It was a 30-yarder for the lead as the Dogs went on top, 9-7, with 4:38 left in the game.
Eric also pinned the Tigers deep in their own territory with the ensuing kickoff, but their freshman running back finally hit a big run to get to midfield. The Dog defense rose to the occasion from there, however, and somewhat surprisingly the Tigers decided to punt with not much more than three minutes left in the game.
The La Porte offense probably would have salted it away with a first down, had it not been for an illegal procedure penalty, so Vidales was forced to punt one last time. The Tigers got the ball back at exactly the 50, with 2:05 left in the game.
They tried to run - Sutherland and Corey Lee stopped it; they tried to pass, but Guzman had a big rush that forced an errant throw; they tried to pass again, but again it did not work. So they tried to pass one more time, on fourth and eight, and Aaron Nance-Garrett picked it off and it was all over because the Tigers had no more timeouts so the Dogs simply ran out the clock.
Whitely had 94 very hard yards on 29 carries, and he also had the great punt return that set up the first touchdown, and caught one pass for 11 more yards. Keith can thank the likes of Justin King and Corey Lee and Tony Briones and Michael Leagan and Maurice Morris and Trevor Nelson and Jose Garcia for opening holes against the stingy Tigers.
But the night belonged to the Bulldog defense. Consider this: Katy had 144 yards of total offense and just seven first downs. Since they had the one TD pass that went for 52 yards and they had one run for 29, that means that they had just 63 total yards on the other 44 plays they ran during the game. And they had only 27 yards on the 22 times they ran the ball other than that one 29-yarder.
That, friends, is some fine defense. And against a powerhouse like Katy, it is even more outstanding.