- Jeff Miller
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With two Houston-area football teams paired against Dallas-area schools in Saturday's Class 5A state championship doubleheader at Houston's Reliant Stadium, some high school football observers looked forward to a geographical sweep either way providing a referendum on state bragging rights.
Instead, the Allen Eagles (from north of Dallas) and Katy Tigers (on Houston's western edge) provided evidence that there are varying paths to a championship in Texas' largest classification, not to mention differences in longitude and latitude.
Had Allen and Wylie brought home trophies to District 8-5A, it would have marked the first 5A sweep by one district in the 19 years of the two-division format since Converse Judson and San Antonio Roosevelt did it in 1995. A sweep by Hightower and Katy would have been the first double dip for Houston-area schools since Galena Park North Shore and Katy were winners in 2003. Dallas-area teams did it two years ago, with Southlake Carroll and Cedar Hill.
State championship trophies are nothing new at Katy, which must make room for a sixth. The Tigers came into the season as defending 5A Division II champs but lost their first two games. The second loss was a full-fledged knockout, 47-0 to The Woodlands.
"Not many people came to our games after that," Katy senior defensive back Zac Griffin said.
But the Tigers dusted themselves off and clinched a playoff berth seven games later before absorbing a third loss in the regular-season finale against Katy Cinco Ranch.
They found their killer instinct early in the playoffs, routing Houston Stratford 42-7 in the opener, then dominating Humble 51-10. Senior linebacker Sebi Carbajal said he was sitting on the bench late in the Humble game when he turned to fellow senior linebacker Caleb Chandler and said, "Hey, we can win state."
The Tigers outscored their first five postseason opponents 214-43. But their opposition in the Division II final, the Wylie Pirates, came down Interstate 45 with an impressive offense led by senior quarterback Jared Monk and junior running back Nick Knott. They'd averaged 38 points per game.
"We knew they had a dominant offense," Katy senior defensive back Van Atwood said. "We have a dominant defense."
Katy harassed Monk all day. He'd thrown only five interceptions before Saturday's game but threw three against the Tigers. He also was sacked seven times. Knott was limited to 32 yards rushing.
Offensively, Katy's running back duo of senior Michael Webber and junior Will Jeffery combined for 199 yards and both of the game's touchdowns. Webber, Jeffery and senior fullback Chris Roberson all had runs of more than 20 yards.
None of the delirious Katy fans seemed to be thinking about the three losses when coach Gary Joseph hoisted the championship trophy after the 17-3 victory.
"It's not how you start," Atwood said. "It's how you finish."
Likewise for Allen in Division I, but its midcourse changes had more to do with personnel. The Eagles lost their starting quarterback in the second game of the playoffs and their top running back during the second half of Saturday night's 21-14 victory over Fort Bend Hightower.
With running back Jeremiah Williams forced to the sideline with a rib injury, Allen coach Tom Westerberg said he leaned on quarterback Tucker Carter more than usual.
Carter, a junior making his fourth career start, completed 21 of 30 passes and played on despite hurting his back and his left leg during the game. Allen took advantage of Hightower's defensive quickness with short passes dumped over hard-charging linemen and deep routes that victimized aggressive defensive backs on early moves.
"You look at all the things that he's gone through and the games that he's had to play," Westerberg said of Carter, who filled in for injured junior quarterback Matt Brown. "It's awesome."
And when Williams was lost, senior Justin Robinson stepped in and scored what proved to be the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
"It takes everybody to win this thing," Robinson said.
Jeff Miller is a freelance writer and can be reached at email@example.com.
There was no one area of Texas that dominated the playoffs, no singular course for a team to follow to bring home a title. But as different as the journey was for Katy and Allen, both went home champions.