For these young Knights, experience the best teacher

Varsity football overcomes rivalry losses, rash of injuries, relative experience to return to 5A state playoffs

On+fourth+and+12%2C+David+Houston+found+JD+Jordan+in+the+end+zone+for+a+2-point+conversion+to+tied+the+game+against+Crockett.+The+Knights+would+eventually+win+the+game+easily+after+trailing+by+21+points+early.+Unfortunately%2C+Jordan+is+out+for+the+season+after+injuring+his+collarbone+against+Navarro.

Dave Winter

On fourth and 12, David Houston found JD Jordan in the end zone for a 2-point conversion to tied the game against Crockett. The Knights would eventually win the game easily after trailing by 21 points early. Unfortunately, Jordan is out for the season after injuring his collarbone against Navarro.

Merrill Price , Mac photojournalism

The Crockett game was not supposed to start like it had. Finishing the first quarter down 28-7, the Knights needed to find some offensive and defensive answers to avoid an unexpected and devastating loss to a team they expected to beat. To end the half, quarterback David Houston found one answer when he completed a pass to receiver Alexander Jourdan who ran into the end zone, to pull the Knights to with a touchdown at 28-20.

With work left to do, the Knights took the field to start the second half with a sense of urgency. Early in the third quarter, Houston ran for a 5-yard score, leaving the Knights down only two points. When Houston found senior tight end JD Jordan in the back of the end zone for a 2-point conversion, the Knights had erased their bad start.

It’s the only group of guys I want to go to the playoffs with. We have built something we are really proud of here.”

— junior Sage Allison

With the score now tied, the Knights had a second chance.

On the Cougars’ next possession, Houston intercepted the ball and returned it to the Knights’ offense and assumed his primary role as the team’s quarterback. On third and six, he connected again with Jourdan for a crucial first down, then off a quarterback keeper, Houston gained speed and reached the end zone, and the Knights finally led, 35-28. 

Moving into the fourth quarter, Houston ran in two more touchdowns to end the night to put the Cougars away, 49-28. 

Since that victory, the Knights lost to LBJ and beat everyone else to finish second in District 12-5A-2. Playing with resilience and grit under the stadium lights, game-planning, and practicing hard has brought the team back to the 5A state playoffs. The varsity plays Waco University on Friday in the first round of the playoffs.

According to special teams and recruiting coordinator coach Jarred Houston, reaching the playoffs has been the team’s ultimate goal all season.

“This whole season has been for playoffs,” Houston said. “I feel like we are ready.” 

The Knights huddle around head coach Tom Gammerdinger after they defeated Navarro, 42-10. “We started off without a bunch of experience,” Gammerdinger said of his 2022 squad. “I feel like every week they’re getting better.” (Naomi Di-Capua )

But though the Knights made the playoffs, their journey hasn’t been easy. Due to injury, the team was without crucial team leaders on offense and defense. Running back Mitchell Butler, defensive lineman Miles McCollum and safety Drew Andrews missed several of the Knights’ regular season games. The trio are all healthy, however, and will suit up for the game against Waco University. Unfortunately, senior captain JD Jordan broke his collarbone during an attempted rushing touchdown in the Navarro game and is out for the rest of the season. 

In order to give injured players more time to recover, the coaches adjusted the team’s practice schedule.

“We got some guys banged up, which is kind of an issue,” senior captain Jack Stites said. 

In addition to dealing with late-season injuries, the Knights must also deal with the relative lack of experience of this year’s team.

Most of this year’s team has never been on varsity, let alone to playoffs. The team has worked hard to become close and trust each other, despite their almost completely new team. 

According to junior Sage Alliosn the seniors on the team have grown and stepped up to the plate. 

“My mind is clear,” Allison said. “Everyone just wants to play their hearts out for the team.”  

Despite (or perhaps even because of) some rough moments in rivalry games this season, the team has really bonded this year. 

“It’s the only group of guys I want to go to the playoffs with,” Allison said. “We have built something we are really proud of here.”

They’ve definitely got the team chemistry. If they decide to come out and really want to do it, they definitely can win it.”

— head coach Thomas Gammerdinger

Sophomore Mark Sanchez is among the many Knights for whom the playoffs are a whole new experience. 

“It’s my first playoff game ever, so I’m pretty excited.” Sanchez said.

Before the game against Eastside, the team’s opponent for the first round of the playoffs was unsure. The Knights were putting in extra work to be prepared for all the possible opponents, one of which was Waco University. 

McCollum said before the team’s opponent was announced that he believes the Knights will advance to the second round of the playoffs if they get the right opponent. 

It turns out that the opponent is Waco University (5-5, 4-2). The Trojans’ record may look tantalizing to Knights’ fans, but they beat the teams’ one common opponent, the Pflugerville Connally Cougars, 78-7 on Oct. 27. The Knights also beat the Cougars, but the game was closer, 31-28, on Sept. 8.

Reflecting on this season, he says they need to work on starting fast. 

“We have been starting off really slow every game,” McCollum said. “Picking up our offensive game is important to having a successful game.”

Kicking off the season with a fairly new team, head coach Thomas Gammerdinger has seen his team work hard to significantly improve.

Pedro Sanchez and Deion McClarin-Martinez celebrate Pedro’s apparent pick-six touchdown in the end zone during the Connally game. The interception held up, but the touchdown was nullified when McCallum was flagged for an illegal block during the return. (Dave Winter)

“We started off without a bunch of experience,” Gammerdinger said. “I feel like every week they’re getting better.”

Along with almost everyone being healthy, he wants to be able to put the team’s best foot forward. During the week leading up to the big game they start practicing at House Park.

“I feel like we have a good formula down,” Gammerdinger said. 

Unlike the players on last year’s team who had played together for many years, this team has come together only recently. 

“They’ve definitely got the team chemistry,” Gammerdinger said. “If they decide to come out and really want to do it, they definitely can win it.”

With the team having many standout wins this season such as their 56-0 win over Eastside, none shines as bright as their persistence against Crockett. 

“I was really impressed with our kids’ poise,” Gammerdinger said. “For them to keep competing showed me a lot.”

Gammerdinger thinks this experience was important to the season and to winning the first round of playoffs. 

“Showing that you are never out of the game,” he said. “It’s always about the next play.”