VYPE caught up with Spring RB Joey Fussell Jr. after an outstanding performance against Klein Cain in the 6A-D1 Playoffs Area Round last week. He had a chance to discuss that game, his development with the Lions, and how he is preparing to face Duncanville in The Star
VYPE: First of all, you had the game of your life last week against Klein Cain. In that game, you had 202 total yards and six touchdowns. What was the key to your performance in that game?
Joey: When we walked into that game, we thought we were going to be throwing the ball a lot, and when that wasn't the case, we put in the wildcat package. We had previously used that against The Woodlands and this time it just kept working, so we just kept running it. Coach Miller just happened to call my number a few times and I made my plays.
VYPE: It seems like Spring hasn't used the wildcat package all year, how has that come about in the last few weeks?
Joey: Well actually, we didn't even create the package until the week we faced The Woodlands, and I was kind of shocked, because that was the same week I found out that I'd be starting. So we went through it in practice a little bit, and my coaches were pumped up about it, so I'm just glad they gave me that opportunity.
VYPE: You were featured a whole lot more this year (56 carries) than you were in the 2020 season (18 carries), how have you handled that change in pace?
Joey: Last year, I had just transferred to Spring and I wasn't really familiar with the plays, so this year I just kind of focused on learning the plays and having the coaches start to trust me. This year, I've just been glad to be touching the ball because I knew I could do it, it was always about getting the opportunity and having Coach Miller and my teammates trust me with that.
VYPE: You mentioned that you transferred into Spring ahead of your junior year, what was that whole process like?
Joey: The process was pretty smooth, I've been knowing some of these guys since elementary school, played against them in middle school, AAU basketball, 7 on 7, baseball, you know, things like that. Some of the guys really didn't know how I played when I came in, they didn't know if I was good or not or if they could trust me yet, and I proved to them that I could play through the first few practices, and that's when they welcomed me in.
VYPE: Let's take it back to earlier this season when you all dropped your only game of the season against Westfield. What changed in the locker room and at practices after that game?
Joey: Our mindset going into the Westfield game is that because we did it last year, we were gonna do it again this year. We weren't focused, we thought we had already won the game before it even started, and that made us realize that we have to live in the moment, take one game at a time. Right now, we're focused on executing plays in the first half, from the start, so that we don't have first half struggles like we did against Westfield.
VYPE: Well, it seems like you guys just keep getting matched up against storied programs. First you get The Woodlands, and then Klein Cain, and now Duncanville. What has the focus in practice been to prepare for Duncanville?
Joey: Well, we've watched a lot of film and focused on playing real Spring Football, so you know, I feel like if our defense plays like they're capable of playing, and the offense plays like they're capable of playing, we can really go out there and beat this team. At the same time, we can't knock 'em, they're a great team, but it's just about executing plays, we don't have to play a perfect game, they're a very beatable team, so we'll just go out there and execute.
VYPE: Sounds like a plan, we wish you the best of luck against Duncanville this week, and hope to talk to you soon
Joey: Thank you, I really appreciate it
MISSOURI CITY—Hightower coach Cornelius Anthony has a difficult time finding a way to explain his team's success.
How is it that a team under a first-year head coach—a team that did not have spring ball or an offseason to work through because of the late hire of Anthony and his staff—and starts eight sophomores, after graduating 39 seniors, not only wins a share of the championship in one of the toughest districts in the state, but makes it to the regional final and stands two wins away from the state championship game?
Anthony has no clue. No earthly idea. And after watching his team conquer District 10-5A rival Manvel, 31-21, in their Class 5A-Division I regional semifinal Friday at Hall Stadium, Anthony's only answer revolves around a higher power, a higher being.
"The only explanation I can give you is it's God," Anthony said. "I thought this would be a rebuilding year. The only explanation is all glory to God. He is using a team like this to demonstrate His power and might."
.@HightowerFB coach @coachanthony46 talks to his team after its 31-21 regional semifinal win over district rival Manvel tonight. #txhsfb @FBISDAthletics @HHS_Canespic.twitter.com/KE5nBbsggy— VYPE Houston (@VYPE Houston) 1637989467
The Hurricanes' 11 wins are tied for second-most in program history. It's their first season with 10 or more wins since 2015. They are in the regional final for the first time since 2011, when they lost to Southlake Carroll in the state championship game.
"It feels great," said senior receiver Caleb Douglas, who hauled in four catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. "To still be playing football into December? I ain't ever done that before."
More importantly, Hightower (11-2) exacted revenge against Manvel (10-3), which won last year's regional semifinal meeting, 31-7.
"We didn't eat big on Thanksgiving," sophomore defensive tackle Dailon Ellis said. "We wanted tonight. This is our Thanksgiving right here. This was our dessert. People say we can't face adversity, and, hey, look what happened."
Adversity was certainly in attendance Friday night.
First, the Hurricanes had to find a way to play through the shock of seeing senior defensive back Jeremy Strawder suffer a horrible injury less than two minutes into the game.
Anthony said Strawder seemed to jam his neck while making a tackle. Strawder remained motionless on the field for a lengthy amount of time before being placed on a stretcher and taken away in an ambulance.
"That's our bro," Ellis said. "We fought for him. We all wanted this for him."
The game was stopped for 25 minutes as medical and administrative personnel attended to Strawder. After the game, Anthony told his players Strawder was awake and moving at a local hospital.
"That kid is the heartbeat of our defense," Anthony said. "If anything, it inspired our kids to go out there and win it for him. Our kids knew we needed to win, so we can have the opportunity to play again when he's healthy. That sparked a fire in our guys."
Hightower next had to overcome sloppy, undisciplined, and just outright bad football. In a first quarter that was scoreless and lasted 57 minutes, the teams combined for 12 penalties and 115 yards.
At halftime, it was 20 combined penalties for 188 yards. Hightower had 10 penalties for 88 yards.
But Anthony, again, saw some good out of bad, and told his team as much at halftime, with the game tied at 14.
"The main thing I tell my guys is the only team that can beat us is us," Anthony said. "I honestly believe that. So, for us to have that many penalties and play as badly as we did and still be tied … that's scary. So, let's play our brand of ball, eliminate or minimize mistakes, and then see what happens. That's what happened. We shaved penalties and were able to pull away."
The teams exchanged quick scores early in the third quarter.
Senior Ty Harris, the Mavs' primary running back after star senior De'Monte Seymore left the game because of injury after compiling 14 yards on six carries early in the first half, scored on an 18-yard run. Hightower answered when Douglas used all his 6-foot-4 frame to leap over a helpless defensive back, turned, and sprinted into the end zone for a 30-yard score.
"Good defense, but a better catch," Douglas said, grinning.
The game remained 21-21 until senior Armando Ventura drilled a 28-yard field goal with 9.2 seconds left in the third quarter to put Hightower ahead to stay.
Junior tight end Alijah Jones' nine-yard scoring catch from sophomore quarterback Kendron Penson Jr. put Hightower up 31-21 with 6:34 left.
Alijah Jones! Touchdown. Nine-yard haul on third down. Tough catch. 31-21 @HightowerFB, 6:34, 4Q. #txhsfb @FBISDAthleticspic.twitter.com/3JR356S1nW— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1637986322
The Hurricanes essentially sealed the win when Ellis sacked Manvel quarterback Kaeden Smith for a six-yard loss on 4th-and-2 on the ensuing drive.
"I've been watching film this whole week," Ellis said. "I knew my time was going to come. I've been waiting patiently. I just tried to make a play. I got my one-on-one, which I love, and knew it was time to work."
But none of that could have happened for the Hurricanes without the third consecutive 200-yard rushing game from sophomore running back Jeremy Payne.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder was spectacular with 235 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
"Cutbacks," Payne said. "I knew No. 6 (Manvel senior linebacker Justin Medlock) would be coming down; good player. I knew he'd be looking for me the whole time. I just had to read the blocks and cut it back. It's a great feeling, not just for me but the whole team. I'm playing for my seniors."
Payne was the most electrifying athlete on the field in a game that was full of electrifying athletes. He showed off an unbelievable mix of power, speed, balance, and vision.
Payne accounted for 55 percent of the Hurricanes' total offensive production.
"He's a man-child," Anthony said. "The kid's been playing football all his life, and you can tell. He's our workhorse. For him to be a sophomore, it's scary how good this kid will be in the next year or two."
.@jeremypayne_!! 55-yard spree. #txhsfb @HightowerFBpic.twitter.com/VMMOJ5mkA3— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1637983888
Hightower totaled 430 yards to Manvel's 324. But the Hurricanes' defense tightened considerably in the second half, limiting the Mavericks to one touchdown on 90 total yards.
The Hurricanes adjusted to keep Smith, who had both of Manvel's touchdowns in the first half, from getting to the outside and bluffing on blitzes.
"Being Thanksgiving week, we knew there would be distractions," said senior defensive back Julian Payne, the leader of that stingy defense. "But we saw it as opportunity. Everybody else is home and we worked. But we can't get too high or too low. It's a confidence boost, but we've got to stay even-keel."
HUGE sack by @HightowerFB\u2019s @_JulianPayne for a 12-yard loss to force a punt. Big, big play. #txhsfb @FBISDAthleticspic.twitter.com/NyZy9kwN36— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1637984934
The win was Hightower's second over Manvel this season. The Hurricanes nipped the Mavs in the initial meeting Sept. 23, 16-12.
'The first time, we were prepared," Ellis said. "But we were prepared even more tonight, plus we already knew what they wanted to do. The running, the play-action go routes … we knew it."
And the reward is a trip to Rice Stadium on Dec. 3 to play 11-2 Paetow, another district rival, with a state semifinal appearance at stake.
"I'm speechless," Anthony said. "That's a great, athletic, physical team with a great coaching staff. For us to come away with the victory, I'm extremely proud. We're teaching everything we do on the fly. So, when you see the penalties and lack of discipline, it's because we haven't had the opportunity to mold them to be disciplined like you would during an offseason or spring. I don't know.
"I'm a God-fearing man, and I can only tell you this is because of Him."
SHENANDOAH - When Eric Peevey took over Little Cypress-Mauriceville it was assumed that the success he had fostered at Beaumont West Brook - a program he guided to AT&T Stadium in 2018 - could transfer over to LC-M.
It has in just year one.
Defeating Columbia last week 42-21 was already a huge victory for the program as it was its first Area Round win since 1997. Now, the Battlin' Bears have continued their best playoff run since the late 90s by upsetting El Campo.
LC-M walked into Woodforest Bank Stadium on Friday night and downed superstar running back Rueben Owens II and El Campo with a thrilling 24-21 victory.
"I'm extremely proud of these boys," Peevey said. "They did an unbelievable job. All year, I laugh because we don't even hand out scouting reports anymore. Everybody talks about Rueben Owens and the guys they have but we don't even focus on what they have it's what we need to do. The kids take our gameplan and execute it."
Ashton Landry led LC-M offensively going 6 for 11 for 59 yards and then rushing 19 times for 146 yards and two scores. Da'Marion Morris also played a big role as he rushed 14 times for 137 yards and a score.
LCM scores off a great run by the RB, extending the lead to 10. #txhsfb
5:39 left in the 4th@LCMBearFootball 24@Ricky_Ricebird 14 pic.twitter.com/uABUZjxsjb
— VYPE Houston (@vypehouston) November 27, 2021
The Battlin' Bears move on to face Chapel Hill - which is on to the fourth round for the fifth time and first since 2011 - next week in the State Quarterfinals. It is just the second-ever trip to the fourth round in program history for LC-M.
"Brick-by-brick, eyes up and keep climbing, that's how we work," Peevey said. "We were picked fifth in the district. They were 1-7 last year. So, we don't even talk about the end game. All we're worried about is play by play and executing what we need to do play-by-play."
On 4th and 1 LCM goes for it and QB Ashton Landry takes it all the way for the Score! #txhsfb
4:06 left in the 2nd@LCMBearFootball -14@Ricky_Ricebird -7 pic.twitter.com/VElpTt9Ih8
— VYPE Houston (@vypehouston) November 27, 2021
El Campo's Rueben Owens II rushed 29 times for 204 yards and three scores in the loss. Jontre Davis had 103 yards on 17 carries. Owens finishes his junior season with 246 carries for 2,991 yards and 46 rushing scores and 49 overall.
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