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Katy's vaunted defense has to be at its bone-crushing best Saturday when the Tigers face off against Cade Klubnik and Austin Westlake in the Class 6A-Division II state semifinal in Waco.
Cade Klubnik is not just QB1 for defending back-to-back state champion Austin Westlake, the No. 2-ranked team in the nation. The Clemson commit is also the No. 1 quarterback in the Class of 2022 per 247Sports, a five-star recruit, and the recently named Gatorade Texas Football Player of the Year.
Klubnik has thrown for 2,619 yards and 34 touchdowns and rushed for 405 yards and 12 more touchdowns in 11 games this season.
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So if Katy hopes to defend its own state title, it will have to stop, or at the very least significantly limit, the 6-foot-2, 186-pounder when the two undefeated teams meet in the Class 6A-Division II state semifinal at 2 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium in Waco.
“He’s as good as anybody we’ve played,” Katy coach Gary Joseph said. “(Former North Shore quarterback) Dematrius Davis was a great high school quarterback and this kid’s got a lot of the same attributes. The Davis kid could run and throw and had good receivers to throw it to. This kid does, too. His offensive line is more polished and better than what they probably had at North Shore. Both of them have real good football teams, but the Klubnik kid is as good as we’ve played this year.”
Davis, now playing at Auburn, was the electrifying dual-threat quarterback that led North Shore to two state championships in the previous three years. It was Klubnik’s Chaparrals that ended Davis’s high school career last season in the Class 6A-Division I state semis.
“We haven’t played anyone like him since Dematrius,” senior linebacker Ty Kana said. “He’s a playmaker. He can throw the deep ball. He’s a runner. He can do everything. There’s a reason he’s a five-star.”
The Tigers know what they have to do to make matters difficult for Klubnik this weekend.
“Contain him and keep him in the pocket,” senior defensive end Malick Sylla said. “Closing him down. Making them stick to the run game.”
“The defensive line and linebackers, we have to get pressure on him,” senior defensive back Hamilton McMartin said. “The secondary, we have to be on top of their receivers. He doesn’t make a lot of bad throws, but whenever he does, we have to make him pay for it.”
“We have to tackle,” Joseph said. “We can’t miss tackles and we can’t blow coverages. We have to keep them in front of us. It’s a lot easier said than done. We have to do a real good job of breaking on the ball and contesting the passes. The kid’s thrown for a 72 percent completion percentage, so you can’t count on him missing many, but we have to contest.”
Austin Westlake quarterback Cade Klubnik shown scoring during last season's Class 6A-Division I state championship game against Southlake Carroll.Courtesy of UIL
Klubnik is an exceptional talent. But he has plenty of weapons around him.
Along with the aforementioned offensive line, junior Jaden Greathouse (952 yards, five touchdowns), junior Keaton Kubecka (623 yards, 10 touchdowns), senior Pierce Turner (511 yards, four touchdowns) and junior Hunter Luke (467 yards, four touchdowns) make up a shifty, athletic receiving corps. Sophomore Jack Kayser (936 yards, 19 touchdowns) and senior Hunter Henault (832 yards, nine touchdowns) patrol the backfield.
“The whole team better be sharp,” Joseph said. “Like the Davis kid, the Klubnik kid can run so well that that puts more pressure on your front kids. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you go after the passer, you open up some lanes to run. If you don’t, you can’t give him all day long to pick you apart. It has to complement each other.”
Katy has had defensive lulls in the second half of each of the last two games. The Tigers have shown uncharacteristic issues fitting the run and covering downfield this postseason.
There is faith, however, they can right those wrongs. Joseph’s primary concern is generating takeaways. It’s an area Katy has been inconsistent in all season.
In the last two games, the Tigers have one takeaway. In 14 games this season, they have 20.
“To get back to what we need to do, we need to start creating some turnovers,” Joseph said.
As much as Klubnik poses a problem, though, so does Katy’s defense for Westlake’s offense.
It’s a potent Tigers unit with four Power-5 commits. Katy is surrendering a stingy 13.2 points on 203.3 yards per game.
Seven times this season, Katy has held an opponent to seven or fewer points. However, it has yet to record a shutout.
“Everyone has to play a perfect game,” McMartin said. “That means no selfish errors. No dumb penalties. We have to rely on each other. Everyone has to do their job and not do too much.”
Westlake is 14-0, riding a 37-game winning streak, and seeking its third straight state championship. Katy is 14-0, riding a 22-game winning streak, and seeking its second straight state championship. Westlake is ranked second nationally; Katy is ranked seventh. Westlake is ranked first in the state; Katy is ranked second.
“It’s tough knowing the talent they have and knowing you might be out-talented,” Joseph said. “The kids are going to have to play. But we’ve executed before. We’re going to execute again.”
The Tigers are confident it will happen.
“We’ve seen good quarterbacks in the past. We’ve seen good offenses,” Sylla said. “It’s a chance to prove ourselves. The last two games have shown us to be physical. We’re going to get down and hit. I don’t think they’re ready for that.”
Katy junior running back Seth Davis led the Tigers offensively in their 34-31 regional final win over Summer Creek on Saturday at Rice Stadium. Davis had 234 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries.
HOUSTON—Like its regional semifinal against C.E. King last week, Katy was challenged in its Class 6A-Division II regional final against Summer Creek on Saturday afternoon. The Tigers’ authority was threatened.
But like they have each time adversity has introduced itself this season, the Tigers overcame and conquered, eluding the resilient Bulldogs, 34-31, at Rice Stadium to move on to a highly anticipated state semifinal against Austin Westlake next week.
Katy (14-0) and Westlake (14-0) play Saturday, Dec. 11, at 2 p.m. at McLane Stadium in Waco. But the Tigers had to sweat their way there, never fully exhaling until junior defensive lineman Broderick Johnson and senior defensive end Malick Sylla combined to sack quarterback Jahrik Jones on 4th-and-15 from the Summer Creek 44-yard line with 43 seconds left.
“I’m proud of the way we responded as a team,” senior linebacker Ty Kana said. “Never once that game did we have our heads down. That last drive, we were all more mad than anything. That last drive, it was anger from us, and it was chaos the last few plays.
“We know how to respond to adversity. That’s what we practice all the time, and it starts in the offseason. When things get hard, go to work. Successful things happen when you work.”
Like the game against King, Katy built a considerable first-half lead before watching it quickly dwindle in the second half.
After Summer Creek\u2019s third punt of the game, @_SethDavis21 goes 68 yards untouched for his third TD. Davis has 189 yards on 10 carries. @FootballKaty up 27-7, 4:41, 2Q. #txhsfb @KatyISDAthletic @khs_live @KatySportsMedpic.twitter.com/07LM9d7ozk — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
Katy led Summer Creek 27-7 at halftime. But defense sparked a furious Summer Creek rally. Summer Creek had takeaways on back-to-back-to-back Katy possessions in Tigers territory early in the third quarter and scored 14 points off two of those.
“Our game-plan coming in was just to play even-keel,” Summer Creek coach Kenny Harrison said. “Not to get too high or get too low. Our guys bought into that. So, when we got down 27-7, I told our guys, hey, let’s just play hard for 48 minutes and let’s try and get to the fourth quarter with an opportunity to win the game. They did that.”
Katy junior running backs Dallas Glass and Seth Davis, who had an exceptional first half with 218 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries but played well beyond his standard in the second half, had fumbles recovered by the Bulldogs. Then Summer Creek junior defensive back Darein Hargrove picked off Caleb Koger deep in Katy territory and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown to cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to 27-21 with 7:35 left in the third quarter.
“The frustrating thing is we made them look a lot better than they probably are,” Katy coach Gary Joseph said. “Credit to Coach Harrison and turning that program around. They got us on our heels a bit. We got away from not beating ourselves. But I’m proud of our kids, hanging in there. We had to fight and scratch, and that’s sometimes what you have to do when you have three turnovers and all three of them are in your territory.”
After Hargrove’s pick-6, Glass scored on a 51-yard run to briefly stymie the Bulldogs’ momentum. But that was the only touchdown Katy had in the second half.
.@FootballKaty finally able to get something going. @Dallasglass9 51-yard TD run. Tigers desperately needed that. Katy ups lead to 34-21, 2:37, 3Q. #txhsfb @khs_live @KatySportsMedpic.twitter.com/dMpnW810b6 — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
After totaling 351 yards in the first half, the Tigers had 110 in the second. Summer Creek, meanwhile, gained 230 yards in the second half, 132 on the ground. The 31 points are the most Katy has surrendered all season.
“There are a lot of things we are going to have to emphasize,” Joseph said. “Our run defense has to be better. That’s the thing that frustrates me. In the first half, we were decent. In the second half, we’re a better run defensive football team than that. Their staff did a better job scheming us, but we’ve got to be more physical and we’ve got to make plays. This is the time of year where you’ve got to make plays.”
After Glass’s touchdown, Summer Creek scored twice more on a Cory Nichols 12-yard keeper and an Alfonso Gonzalez 36-yard field goal to make it 34-31 Katy with 6:08 left.
.@SC_BulldogFB has a groove going. Cory Nichols 12-yard TD run on the keeper. 34-28 Katy, 0:07, 3Q. #txhsfbpic.twitter.com/QzSpLsq3mC — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
Katy punted on its next series before coming up with a winning defensive stop for the second straight game when Johnson and Sylla teamed up to sack Jones. Johnson was on the initial takedown. Sylla finished it.
Johnson bull-rushed the tackle before using a push-pull to get off him and bring down Jones.
“With how much film we watched on Summer Creek, I automatically knew it was a pass off the tackle’s stance,” Johnson said. “I just used what my coaches taught me with my pass rush moves to get to the QB.”
.@FootballKaty and @malick_S17 stop @SC_BulldogFB on 4th-and-15 from the SC 44. 43 seconds left. Katy ball. 34-31 Tigers lead. #txhsfb @khs_live @KatyISDAthleticpic.twitter.com/LicppQU6VV — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
The Tigers’ bid for back-to-back state championships remains alive. Waiting is Westlake, which beat Vandegrift 70-7 in its Region IV final on Saturday.
Katy and Westlake are both undefeated, and Joseph and Westlake coach Todd Dodge are regarded as two of the best coaches in Texas high school football. Katy is ranked No. 2 in the state. Westlake is ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 2 in the nation.
“They know they didn’t play their best, but they know they played well enough to play in the semifinals,” Joseph said of his players. “We’ll worry about correcting things later. Right now, they need to enjoy the win. When you don’t enjoy winning, then what are you playing for? We’ll get things corrected. We have to. We’re playing the No. 2 team in the nation. It’s like going from the frying pan into the fire.”
As expected, it’s a circumstance the Tigers invite.
“I’m looking forward to competition,” Kana said. “It’ll be No. 1 versus No. 2 in Texas. I’m looking forward to it.”
WESTSIDE! @FootballKaty @KatyISDAthleticpic.twitter.com/xO8AAc0Okl — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)