The proud Steele defense faced a sobering reality after the Knights rallied for a 31-28 victory over Brandeis in the Class 6A Division II state quarterfinals last week.
Pushed around for the better part of three quarters by an inspired Brandeis offense, Steele survived to fight another day despite yielding 251 yards rushing. Pint-sized running back Jaylon Dukes gashed the Knights for 159 yards on 20 carries and three touchdowns, one on a 93-yard scamper on Brandeis’ third play from scrimmage, before a leg injury knocked him out of the game with 6:50 left in the third quarter.
“Brandeis had a very good offense and we give them credit, but we’ve got to play better defense this week,” senior linebacker Marcos Gutierrez said this week. “We’re going to have to do a better job of controlling the line of scrimmage.”
Steele (13-1) plays perennial power Katy (13-1) in the 6A Division II semifinals at 4 p.m. Saturday at NRG Stadium, formerly Reliant Stadium, in Houston.
The winner meets Cedar Hill or Spring Westfield for the state title at 4 p.m. next Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Cedar Hill (12-2) meets Westfield (13-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Georgetown.
Katy beat Steele 45-33 in the same round two years ago and went on to win its seventh state championship. The loss to the Tigers turned out to be the last at Steele for head coach Mike Jinks, who resigned early in 2013 to become an assistant coach at Texas Tech.
Gutierrez was a sophomore backup linebacker when Katy beat Steele at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco in the 2012 semifinals.
“They were really big and physical, and I was young and starstruck, really,” he said.
The Knights, who won the 5A Division II state title in 2010, are in the state semifinals for the fourth time in the last five seasons. They lost in the Division II state final in 2011 before falling to Katy the next year. Steele is 68-7 since 2010 and has lost only four regular-season games in the last five years.
Katy rolled to a 45-17 victory against Manvel in the state quarterfinals. Players graduate and move on, but the Tigers’ winning tradition continues from year to year.
“They look about like they did a couple of years ago,” Steele head coach Scott Lehnhoff said. “Maybe better defensively. It seems like they’re big and physical at every position. They know their scheme inside and out. There aren’t a lot of places where you feel that you’re better than they are. They have very few weaknesses.”
Katy jumped out to a 21-0 lead against Steele in their 2012 game – the Tigers scored their third touchdown on a 16-yard interception return on the second play of the second quarter – but Steele scored 21 unanswered points of its own to tie the game 21-21 at halftime.
“It looked like it was going to be an awfully long day after the first quarter,” Lehnhoff said. “Somehow we came back and it up by the end of the half. We came back out in the second half and had opportunities, but we just couldn’t stop them. They had a big offensive line and a big, physical back, Adam Taylor (now at Nebraska) and they just leaned on us for four quarters.”
Steele outgained Katy 414-389 in total offensive yardage, but the Tigers controlled the tempo of the game with 317 yards on the ground. Taylor carried the ball a staggering 40 times for 226 yards and three TDs.
“They’ve got another running back, No. 26, who’s bigger and faster, than Taylor,” Lehnhoff said.
No. 26 is senior Rodney Anderson, who has rushed for 2,089 yards and 33 TDs this season. He averages 10.9 yards a carry. Junior running back Kyle Porter also has helped fuel the Tigers’ ground game with 1,000 yards on 138 carries and 16 TDs.
Katy averages 440.1 yards of total offense, 316 rushing and 124.1 passing.
“We have to stop them at the line of scrimmage and not let them get going.” Gutierrez said. “We have to stop Rodney Anderson from getting his big plays.”
Senior cornerback Anthony Johnson was succinct when he described the Tigers.
“They have a lot of big dudes, a lot of fast dudes,” Johnson said.
Katy’s offenses typically play a lot like the Cornhuskers offenses of the 1990s that methodically chewed up yardage with their power game.
“We have to try to control the line of scrimmage, and make sure our linebackers are triggering when they get their run read, and try to get to the other side of the river, as we call it,” Steele co-defensive coordinator David Saenz said. “We have to try to create a whole new line of scrimmage if we can. That’s going to be key to stopping the run.”
Katy reminds Knights co-defensive coordinator Scott Leach of another team closer to home than Nebraska.
“They’re like the old Judson Rockets when they’d run, run, run and once in a while would go with a boot (bootleg) pass,” Leach said. “We can’t fall asleep on the back end, but we have to absolutely stop the run. If we don’t stop the run and let them have five, six yards a whack, they won’t pass.”
If Steele can slow down Anderson and keep the Tigers’ from dictating the tempo, this one could go down to the wire.
“We’ve got to start off fast,” senior cornerback Malik Garza said. “I believe that our defense and our offense will start off fast and we’re just going to blow them off the ball.”
UIL playoff pairings
Judson (10-4) vs. Cypress Ranch (12-2), Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Alamodome
Allen (14-0) vs. Dallas Skyline (14-0), Saturday, 7 p.m., Ford Stadium, Dallas
Steele (13-1) vs. Katy (13-1), Saturday, 4 p.m., NRG Stadium, Houston
Cedar Hill (12-2) vs. Spring Westfield (13-1), Saturday, 2 p.m., Georgetown ISD Stadium
Austin Vandegrift (12-2) vs. Temple (12-1), Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Alamodome
Aledo (13-1) vs. Tyler (12-2), Saturday, 2 p.m., Hanby Stadium, Mesquite
Cedar Park 49, Crosby 21
Ennis 41, Canutillo 13
Ennis (13-2) vs. Cedar Park (12-3), Friday, 8 p.m., AT&T Stadium, Arlington
Navasota 49, Liberty Hill 26
Argyle 23, Graham 20
Navasota (15-0) vs. Argyle (15-0), Friday, 4 p.m., AT&T Stadium, Arlington
West Orange-Stark 42, Sinton 21
Gilmer 67, Celina 14
West Orange-Stark (13-2) vs. Gilmer (15-0), Friday, noon, AT&T Stadium, Arlington
Cameron Yoe 70, Edna 34
Mineola 42, Shallowater 27
Cameron Yoe (11-4) vs. Mineola (12-3), Thursday, 8 p.m., AT&T Stadium, Arlington
Newton 48, Blanco 21
Waskom 25, Sonora 21
Newton (12-3) vs. Waskom (14-1), Thursday, 5 p.m., AT&T Stadium
Mason 27, Centerville 7
Canadian 49, Mart 14
Mason (14-0) bs. Canadian (14-0), Thursday, 1 p.m., AT&T Stadium, Arlington
Bremond 32, Tenaha 29
Albany 24, Seagraves 14
Bremond (14-0) vs. Seagraves (14-0), Thursday, 10 a.m., AT&T Stadium, Arlington
May (12-2) vs. Crowell (13-0), Saturday, 3 p.m., AT&T Stadium, Arlington
Throckmorton 66, Groom 40