CEDAR PARK, Texas- Cedar Park (7-1 overall, 6-0 in District 19-5A) lost arguably its most important player when senior quarterback Mak Sexton broke his leg against Georgetown two weeks ago. Sexton was a three-year starter with a 34-2 record who was in the midst of his best statistical season. How the Timberwolves manage without him will play a big role in the outcome of their tilt with Hutto (8-0, 6-0) Friday at 7:30 p.m. at John Gupton Stadium in Cedar Park.
“We not only lost (Sexton), but we lost our starting safety (Gunnar Chriswisser) just a few minutes before him, who was also a three-year starter and captain” said Cedar Park coach Carl Abseck. “But I think our kids have done a great job of rallying around the fact that we’ve always talked about the next man up deal, and it’s something that we’ve kind of had to live by because it’s something we’ve had to face seems like on a yearly basis to some degree.”
Sexton had completed 74 percent of his passes for 1,557 yards and 24 touchdowns with just two interceptions. Backup Ryan Fiala initially struggled when he took over for Sexton in the first quarter against Georgetown, but he flipped a switch at halftime and led the Timberwolves back from a 20-point deficit to shock the Eagles 28-27.
The 6-foot-4 junior completed 22-of-30 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns with no picks in his first career start, a 21-14 win last week at Pflugerville Connally.
“They’re not operating at full-tilt like they were with Mak but that’s understandable,” said Hutto coach Steven Van Meter. “(Fiala) obviously didn’t get the reps that Mak gave them, but they still have the ability to run the same offense and I think (Fiala) is probably improving every week (as) he’s getting a lot more time with the No. 1s.”
How Fiala fares in this high-intensity matchup will be interesting to watch, but the real fun will be when Hutto’s explosive offense goes up against Cedar Park’s stingy defense. The Hippos are averaging 49.9 points per game behind the stellar play of junior quarterback Chase Griffin, who’s completed 72 percent of his passes for 2,565 yards (320.6 per game) with 25 touchdowns and one interception.
Hutto has been held under 45 just once all season, but Cedar Park is giving up only 14.3 points per game and are allowing quarterbacks to complete just 47.7 percent of their passes for an average of 131.8 yards per game with more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (six).
“The first thing we got to do is control the big plays,” Abseck said about slowing down Hutto’s offense. “(Griffin) is an exceptionally smart football player and so we’re going to have to change it up on defense and give him a lot of different looks to try to confuse his reads. But I think the biggest deal is to eliminate the big plays and make them have to keep snapping the ball. They’re explosive and the deal is you have to contain it. I don’t know that you can just stop somebody like that, but you just try to contain them and make them keep snapping the ball, and for us to do that, we have to put some pressure on him, I think heat him up, try to make him speed up his reads.”
Hutto hasn’t won a district title since sharing the crown with Pflugerville Hendrickson in 2011. Cedar Park hasn’t lost one since that same year. But if the Hippos can take down the shorthanded Timberwolves this weekend, it’ll all but guarantee Hutto the league trophy.
“I think for all of us it would be a great accomplishment (to beat Cedar Park and win district),” Van Meter said. “Cedar Park is a great team. It’s only fitting that to win the district championship you got to go to their place and beat them at their place so if we’re able to do that it’s fantastic for our school, for our community and just a testament to what our kids have achieved.”
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