KATY—Running scout team defense for Paetow at the beginning of the 2020 season, then-sophomore junior varsity linebacker Daymion Sanford was causing problems.
"We keep watching the film, and our 1's (starters) can't block him," coach B.J. Gotte said. "So then we're thinking, yeah, we might want to put him on the varsity. If we can't block him, other teams can't block him."
Gotte and his staff proved prophetic in their evaluation of Sanford.
"We moved him up after a couple games in and he started making plays," Gotte said. "That's how we broke in to what we're doing."
What Sanford, now a junior, and Alex Kilgore, another sophomore revelation at linebacker on varsity last season, are now doing is ignite a sack-loving Panthers defense that is the motor behind an 11-1 Panthers team in the regional semifinal for the first time.
Paetow plays Cedar Park on Friday afternoon in Waller.
Checking in on @PaetowFootball this morning. 11-1 Panthers in the regional semifinals for the first time. #txhsfb @KatyISDAthletic @PaetowAthleticspic.twitter.com/ZlzvF411hm— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1637688697
"It's been fun," Sanford said. "Right now, there's a lot of trust and a lot of chemistry on this team. It's real."
For those still blissfully unaware of Paetow football—let alone how to properly pronounce the school name: it's "Pay-toe"— it's as simple as this: Gotte knew the defense would be the strength of this year's team. And the defense is led by senior defensive back Kentrell Webb, outside linebacker Sanford and inside linebacker Kilgore.
Paetow has 53 sacks through 12 games, an average of 4.4 per game. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Sanford (13.0) and 6-foot-1, 205-pound Kilgore (10.0) have accounted for 23 of those.
"They're more experienced, and you can't measure experience," Gotte said. "Both of those guys being sophomores on varsity last year, they had to take their lumps. Now, being one year in, they're more confident in what they do in our base packages, which then allows us to do more of our specialty stuff.
"Do we do more than what we did last year? A little bit, but I think it's more due to the experience of those guys in our base stuff, and now we can put in some wrinkles to get some pass rush."
Five of Hightower\u2019s six run plays have gone for negative yards. #txhsfb @PaetowFootballpic.twitter.com/Vwp2zYbz9n— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1634861862
Paetow runs a 3-4 base defense. Often, however, it morphs into a four-man front after the snap, essentially becoming an offset 4-2-5 alignment because of a penchant for nickel packages.
"I love it," Kilgore said. "We know we're confusing the offense, and that's our advantage. We know our talent. We know our ability. So not only are we confusing the offense, but we're doing it with talent. It takes us one step further."
Paetow allows just 10.3 points per game and has five shutouts this season. In the regular season, competing in one of the toughest districts in the state that includes fellow regional semifinalists Hightower and Manvel, Paetow gave up a total of 270 rushing yards in 10 games.
"It's building with the brothers," said Kilgore, who leads the team in tackles per game at 6.5. "Knowing what the person is doing next to you and doing your job to your best ability. It's practice. Going 100 percent every day, not taking a day off, not taking a rep off."
Webb, with a team-high six interceptions, is the maestro of the Panthers' defensive backfield. Sanford and Kilgore attack at will. The defensive line, led by senior Jacob Johnson, sophomore Loghan Thomas, and senior Sultan Bakare, plugs gaps, draws double teams, and does whatever else necessary for everything to flow.
HARD CORE HAMMER TIME! PAETOW DEFENSE #94 Jacob JJ Johnson Brings The Pressure!pic.twitter.com/5vueseLtyx— Doug (@Doug) 1633880986
"If everybody does their job, then people will have opportunities to make plays," Gotte said. "That's where they (Sanford and Kilgore) do a good job rushing the passer, but the defensive lineman is rushing a gap that is drawing two and opens up space for the linebacker to run through. Or a defensive end rushes off the edge, which pulls a guard over and then allows a one-on-one on the inside. Ultimately, you've got to create one-on-ones and draw double teams that will open up holes.
"Working together, playing fast and not trying to do too much to give someone an opportunity."
Kilgore and Sanford not only understand their own positions and responsibilities better this season, but those of others. Because of their maturity and football I.Q., Paetow uses more exotic blitzes and coverages.
"Playing against the best defense in our state, really, it's a great tool to have, going up against tough looks every day in practice," senior quarterback C.J. Dumas said. "It only makes us better. Back in spring ball, it was super frustrating because we couldn't get anything going. But it's a good problem to have, struggling in practice and then playing the games and everything seems to be moving slower."
The overall depth of the defense is also notable. The Panthers use 15-18 players consistently on defense during any given game.
The emergence of senior linebacker Luke Fitch has been significant, allowing the 6-foot, 225-pound Bakare to move from linebacker to the defensive line. Junior C.J. Johnson has been big in the secondary. Junior Stephen Green has played admirably on the line. Senior Matthew Phillips is another linebacker that makes game-changing plays.
It is a complete defense.
"Playing nickel, playing fast, having different calls, mixing things up on the fly," Sanford said. "It's fun to mess around with an offense during games and dominating them with what we're able to do."
No. 4 Westfield Mustangs
Coach Billy Goffney blew through District 14-6A last season on the way to a Coach of the Year Award as the Mustangs went 23-4 on the season.
However, Westfield fell in the second round of the postseason. It could serve as a building block to 2021-22. District co-MVP Willie Williams returns after tallying a double-double last season and second-teamers Blake Washington and Chris Tyler return in the backcourt. Mario Johnson earned an honorable mention for his points and rebounds in the paint.
Goffney welcomes another critical piece this season in Zion Pipkin from The Woodlands Christian Academy. Pipkin is just a sophomore but is projected as a college prospect at guard. He won a TAPPS 5A state title last season.
"We are looking for balanced scoring, great defense and good team chemistry to propel us deeper into the postseason," Goffney said.
DIGITAL VERSION - 2021-2022 VYPE Houston Basketball Preview Magazine - VYPE
FOR PHOTOS -- VYPE PHOTOS
KATY—Five takeaways from Wednesday afternoon's non-district game between Mayde Creek and Hightower, the latter which is ranked No. 20 in VYPE's preseason rankings.
It was the Rams, however, who came away with a demonstrative 87-68 win at home in a contest that consisted of some of Houston's top talents in the Classes of 2022, 2023 and 2025, respectively.
1. Angel Sonnier: the best player on the court
There was plenty of high-caliber talent on the floor, but it was Mayde Creek junior guard Angel Sonnier who stole the show.
The 6-foot lead guard scored a game-high 33 points with five rebounds, five assists, four steals, and 5-of-11 shooting from 3.
"I'm not big on rankings and all that stuff, but Angel Sonnier is one of the best guards in his city," Rams coach Anthony Fobb said. "Now, Angel needs to work on Angel. He's a kid. He's got shortfalls. But when he's playing like he did (Tuesday), the sky's the limit. He's sharing the ball, he's getting his assists, he's getting his points. When he's not worried about recruiting and what the rankings say, he's one of the best in this city. He brings out the best in me, and I just want to bring out the best in him."
Sonnier went up against two players who are considered to have a higher profile in Hightower senior guards Aaron Williams Jr. and Jacory Chatman.
Sonnier outshined both.
"There's no pressure," Sonnier said. "I just play my game. My game speaks for itself."
Sonnier was primarily a spot shooter last season. This season, he said he's more aggressive looking to create for himself and others. He showed off deft ballhandling that created space time and time again.
"Angel doesn't feel he's getting his just due, but when he shows up for games like this, guys will notice," Fobb said. "Let them do the talking."
Check out the sweet moves by @angelongo_ on this dish to Landon Bean for a 3. #txhshoops @MCRamsHoops @MCHSAthleticDeppic.twitter.com/6q6Rv5Fo8Z— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1637783417
2. Rams halt Hurricanes' Williams' momentum
Hightower's Williams was averaging 19 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and shooting 47 percent overall and 40 percent from 3 entering the Mayde Creek game.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder had 18 points on Tuesday, 14 in the second half after Mayde Creek built a 42-22 lead, and shot 2-for-9 from 3.
Fobb saw on film that Hightower tended to play like his Rams sometimes: one pass and then shot, with nobody in offensive rebounding position.
"The goal was to get them to take bad shots and get in position to rebound and get out and run," Fobb said. "We made (Williams) play defense on the other side, and being a shooter, his legs and arms wore down."
Chatman led the Hurricanes with 20 points, 13 in the second half.
.@Williams_Aaron3 again. Already has a couple buckets and an assist early this 3Q. #txhshoops @HHS_Boys_Bballpic.twitter.com/L2J5EQtfFT— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1637784449
3. Freshmen starring for Rams
Mayde Creek has two of the more promising talents in the Class of 2025 in the Greater Houston area.
Point guard Christian Jones, a 5-foot-9 sharpshooter, scored 20 points with four steals and four assists and shot 6-for-9 on 3s. He scored 12 points in the second quarter when the Rams turned a seven-point lead into 20 by the half.
Jamal Chretien II, a lithe, 6-foot-3 rangy forward, had 13 points and three rebounds. Eleven of his points came in the second half.
Jones, who was previously home-schooled like Chretien, said his seven games on varsity have been eye-opening.
"It's given me better skills, toughness and just becoming a better point guard," Jones said. "It's adjusting to going up against guys bigger and stronger than you."
"He's still got a lot of work to do," Fobb added. "The different reads, the different speeds of the game at certain times. Natural things a freshman struggles with. But scoring-wise, we see that every day in practice. We expect it to go in, and he's not a selfish player. He can get any shot he wants, but he'll pass the ball."
Jones said his on-ball defense has improved considerably. It had to if he expected to see playing time under Fobb. He has also had to raise his shooting pocket to get the shot off faster.
Fobb said it's his rookies' intensity and physicality that impressed him during summer and offseason tournaments and gave him confidence they could succeed on varsity.
"Both of them have private training and we lift weights hard here, and they really embrace the weights," Fobb said. "They're very mature, and they have really good parents. They don't let them get too high; they're on them hard. They can play on this level."
That\u2019s 6-9 from 3 for @MCRamsHoops freshman @C_Dior30. #txhshoops @MCHSAthleticDeppic.twitter.com/PwqEqZ7M5V— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1637785874
4. Hurricanes stand out
Hightower's stars of Williams and Chatman did not play up to their elite standards, but others stood out for coach Stephen Woods.
Senior forward Joshua Lacour, who came off the bench in the first half but started the second, was a difference-maker in the paint with six points and nine rebounds. Sophomore 6-foot-2 forward Milton Rice also had a strong game with six points and six rebounds.
5. Fast start, no surprise
Mayde Creek's 6-1 start is not a surprise to anyone in the Rams' locker room.
"This is what I expected, especially when you have these incoming freshmen who can take a lot of pressure off me," Sonnier said. "They bring a lot more diversity to the game. We know what we're doing. We're good, and we're going to get it done."
Mayde Creek's only loss is to Dallas Mansfield Timberview. The Rams won the consolation bracket of the Magnolia Tournament.
"Guys had us third or fourth in district, and that's fine," Fobb said. "We don't care about that. We come here and work. I call it a blue-collar program. This was a really good, legitimate win for us against a strong, playoff-caliber team."
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