Sep 07, 2021
IN FOCUS: Deer Park's high-powered offense strikes again
Photos By Andy Tolbert
CE King QB Denim Johnson may look like a tenured vet running the Panthers' offense, but this is his first year playing varsity high school football.
Johnson’s story started at Atascocita High School where he played his freshman and sophomore season.
Before his junior year, Johnson transferred to C.E. King where he thought he would be the starting QB. Just before the first game, he was ruled ineligible by the UIL. It just so happened to be his birthday.
“Grinding and preparing for my junior year and hearing the news was definitely rough for me” Johnson said. “One thing I can say is that it taught me a lot and made me a whole different person, because I knew my path was going to be a little more difficult.”
Good things happen to those who wait... The senior has made the most of his chance to play, throwing for 2,023 yards, 14 TDs and rushing for 447 yards and two TDs.
Now he finds himself on a huge stage, leading CE King to the Regional Final at NRG Stadium this Friday.
The Panthers are playoff-prepared having run the gauntlet of North Shore, Atascocita and Summer Creek in district and Allen in the preseason.
“It was hard for sure," he said. "You know everyone wants to come into the season, go undefeated and win district, but things didn’t work that way. We didn’t let that stop us from wanting to achieve that goal that we set during offseason... during the hot summer days. We looked at the playoffs as if it was a new season and a fresh start, and right now we’re 3-0 and it feels good.”
The Panthers are the definitely the underdogs going against the nine-time State Champ Katy, but this is why the games are played.
“We want to shock the world," he said. "We know what we are in for and we are just taking it day-by-day in practice. We are focusing on what is in front of us and not the side noise. It's all about focus and heart. If we want to beat them, we have to do our jobs and respond back well to adversity.”
Fort Bend Marshall was hanging around the Crosby High School parking lot, preparing to load the bus to return to the southwest side of town after a 27-21 (OT) loss at the hands of the Cougars earlier this season.
Coach James Williams looked stunned and disappointed.
“You never want to lose a game to learn a lesson, but you always have to learn lessons from things that don’t go your way,” Williams said. “It served this team well, got us refocused and let our guys know that we aren’t going to beat teams without the proper preparation.”
Since then, the Buffs have run off 11-straight wins, destroying teams by a margin of 513 to 67.
The offense got its legs under first-year QB Jordon Davis, who has thrown for over 2,300 yards and 27 scores. He has rushed for over 800 yards as well.
“That’s a story right there,” Williams said. “Ja’Koby Banks (UH-commit) had a phenomenal year at QB last year, scoring 39 touchdowns. He was very unselfish to back up and let Jordon run the offense this year, which freed him up to do more things for our football team from playing RB, WR and returning kicks. Once we found our identity with Jordon, we really started to click.”
The defense has flexed as well, giving up less than 10 points per game.
“M-Block football is about being physical and that is what we do,” Williams said. “It’s still a line of scrimmage game and it all starts up front with us with Zachary Chapman (TCU-commit), Trent Thomas and Logan Granville. That allows Jordan Sample (Arkansas State-commit) to flow to the ball and our secondary to create turnovers.”
With the offense finding their footing and the defense punishing opponents, the Buffs find themselves in the Regional Finals against Port Neches-Groves at Galena Park ISD Stadium on Friday night. FB Marshall beat the Indians 35-14 in district play earlier in the season.
“We are both very different teams now,” Williams said. “They do a tremendous job coaching and we are going to need to play disciplined football to win. I’m excited about where we are, and these guys deserve the success they get. They have put in so much hard work. That’s our culture.”
Texas A&M star Devon Achane stopped by practice this week to check out the Buffs as they entered the Regional Finals.
"It was great to talk to him and hang out," Williams said. "I'm just so proud of that young man and to see how he's developed. It's amazing what he's been able to do against SEC competition."
North Shore is dialed in… from the band playing over and over as their opponents prepare to snap the ball to the load management of their athletes.
The attention to detail coach Jon Kay and his staff pride themselves on make the Mustangs “The Brand” in Texas high school football – winning four of the last seven State Titles and seven straight Region III Final appearances.
The ‘Stangs are 13-0 going into their game with Atascocita (11-2), who they beat 16-13 earlier in the regular season for the District 21-6A title.
Despite what their record indicates, the Mustangs have been through some adversity. Starting QB Kaleb Bailey has been out for the season since the CE King game (Week 5) with a knee injury. Enter WR and UTSA commit David Amador who took over the reins of the offense for a while. Evan Jackson has also filled in at QB recently, allowing Amador to return to his WR spot.
“At this time of year, everyone is ground to a nub in Class 6A football,” Coach Jon Kay said. “We are just trying to keep 11 healthy players out there.”
Jackson will likely run the offense against Atascocita.
“He has a tremendous football IQ,” Kay said. “He is one of our best defensive backs and now has moved to the offensive side of the ball. He’s also our punter and is a great return man.”
Whoever plays QB will have a dynamic duo in the backfield.
“Our OC Willie Gaston has done a great job managing our backs Rashaad Johnson and D’Andre Hardeman,” Kay said. “They are critical and he has been load-managing them for weeks. We see a lot of teams who have great backs but after 200 carriers, they aren’t the same player. Our guys are just hitting their stride and have fresh legs.”
Defensively, it’s been a team effort at every level.
“Our defensive line has carried us,” he said. “Cortney Brooks, Nicholas Goins, Jaylon Joseph and Elijah Fields are extremely underrated up front. Javon Coles (LB) has been lights out along with Marlon Germany. The secondary has also played really well creating turnovers.”
All that being said, all eyes will be on Randall Reed Stadium in New Caney this Friday Night at 7 pm, as North Shore lines up against their local nemesis Atascocita.
“It just one of those vicious and highly-respected rivalries,” he said. “We both know what each other brings to the table and at the end of the game… good football has been played. It will be a war that will go down to the final whistle. That’s the football you want to see this time of year.”
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