KATY, Texas - No matter how hard he tried, there was no way Katy (Texas) coach Gary Joseph was going to get his scout team to fully prepare his defense for the proficient, efficient, now-you-see-the-ball-now-you-don’t Wing-T offense that the Bellevue (Wash.) Wolverines were going to throw at them.
Joseph, defensive coordinator Gregg Miller and the Katy staff were creative, but once the live bullets were flying, there was still an adjustment period for the defending Texas Class 5A Division II champion Tigers.
Despite that, the Tigers were able to catch on well enough to defeat an out-of-state foe for the second straight year, as they knocked off the storied Wolverines 35-17 on Saturday at Rhodes Stadium.
The Tigers (2-1) gave Bellevue (1-1) a taste of football Texas style - complete with the heat, humidity, physical play and a sea of more than 7,000 fans clad in Katy red - while the Wolverines gave the Tigers a heavy dose of its unique, old-school, well-executed offense.
In the end, the Tigers proved too much for the defending Washington Class 3A champion Wolverines, who traveled 2,430 miles. The loss snapped Bellevue’s 15-game winning streak which dated back to the 2007 playoffs.
“At the end of the day, they wore us out and the best team won today,” Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff said. “They played tough. It was good to see what those guys do down here and it was very fun.”
In the early stages, Bellevue appeared up to the challenge that Katy presented. A 23-yard fake punt run by senior running back David Nguyen on the Wolverines’ opening drive helped them get into striking distance, eventually setting up a 24-yard field goal attempt by senior Race Sciabica.
The Tigers blocked the attempt, but touched the ball after it went past the line of scrimmage and Bellevue recovered. After 13 plays, the Tigers would have to trot back out and defend their end zone again, this time with just seven yards behind them.
They did it successfully, as they stuffed Bellevue running back Freddie Levine short of the goal line on a fourth-and-goal from the Katy 1. After 17 plays and nine minutes, 38 seconds of game time passing, the Wolverines were still empty handed.
“That was a little disheartening for our guys,” Goncharoff said. “We needed seven on the board there and that would have made a little bit of a difference.”
The Tigers took full advantage and put together a long, methodical drive of their own, marching 99 yards in 14 plays as senior running back Will Jeffery (14 carries, 80 yards) punched it in from 6 yards out for a 7-0 Katy lead with 9:19 to go in the second quarter.
Bellevue would answer just 3:10 later, as senior quarterback Joe Joe Connor (11 carries, 85 yards), used a crafty play fake to dupe the Tiger defense on fourth-and-2 and find plenty of running room for a 38-yard touchdown run, tying the game at 7-7 with 6:09 left in the first half.
“It was a simple play for us,” Connor said. “I just read where the guys are at and hit it up in there. Our offensive linemen blocked well, Nick (Moyer) got a block for me outside and Will (Bissell) faked hard inside. That’s what our offense is about - faking - and he did a good job of faking tonight.”
Katy went back to its strength - its running game - carrying the ball eight consecutive times on the ensuing drive. Senior quarterback Michael Stojkovic’s 22-yard scramble put the Tigers inside the 10 and three plays later, Jeffery scored his second touchdown for a 14-7 lead.
The Wolverines were able to squeeze out some points before the half, as Sciabica connected on a 46-yard field goal as time expired to cut the deficit to 14-10 at the half.
The Tigers began to get some breathing room in the second half. Their opening drive of the third quarter went 74 yards on 11 plays and the Tigers began to attack in the air some, as Stojkovic found tight end Zach Swanson twice for 17 and 16 yard gains to set up a 3-yard Vernon Jeffries touchdown run for a 21-10 lead at the 7:52 mark.
Katy shut down the Wolverines’ next two drives and added on to their lead when junior defensive back Colt Atwood opened up the fourth quarter with a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown to give the Tigers a 28-10 lead.
“We went to a safe return because after we got burned by the fake punt, we wanted to make sure we took care of that,” Joseph said. “Our defensive kids did a good job of blocking there and once Colt caught the ball, he did a good job of getting the ball up the field. We executed well there.”
Like the champions that they are, the Wolverines did not quit. Nguyen (13 carries, 98 yards) punched in a 1-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 28-17 before Jeffries (20 carries, 108 yards) put an exclamation point on the Katy victory with a 7-yard scoring run with 26 seconds to go.
As is common with Katy football, they ran the ball consistently well (41 carries, 229 yards) and took care of the ball (one turnover) and Bellevue did the same (46 carries, 240 yards; no turnovers).
Ultimately, the combination of the Tigers’ physicality and depth coupled with the humidity and lack of comparable depth for a Bellevue team that plays many of its players both ways, equated a Katy victory.
“I looked over at their sideline a couple of times and they had about five guys stretched out getting worked on from cramping,” Katy safety Sam Holl said. “You could tell this heat was taking a toll on them, even though it wasn’t that hot out here tonight.”
And Joseph was quite pleased with the way his team handled the Wolverines’ Wing-T.
“It’s hard to find the football,” Joseph said. “We can’t rely on pursuit and run to the football like we like to. Everyone has to do their job and stay in their place. I was very thankful that our kids did a good job of executing for the most part.”
It was the second straight season the Tigers dispatched an out-of-state opponent. Last year they defeated Weston (Fla.) Cypress Bay 31-6 at Rhodes Stadium.
“This is why you go to Katy. You come to Katy and you’re going to play big games like this,” Holl said. “You’re going to get some excitement and play some big teams that are out to get you. I love it.”
Sam’s Quick Six
Six notes, nuggets and thoughts from Katy’s 35-17 win over Bellevue on Saturday at Rhodes Stadium:
1. Katy coach Gary Joseph said the Tigers did their best to replicate Bellevue’s Wing-T offense in practice, but it was a challenge.
“You can’t (replicate it),” Joseph said. “We can show them and have our scout kids do it (but it’s not the same). Our kids were really unselfish in doing it. We put some of our linebackers at guards and put kids in positions that they don’t normally play so we could run a scout team because (Bellevue) is so fast and we wanted to make sure our kids had a good picture of it.
“We had trouble early in the game, because we were overrunning a lot of things and Sam (Holl) was having to make a lot of plays for us. But we got them off and settled down a little bit and things started going a little bit better.”
2. Bellevue quarterback Joe Joe Connor and the Wolverines have seen a few out-of-state foes in the last two years but he thought highly of the Katy Tigers.
“They’re a good team. They’re the best in Texas. We knew what we were getting into, but it was a lot of fun.
“Texas is where football was born.”
3. Though the trip was long and the Wolverines left with a defeat, Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff was pleased with his team’s experience.
“It has been a great experience,” Goncharoff said. “Obviously you want to win but it’s really about the experience. We’ll learn from it and go from there.
“This is the best team we faced. This team had talent and they were well coached. We had to play flawless in this game and we didn’t.”
4. Katy junior defensive back Colt Atwood has had a stellar season so far. Including playing some lockdown defense on Galena Park (Texas) North Shore receiver DeAndrew White in the Tigers’ season-opening 9-7 win, he added a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown in Saturday’s win over Bellevue.
“He’s the best we’ve got (at cornerback) right now,” Katy coach Gary Joseph said. “He’s pretty quick and he’s a good football player. He’s doing a good job and has done a great job of shutting down opposing team’s best receiver.”
5. I’ve touched on it already, but I was very impressed with Bellevue’s execution of the Wing-T. The amount of deception required to make it work well is extensive but quarterback Joe Joe Connor and his collection of backs (Freddie Levine, Sean Coley, David Nguyen and Will Bissell) made it a challenge to keep up with. There were several times during the game that it was hard for me to spot the ball so I can only imagine how difficult it is for a defense.
6. Both of these programs are rich in tradition and success (Bellevue has won six Washington 3A titles in the last eight years and Katy has won four Texas 5A Division II title since 2000) and it showed. Katy has an advantage in enrollment and depth - Katy has over 2,700 on its campus while Bellevue has just over 1,200. That part you could tell, since Bellevue had a lot of players playing both ways.
In Texas, Bellevue would be a Class 4A team that would compete in Division II in the playoffs. Based on what I saw, they would compete very well in Texas and would be a contender in Class 4A Division II.
Sam Khan is a staff writer for the Houston Chronicle. You can reach him at email@example.com.