In perhaps the most thrilling game of the year, the Katy Tigers defeated The Woodlands Highlanders thanks to a game-winning field goal by Seth Small as time expired. Yet, both teams took the first step in a long road to recovery and return to normalcy Saturday night.
KATY- After the storm waters receded, surveys of the damage done by the floods began. “It was widespread devastation,” said Katy ISD’s Executive Director of Athletics Debbie Decker. “There are still families just getting back and trying to salvage what they can. This storm didn’t discriminate against any one group of people or part of town.”
The city of Katy was especially hit hard by the floods, mainly due to the two nearby reservoirs exceeding record setting flood stage levels. In what has been labeled an 800-year storm, the wrath of Hurricane Harvey could only be summated by one word: unprecedented.
Since 2012, Katy and The Woodlands have played consecutive non-district games against one another. The Woodlands claimed victory in a 26-3 blowout last year. The year before, Katy won in rousing fashion in a 14-7 finish. The Woodlands head coach Mark Schmid noted the importance of playing a quality team like the Tigers this early in the season in an interview on Thursday. “This is a great, great matchup and a measuring stick to see where we are,” he explained. “Whenever you play Katy, you play one of the best teams in the Houston area if not the state.”
It’s safe to be said that these rivals don’t hold anything back when it comes to this game. And, why should they? The fact that two perennial state contenders play each other every season in a non-district game is a blessing.
Highlanders receiver and return specialist KeSean Carter produced blessings of his own Saturday night. On the opening kickoff Carter, a Texas Tech commit, took the ball from two yards deep in his own end zone and proceeded to zig-zag across the field, dodging defenders as he dashed across into the end-zone for the 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Utter silence fell across the Katy stands as fans watched in disbelief. On the other side of the field, eager and excited elation erupted from The Woodlands stands. Cheers abound and spirits high, football seemed to be back to normal for the Highlanders.
Things were far from that. Katy responded swiftly in the second quarter. Tigers backup running back Josh Oglesby took things into his own hands. On the first play of the series, Oglesby broke two tackles before he turned on the nitrous, burning several Katy defenders as he ran 80 yards to the end-zone to even the score at 7-7. Katy would take command in the second quarter of play.
After several empty series between the two teams, the Tigers were able to pin the Highlanders deep in their own territory. It was then 1st and 10 on the three-yard line for The Woodlands. As quarterback Quinn Binney dumped off a pass to receiver Zayne Watson, Watson prepared for the impending hit he would take but it was too late. Seconds later, the ball popped out from Watson’s hands and Tigers defensive back Kaden Gonzales jumped on the ball.
Tigers ball: 1st and 10 on the five-yard line. Two plays later, Oglesby took the handoff on the stretch play left and beat the defender to front pylon. Touchdown Tigers.
The Woodlands would now be the ones silenced by the deafening sounds of the opposing side of the stadium. Yet, they would not fold; adversity is engrained in the Highlanders culture.
At the last walk-thru the day before the game, excitement filled the air as The Woodlands Highlanders finished fine-tuning and polishing whatever coarse edges they had left, which isn’t many for a team that just made it to the UIL 6A State Championship the year before. Following practice, Schmid had a Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s (FCA) pastor speak to the team to offer words of encouragement and wisdom.
“Keep your head, keep your head and your eyes on what you’re doing,” he repeated to the young men sitting before him.
The focus was clear, the goal even clearer: 1-0 was all that mattered. Not a state title, not a district championship, not even a winning record. The only thing that mattered to this tight bunch of brothers was going out and winning one game at a time. The only thing that could stop from that goal this week was ironically themselves.
Perhaps the daunting task of defending an awe-inspiring Katy offense had The Woodlands defense “shook” as the kids say nowadays. In the first half alone, The Woodlands tallied up a shocking six flags for 77 yards, of which four penalties were personal fouls; an irregularity for a team that is one of the most disciplined in the state.
To be fair, most teams by week three in the regular season have worked out all their kinks; that was not the case for the Highlanders Saturday night and it showed. Mistake after mistake caused catastrophe all night. Something needed to change. A spark of inspiration was yearend for by The Woodlands.
It’s quite possible the pastor’s message had stuck with receiver Zayne Watson. On second and eight on their on 39, Watson turned a four-play drive into a 61-yard receiving touchdown with no defenders in sight. Balance had been restored on the scoreboard. But they weren’t done yet. Tiger’s running back Josh Oglesby would fumble on his own 30-yard line the very next series.
Momentum shifted, The Woodlands took advantage of this going 30 yards in six plays, capped off by a one-yard rushing score from running back Lucas Summers.
21-14, Highlanders with only a quarter and a half to go.
When asked whether his team would be prepared for this game although they missed the first two games, Tigers head coach Gary Joseph said, “I know they’re prepared. I know the coaches have done their job. There’s no excuses.”
The feeling in the stands was timid as the fourth quarter of play approached. Starting running back Deondrick Glass had seen but a handful of plays all game. “[Glass] was very sick all week, had been running a high fever and we didn’t even know if he’d be able to play,” said Coach Joseph when asked about his star running back.
Little did he know, it wouldn’t matter whether Glass played or not. Oglesby stepped into the ring and did more than he was asked to do. He scored two touchdowns in the first half as he rushed for over 120 yards—not a small task, especially when replacing a player like Glass.
However, the defense seemed to make the play of the night. As the midway point of the fourth quarter slowly approached, two of the field lights on The Woodlands side of the field went out. There was still enough light emanating from the other light pillars as it only blacked out the upper deck of the stands. Strangely enough, it seemed that this partial blackout would mean more than just no lights. It foreshadowed something bigger.
A couple plays later, the Highlanders would throw their first interception of the night as Binney targeted a well-covered Carter in the end-zone, only to have it picked off by Tigers defensive back KeShon Rowe. This would result in a lengthy six play, 80- yard scoring drive that was topped off by a seven-yard rushing touchdown by none other than Deondrick Glass, his one and only on the night.
The game was then tied 21-21, with only a couple minutes left to go.
No one could question the fight that was within these Katy Tigers. “The leadership at Katy High between Coach Joseph and Principal Rick Hall is astounding. They’re incredible human beings. The kids truly feed off of them and their energy, their will,” said Director Decker. Coach Joseph had built a culture for his team—one that refuses to accept failure, no matter the circumstance.
His players understood as they played under the Saturday night lights that they had come here for a victory; not only for them, but for the city. A city that had been harassed by the worst of nature’s shortcomings. A city dying for something positive to build on, something to help them forget for maybe a couple seconds that they had sheetrock to cut out the next day. Possibly a moment or two to not contemplate where they’ll be sleeping that night or whether they can swing the funds to rebuild or relocate. In Texas, the only thing that matters on the weekend is football. And maybe this would be the weekend that mattered most.
With less than two minutes left, The Woodlands had the ball one last time. The tension in the air could not be thicker as the Highlanders looked poised to have a winning scoring drive. The players were confident in their abilities as they should be. Earlier in the week, Coach Schmid had said to his team that, “the opportunity will not present itself again to play Katy.” He as well as his players knew that a win here, in this game, would be a monumental feat early in the season. It was up to his offense now, to finish the job.
The Katy Tigers had different plans. As Binney stepped back in the second play of the drive, the pocket collapsed and he was gang tackled by a group of Tiger’s defensive lineman. Binney was down but no whistle had been blown yet.
The ball was loose.
Tigers defensive lineman Moro Ojomo pounced on the ball as players from both sides attempted to wrestle for possession.
The air was still. Then, as the official waved his hand in the direction of the Highlanders end zone, the crowd exploded once more.
“It’s Tigers ball!” exclaimed the announcer.
It would now be up to kicker Seth Small to put the game away. Small had a rough night, as he missed a chip shot 27-yard attempt early in the second quarter and then missed another 47-yard attempt in the fourth. “I missed the first two but I was confident in myself and so was Coach Joseph and the rest of the team,” said Small post-game. With two seconds left, Small lined up the kick and drilled it down the middle.
It was a low kick.
But it creeped over the crossbar just enough for the officials to signal that the 39-yard field goal attempt to seal the game was good.
After the game, Ojomo spoke about the win saying, “We did this for the city, man. A lot of family and friends were affected by the storm but we did this one for Katy.”
A win for the Katy Tigers on Saturday meant more than a check in the win column. It meant more than the homecoming proposals that came after the game or the post-game celebrations at the diners that line the freeways on Interstate 10. The win was one of many building blocks in the healing process. A foundation to build from. The city of Katy now had something to be proud of.
It wasn’t the end-all of the recovery—but it was certainly the first step.
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