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Knights D cages Calallen to win Region IV final, extend playoff run

Mac builds 20-0 halftime lead then relies on stifling D to weather Wildcat storm; next stop for 14-0 team, Final Four in Houston

Photo+by+Charlie+Holden.
Photo by Charlie Holden.

Photo by Charlie Holden.

Photo by Charlie Holden.

Gregory James, Staff Reporter

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WE’RE GOING TO STATE: Quarterback Max Perez celebrate with his teammates after the win over Calallen 20-7 in the regional quarterfinals of the UIL playoffs. The Knights defense came up big all game, especially in the second half. “Calallen is such a storied team, but I think we just wanted it more,” senior wide receiver Davis Roe said. “They weren’t expecting us to play that hard.” Photo by Madison Olsen.

SAN ANTONIO–People are running out of reasons to doubt this Knights team. 

The Knight D swarmed the Wildcats all game long, forcing five turnovers and holding the Wildcats to one score in the game. Photo by Dave Winter.

People said the Knights’ non-district schedule was not difficult, then the team defeated a worthy opponent in nemesis LBJ. People said that the Knights’ district was not strong, then the team went out and won their first two playoff games. People said that Alice had ended a Knights’ historic season once before and would do it again, and then the Knights’ sent the Coyotes home with a 33-8 win.

In Calallen, the pundits said that the Knights had arrived in the tall trees with the playoff pedigrees. The Wildcats were also 13-0, after all, and had a legendary coach and a team that had made it all the way to the state championship the year before. But instead of shrinking under the pressure, these Knights showed that they belonged on the big stage, beating the Wildcats, 20-7 in the Alamodome on Saturday.

With every victory, the Knights set a new historic standard for the deepest playoff run in the school’s 65-year history, surpassing 2008, when they advanced to the third round.

McCallum’s success this season has been due in large part to the versatile running attack they have built, and Saturday was no execption. Senior running back Alex Julian, quarterback Max Perez, and junior running back Deron Gage combined to rush for 286 yards and two touchdowns. The running attack made an early statement in Mac’s first possession.

Video by Julie Robertson.

 

“On the opening drive, we scored in two plays,” Gage said. “That was a big key for us to get our offense moving in the right direction.”

Julian advanced the ball to the end zone on runs of 22 and 31 yards, the latter of which produced a score.

Video by Julie Robertson.

The Knights defense did not budge during the first half, forcing the Wildcats to punt five times. The Calallen offense nearly scored on a long drive late in the second quarter, but a JB Faught quarterback pressure led to a Jackson Masters interception, which quickly erased the Wildcat threat.

Video by Julie Robertson.

In describing the play to The Shield, Masters seemed more upset that he fumbled the ball after the interception even though the Knights recovered and maintained possession.  However, even the recovery was eventful.

“I was so tired; at the point, I was just trying to score,” said Masters, who made 18 tackles during the game en route to being named the Austin American-Statesman Player of the Week. “I just fell down, and the ball came out, and I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, I just cost the team the ball,’ but I didn’t; luckily, Lloyd [Bariere] fell on the ball and lost it, but Gabe [Williams] got the ball off the ground.”

Thanks to a pair of Ian Carson field goals and 35-yard touchdown run from Perez on fourth-and-1, the Knights led Calallen 20-0 at the half.

Video by Julie Robertson.

THE OPENING ACT: Alexander Julian runs the ball into the end zone for the first points of the game to make the score 7-0. The Knights beat the Calallen Cats 20-7 in the 5A-regional quarterfinals. The Knights next face College Station in Houston’s NRG Stadium. Photo by Gregory James.

The third quarter did not go well for McCallum. The game had a sudden change in pace when senior cornerback Tyrell Washington tackled Wildcat punt returner Zach Hawkins just as the ball was arriving. The collision was violent, and for a time, Hawking lay motionless on the Astrodome turf. Washington was ejected on a targeting call and for illegal punt procedure (the refs ruled that Hawkins had called for a fair catch prior to Washington’s tackle). Replays showed that Washington led with his shoulder on the tackle, not his helmet. 

After the game, Hawkins tweeted that he had suffered a severe concussion but expected a full recovery.

The injury seemed to awaken the Calallen team. After holding an on-field prayer huddle, the Wildcats scored on a 33-yard Colton Duff QB scramble on the drive after the punt. But despite three promising Wildcat drives after that score, Calallend would not score again as the Knights defense forced the Wildcats to turn the ball over on downs three times.

Video by Julie Robertson.

The third-quarter touchdown was a game highlight for Duff, who may have inadvertently lit a fire under the Knights before the game even started.

“I mean, they said some stuff before the game. Their quarterback [Colton Duff] said, and I quote, ‘They just don’t have the heart that we do to win a championship,’” senior offensive tackle Judah Copeland said. “That just set the tone for the whole game just by saying those few words; the team proved him wrong.”

The Knights defensive success was all the more striking when compared Calallen’s average production before Saturday. The Wildcats came into the game averaging 45.5 points per game, but the Knights held them to just seven.

Video by Julie Robertson.

“A huge shoutout to the whole defense, especially Coach G with the perfect scheme,” Copeland said. “That man does a lot for our program, and we’re really thankful for him.” 

The team’s head coach, Charles Taylor, expressed praise for his team, but was quick to refer to the team’s mantra “on to the next one” for how the team plans to prepare for the road ahead.

Seniors JB Faught and Ian Carson celebrated moments after the Knights defeated the Wildcats. “Our entire youth has been leading up for moments like these,” Faught said. “That was the most satisfying win we have ever had. We’ve been playing football together since we were like 10 years old.” Faught and Carson are three-way players, meaning they play offense, defense and special teams. On the game’s final series, Faught appeared to end a drive with a fumble recovery that the refs negated. But rather than complain, the Knights kept playing. Carson ended the game with a fourth-down sack to create the Knights’ third fourth-down stop of the second half. With Faught as his holder, Carson also connected on two field goals and on both points after touchdown. Photo by Joseph Cardenas.

“It’s great to have the support from the community and the school,” Taylor said. “These kids are working harder than other people think they are. They just have to just keep rolling. I believe that they belong where they are right now, and we’re just going to try to win the next game.”

The Knights will play their next game at NRG stadium in Houston against the College Station Cougars at 7 p.m. on Dec 16.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reported that Washington would have to sit out the first half of the College Station game. He is in fact eligible to play the entire game. 

 

KNIGHTS, ARE YOU READY: Quarterback Max Perez fires up the Knights during team warmups prior to kickoff at the Alamodome. The Knights won the game against Calallen 20-7. They play College Station in Houston on Saturday Dec. 16. Photo by David Winter

 

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Knights D cages Calallen to win Region IV final, extend playoff run