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Author: Tucker Stephenson

Thompson Trumps Card after Rice win

Is it Casey Thompson’s time, or will hometown product Hudson Card be the first signal caller to throw a pass during the Steve Sarkisian era?

That question has been on the forefront of Longhorns fans’ minds ever since Sark arrived on the 40 Acres to take over a program that has once again fallen stale — this time under the watch of purported savior Tom Herman. 

Thompson, a 6-1, 195-pound redshirt junior from Oklahoma City, appears to have the inside track due to his maturity level and eye-popping performance in the 2021 Alamo Bowl. After Sam Ehlinger was forced to leave the game with a shoulder injury, Thompson stole the spotlight and went 8 of 10 passing for 170 yards and four touchdowns as Texas romped to a 55-23 win over former Big 12 foe Colorado. 

A strong case for Card can be presented as well, though. The 6-2, 195-pound redshirt freshman from Lake Travis was a high school All-American that has the accuracy and timing necessary to bring the Longhorns’ passing game to life and convert key third downs.

During the annual Orange-White spring game, it was Thompson that got reps with Texas’ first-string skill players, but Card had arguably the better showing, which provided even more mystery to the position battle as the season draws closer.

Don’t expect Sark and his staff to rush to a decision. The competition will likely fuel both players and will also give the Longhorns a backup who’s instantly capable of stepping in should injury or ineffectiveness force a QB switch.

“I think we’ve got two frontline guys to start the process,” Sarkisian said of Thompson and Card. “I do like the maturity of [Thompson]. I like what he brought in the bowl game — you got a pretty good feel. We’ve obviously dug into a lot of practice tape. I like the skill set of Hudson Card. I think he’s a really talented player, and you see that when you dig into the tape.”

Photo UT Athletics

Thompson and Card each have solid mobility, but Thompson looks to be the more durable ballcarrier if he chooses to pull the pigskin down and take off downfield. That could provide an edge for Thompson as the Longhorns’ passing game rebuilds around wide receivers Josh Moore, Jordan Whittington and Troy Omiere and tight ends Cade Brewer and Jared Wiley.

A dual-threat player under center would also draw more eyes from opposing defenders and potentially make sophomore running back Bijan Robinson even more dangerous out of the backfield.

Both QBs will look to transition to Sarkisian’s run-pass option style attack that prioritizes quick hands and accuracy. The intangibles — like competitive drive and leadership — will also be tested as the Longhorns search for their new field general prior to Sept. 4’s season opener at DKR against Louisiana-Lafayette.

But even when a decision is made on who will be taking the first snaps of 2021, different questions will just replace the old ones — how much confidence does Sarkisian’s staff have in its starter, and if things go awry, how soon would a potential change be made?

In reality, the battle between Thompson and Card was decided after the Arkansas loss amd the winner of the job enjoying success is Casey Thompson. The eyes of Texas will be upon both players even though CT looks to remain a starter moving in this weeks home game versus Tech. Coach Sark hopes that the two QBs can prove both are the right one to help bring the Longhorns back to national prominence.

Vandegrift Football off to great Start

The Vandegrift Vipers have already served notice to the rest of Class 6A that their program is an up-and-coming powerhouse in Central Texas.

While most teams hang their hats on an explosive air-raid attack or a dominant running game, Vandegrift is taking the opposite approach. Head coach Drew Sanders’ Vipers have become known for their suffocating defense, which has led to three district championships in the past four seasons.

Defeating Cedar Park this season 42-7 in week 1, Killeen Ellison 31-14 in Week 2 and San Angelo Central 45-13 in week 3 the vipers kicked off district play with a defeat of Stony Point 56-21 off to a 4-0 start.

During the pandemic-riddled 2020 campaign, Vandegrift finished second in District 25-6A behind a resurgent Round Rock team that stunned the state by taking out Lake Travis in the first round of the 6A Division I postseason. This year, Sanders and his retooled defense will look to regain their form following a fourth-round playoff exit against Hays in early January.

The Vipers graduated each of their top five tacklers from last season, but there’s no shortage of depth for Vandegrift. Along the front line, senior defensive end Tucker Harrison returns after a stellar year in 2020 that saw him register 79 tackles, five sacks and four forced fumbles en route to earning all-state honorable mention. Harrison will likely be joined at the point of attack by junior Oliver Yndo, senior Sterling Emerson, senior Lucas Cummings and senior Cristion Davis.

The linebacking corps will search for replacements for the trio of Austin Skoglund, Logan Arnold and Michael Mastrodicasa, who combined to make 342 total stops in 2020 while finishing as the team’s top three tacklers. 

However, there’s plenty of experience back in the secondary, which is led by senior Jaxon Oliver, senior Griffin Shaffer, senior Clayton Moore and versatile senior Reece Beauchamp, who might see more time on offense in 2021. Oliver tied for the team lead in interceptions last year with three.

Vipers Defense in 2020 gang tackel a Round Rock Dragon runner in last years game.

Beauchamp could end up taking the reins for 2021 graduate Ryan Back at quarterback — or perhaps it will be junior Brayden Buchanan. Whichever player settles into the signal caller role will allow the other to become an instant play-maker in a different spot, whether it be at wide receiver or in another position. 

The starting running back job appears locked up, as senior Ryan Sheppard returns after leading the team with 922 yards and six touchdowns as a junior. Sheppard is also a reliable receiver out of the backfield, as he made 13 catches a year ago.

Along the O-line, the Vipers will reload with one of the top groups in District 25-6A despite seeing only one starter — Ethan Barnard — return. Barnard is set to move from guard to center as a senior, and help is expected to be provided up front by senior Juan Gutierrez, senior Luke Collins and junior Ian Reed, who is a budding collegiate prospect at tackle.

When league play rolls around, the Vipers will look to battle past Round Rock and reclaim their familiar perch as district champs. Challenges from Hutto, Stony Point and Cedar Ridge are also expected, but Sanders’ team looks to have the inside track in the race for 25-6A’s top spot.

Vandegrift’s first 11 seasons of varsity competition have yielded an overall record of 94-40, and the Vipers’ 4-6 campaign back in 2010 — the program’s inaugural year — remains the lone losing season in school history. 

Baylor Bears win Title over Gonzaga:

Baylor’s magical run throughout the 2020-21 season ended up looking a lot like Matthew Mayer’s signature hairstyle — business in the front, party in the back.

The Bears paved the way for their championship season with hard work, discipline and attention to detail — but following an 86-70 win over Gonzaga in the national championship game, it was finally time to let loose.

Mayer’s mullet was just one of many memorable symbols along Baylor’s ride to glory in Indianapolis. The former Westlake standout transformed into a vital part of head coach Scott Drew’s bench and showcased his soft touch from beyond the arc in addition to his on-court IQ.

With the Bears’ front-court stacked with talented guards, Mayer carved out a role as a reliable scorer who remained ready to dive into the dirty work whenever necessary. The junior averaged 8.1 points per game this season while also adding 112 rebounds and 36 steals.

The former Chaparral shot 39.5% from beyond the 3-point arc, allowing him to be a deadly screener in the pick-and-pop game.

Mayer got an early taste of high-level basketball while playing for head coach Robert Lucero at Westlake. His teammates included current Longhorn Brock Cunningham and UTEP’s Keonte Kennedy, who transferred from Xavier. Mayer had plenty of offers, including from the University of Texas, but the 6-foot-8 small forward found a home in Waco and began honing his skills under Drew, who is undoubtedly one of the top college coaches in the nation.

Mayer was a contributor almost immediately off the bench and averaged 4.6 points per game as a true freshman. In his sophomore campaign, Mayer put in 4.8 points per contest.

His role expanded dramatically this season as the Bears overcame a COVID-19 break to turn on the afterburners in the final few weeks. After Baylor fell to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament, Baylor reeled off six straight wins on the country’s biggest stage to capture the program’s first-ever national championship.

Mayer was an instrumental part of the ride, which ended with an eye-opening performance against the previously-unbeaten Bulldogs of the West Coast Conference. Chalk up another win for the Lone Star State.

Katy dominates Cedar Hill for Title Win

ARLINGTON — Katy’s attention to detail and unwavering execution lifted head coach Gary Joseph to his fifth state championship win Saturday afternoon against Cedar Hill at AT&T Stadium.

The Tigers blasted the Longhorns 51-14 to claim the Class 6A Division II title — the program’s ninth state championship overall.

Katy (14-1) put the clamps on Cedar Hill’s offense from the outset and began to grind away with its potent rushing attack featuring the sibling duo of Seth and Jalen Davis. The Tigers also caught the Longhorns napping on a few play-action passes over the top.

Joseph said his team made a commitment to chase greatness after dropping a district game to Katy Tompkins back in early November.

“We got better all year long, and that’s the objective,” Joseph said. “I told them we lost a district game in 2008 and turned around and won a state championship. I told them it was possible but they’d have to roll their sleeves up and go to work. Those kids did. They responded great after that.”

Katy leapt out to a commanding 24-0 lead at halftime against Cedar Hill (12-2) and kept the pedal to the metal in the last two quarters. The Tigers tallied two defensive scores to help salt away the runway victory, as Hamilton McMartin returned a fumble 55 yards for a score and defensive end Cal Varner later notched a pick-6 against Cedar Hill quarterback Kaidon Salter.

Varner was named the Defensive MVP of the game, but Joseph said his defense revolves around a team-first mentality.

“Each one of them understands they have a job and they had a role and then they all fit together,” the coach said. “It’s not about an individual — it’s about a team.”

Davis was named the Offensive MVP after rushing for a game-high 124 yards and a score. His brother, Jalen Davis, added 109 yards and a TD of his own.

Katy vaulted ahead 7-0 in the first quarter after taking advantage of Cedar Hill’s attempt to slow the Davis brothers. Caleb Koger found a wide open Taylor Saulsberry for a 37-yard TD toss on play action, and Jalen Davis opened the second quarter with a 3-yard TD run.

Nemanja Lazic drilled a 48-yard field goal later in the period, and Isaiah Smith broke loose for a 55-yard scoring jaunt with just 36 seconds to go before intermission.

The Tigers’ lead increased to 34-0 in the third period after Lazic connected on a short field goal and McMartin notched his scoop-and-score fumble recovery.

The Longhorns broke up the shutout bid when Salter scored on a 4-yard run with 4:28 to go in the third, and after Lazic made his third field goal of the afternoon, Salter scampered into the end zone from 10 yards away.

Katy finished strong in the final stanza thanks to a 25-yard TD run by Seth Davis and Varner’s interception return, which went for 15 yards.

“We just worked hard in practice every single day,” Seth Davis said. “My brother is a big mentor for me and I couldn’t do anything without my brother. I love him and I’m thankful I got the opportunity to win it with him.”

The Tigers’ second score of the game was set up by a diving interception from Shepherd Bowling. Katy’s defense frustrated Salter — an Tennessee signee — for much of the game and threw Cedar Hill’s offense completely out of sync.

Salter finished 12 for 24 for 112 yards as the Longhorns were held to just nine total first downs.

Westlake Repeats: 2020 State Champions

ARLINGTON — The Dodge Bowl began as a back-and-forth shootout, but a second-half landslide by Austin Westlake helped father Todd Dodge reign supreme in a once-in-a-lifetime matchup against Southlake Carroll, which is coached by his son, Riley.

The Chaparrals prevailed 52-34 at AT&T Stadium after striking for 31 straight points to turn the tide after Westlake found itself tied with the Dragons at 21-all in the second quarter.

Westlake’s Michael Taafe, who was named the game’s Defensive MVP, picked off Quinn Ewers to end the first half and added a spectacular one-handed pick in the third quarter as the Chaps surged to a multi-score lead.

Cade Klubnik, Zane Minors and Grey Nakfoor ensured Westlake’s offense kept moving the chains, and Jaden Greathouse made Carroll pay downfield with impressive receptions that went for big yardage.

It was another dominant performance for the Chaps (14-0), who claimed the Class 6A Division I state title a season after winning the Division II championship.

“It was a slugfest,” Westlake head coach Todd Dodge said. “Our defense answered the bell in the second half. Offensively, that’s the best game our offensive team played all year long and we played well at times. In the big-time games, big-time players step up.”

Westlake led 28-21 at the half and immediately marched toward a touchdown in the third quarter that was tallied by Nakfoor on a 4-yard run.

On Carroll’s next drive, Taafe plucked a Ewers pass out of midair with an outstretched right hand, and moments later, Klubnik jogged across the goal line from 4 yards away to give the Chaps a 42-21 lead.

From there, Westlake began to assert its will and kept piling on the points.

“It wasn’t anything that we really changed,” Taafe said of the second-half turnaround. “To be honest, we were a little nervous. I was, too. They kicked us in the mouth the first couple of drives and we just said to ourselves, ‘Do we want to keep doing this, or do we want to stand our ground and stop it?’ That’s what we did — we got some turnovers and it worked out in our favor.”

Nakfoor tacked on a 5-yard TD run with 8:29 to go in the game, and the Dragons (12-2) added two late scores that were sandwiched around a successful onside kick.

Klubnik was named the Offensive MVP after going 18 for 20 passing for 220 yards and a score. The fleet-footed senior also ran for 111 yards and two TDs.

Minors led Westlake with 135 yards and a score, which came on a 75-yard burst during the Chaps’ first offensive snap and helped tie the game at 7-7.

Back came Carroll, as Ewers went up top and found Brady Boyd for a 49-yard TD. Westlake wasted little time responding, as Nakfoor found a seam and sprinted ahead for a 38-yard score.

The two teams again traded scores in the second quarter. Greathouse put the Chaps in front with a 15-yard reception in the end zone on a perfectly-thrown pass by Klubnik, but Boyd answered by hauling in a 27-yard score from Ewers.

From there, however, the Chaps’ vaunted defense began to come up with some key stops. Klubnik tallied a 1-yard scoring run with 1:12 to go in the second period to give Westlake the lead at 28-21, and the Chaps caught fire down the stretch to seize the program’s third state championship overall.

“This football team that I had the pleasure of coaching this year collectively loves the game of football more than any team I’ve ever seen,” Todd Dodge said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of them. We had to kind of will our way to a victory.”

Following the triumph, Westlake’s coach said his message to his son Riley was simple.

“I told him I loved him,” Todd Dodge said. “I told him I’m so proud of him and I told him he has one hell of a football team.”

Argyle win State Title

ARLINGTON — Argyle’s 49-21 victory over Lindale in the UIL Class 4A Division I state championship felt more like a coronation than an actual competition.

The Eagles (16-0) wrapped up an immaculate 2020 season after jetting to a 28-point lead and cruising to the finish line from there. Along the way, senior running back Tito Byce rushed for 152 yards and found the end zone four times en route to being named the game’s Offensive MVP.

“It’s a joyous event,” Argyle head coach Todd Rodgers said. “I’m proud of my football team. I think they played like champions tonight. They were really focused the entire week. It was amazing to go out there and apply it in such an unusual environment. This is the biggest crowd we’ve played in front of all year. We loved it.”

Argyle left little doubt which team reigned supreme in 4A-I after flexing its potent offense on the opening snap of the contest. The Eagles saw quarterback CJ Rogers toss a 44-yard pass to Cash Walker, and eight plays later, Byce bulldozed his way across the goal line from 1 yard out.

Byce added three more scoring runs prior to halftime, and Argyle took a 28-0 lead into the locker room. Byce capped drives with TD rushes of 4, 2 and 2 yards as the Eagles left Lindale in a cloud of dust at AT&T Stadium.

The performance was even more meaningful for Byce given the fact that he was forced to watch the end of 2019 from the sidelines after suffering a torn ACL.

“It’s been a crazy journey,” Byce said. “I went right to work after I got surgery. All of my teammates and my coaches just pushed me super hard and I had the whole community behind me and it turned out great like we wanted it to.”

Lindale (13-3) broke up the shutout in the third quarter when Sam Peterson tallied a 6-yard TD run, but Argyle was content to trade scores with the Eagles during the second half.

Rogers threw three scores for Argyle after halftime, finding Jasper Lott on throws of 2 and 4 yards in addition to connecting with Ward McCollum for a 43-yard TD strike. The signal caller finished 23-of-30 passing for 357 yards as the Eagles romped to the program’s second state title on the gridiron.

“He’s been a fabulous quarterback and an amazing leader on our team,” Rodgers said of his QB. “I’m glad it all turned out that way for him and the rest of the people that did the work when nobody else was watching.”

Argyle’s defense also held up its end of the bargain by slowing down sensational Lindale running back Jordan Jenkins, who managed 112 tough yards on 26 carries.

“You’re never going to stop a great running back like that,” Rodgers said. “You just need to slow him down a whole bunch and kind of take him out of the game per se. And we were able to do that.”

Following the completion of the contest, Argyle senior defensive back Zach Stewart was named the Defensive MVP after he recorded 6 1/2 total tackles and also broke up a pass.  “I think we played all year with an edge,” Stewart said. “We felt we needed to go out and prove ourselves every game, and I think we did that.”

Nate Yarnell: LT QB Senior Year opportunity to shine.

The quarterback factory known as Lake Travis High School just keeps
on churning out NCAA Division I-caliber talent.

Senior Nate Yarnell, a 6-foot-6 signal caller, is the latest in a
long line of gunslingers that have helped the Cavaliers become a
perennial state title contender and one of the most explosive and
efficient prep offenses in the nation. When Yarnell verbally
committed to Pitt in May, he also became the 10th consecutive
Lake Travis QB to receive a full athletic scholarship at the next level.

In fact, Yarnell was offered a full ride to the University of Houston
before he ever took a varsity snap. Most thought that Yarnell would
have to wait until this season to showcase his skills, but an unfortunate
injury to Texas enrollee Hudson Card thrust the junior into the spotlight
in late October of 2019. He responded by helping the Cavs reel off six
consecutive victories, including playoff wins against Smithson Valley,
San Antonio Madison and Weslaco.

During his six starts, he completed 91 of his 135 pass attempts for
1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns. Unsurprisingly, he earned plenty of
praise from head coach Hank Carter as a result.

“He did awesome,” Carter said. “He was able to get in there and
basically just take the reins and roll with it. I thought he did a fantastic
job and we weren’t surprised. We knew he was a heck of a player
and are now looking forward to him even improving more coming
into his senior year. I think he’s got that kind of potential.”

By now, Lake Travis’ tradition of excellence at the QB position is far
from a secret. But even with the spotlight shining brightly upon him,
Yarnell displayed poise after being thrown into the proverbial fire.

Carter said it’s all just business as usual for those that plan to line up
behind center for the Cavaliers.

“I think that any time a young man at Lake Travis wants to take the
route of playing quarterback they know that, number one, it’s going
to be highly competitive,” Carter said. “We’ve been very fortunate to
have a lot of great players come through here and we still have a lot
of really good quarterbacks in the system right now. I think all of those
guys understand that and they welcome that challenge and that competition
and all of the responsibility that comes with it.

“At the same time, football is a game and there’s pressure on all of those
kids out there and the pressure typically comes from themselves first and
they want to be at their best. I think Nate has handled that appropriately
and he wants to be one of the best players in the country and wants
to win a state championship his senior year.”

A state title win would catapult Yarnell into Lake Travis lore alongside names like
Charlie Brewer, Baker Mayfield, Michael Brewer and Garrett Gilbert.
The Cavaliers currently boast six state championship victories in their history,
with three of those coming during Carter’s tenure as head coach. Lake Travis’
most recent title win was in 2016.

When asked what makes Yarnell a natural at QB, Carter said the senior checks all
the boxes. “He’s a great thrower of the football, he’s a great leader and a super
smart kid,” Carter said. “I think all of the things you would want to start with to
have an excellent quarterback — and obviously his size at 6-foot-6.”

Now for the scary part — for opponents, that is. Carter said that Yarnell is only
scratching the surface of his ability and will continue to improve with more
experience on the field and additional time in the weight room.

“As a high school student-athlete, his body is still maturing and even during
this time we’ve been off he’s been working to get bigger and stronger and
just to make decisions quicker,” Carter said. “I think the maturation process
for a quarterback happens when everything starts slowing down for them.
It’s just because they’ve gotten a certain number of reps under their belt.
I think that’s what Nate is going to focus on and Coach (Tommy) Mangino
is excited to start working with him once we start getting kids back on campus.”

If all goes according to plan, the Cavaliers will open the 2020 regular season
Thursday, Oct. 1 on the road against the Westwood Warriors. However, even
if there are any further disruptions in the schedule due to COVID-19, Carter
said his new starting QB will be prepared to handle whatever hurdles come
his way.

“I think that’s kind of been the name of the game,” Carter said of the
uncertainty caused by the pandemic. “I think you have to be flexible and
be ready to adapt to what’s happening nowadays and he’s done that, so
I think he’ll be ready to roll when we get back out there.”

Texas Longhorns 2020 Preview

In terms of up follow-up performances, the Longhorns’ 2019 campaign was a flop compared to the Hollywood blockbuster ending provided by the Sugar Bowl win to cap the 2018 season.

Texas suffered through a rash of injuries on the defensive side of the ball and at times just plain couldn’t stop anybody. The offense was left to try and play catch-up most times and quarterback Sam Ehlinger was unable to pull off enough Houdini-esque escapes to help the Longhorns turn in another 10-win season.

Instead, Texas fell to 8-5, but a dominant showing against Utah in the Alamo Bowl offered a glimpse of the possibilities in store for 2020.

Head coach Tom Herman is looking to reload and make big waves in his fourth year on the 40 Acres, but for the season to be successful, there are several keys on both sides of the ball.

OFFENSE

The Longhorns are led by Ehlinger, who has enough experience, toughness and competitive will to give Texas a shot to win every time out. More on the senior signal caller later.

Up front, the offensive line is anchored by left tackle Sam Cosmi, who is considered a lock to be a first round NFL draft pick in 2021. Senior Derek Kerstetter will be back as well and may make the move to center, although he was graded as the nation’s top returning pass blocker following his 2019 season opposite Cosmi at right tackle.

The running game features the toughness of Keaontay Ingram and the intrigue of freshman Bijan Robinson. Roschon Johnson, who moved from quarterback to running back last season, will provide depth and versatility as well.

With Collin Johnson and workhouse Devin Duvernay now training for their first NFL seasons, the wide receiving corps will need an overhaul. Luckily, Brennan Eagles and Jake Smith return, as does Joshua Moore. Former Cuero standout Jordan Whittington is also present and could become an instant star, while transfer Tarik Black brings maturity to the WR room.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: It all starts with the running game for the Longhorns. In 2019, the Longhorns were 0-4 when rushing for less than 150 yards. In Herman’s tenure, Texas is a perfect 9-0 when rushing for more than 200 yards in a game.

DEFENSE

Texas struggled mightily on defense last season and were lit up by more than a few explosive Big 12 offenses. Heck, even Kansas racked up 569 yards and 48 points against the Horns.

A strategic change will take place in 2020 as Texas goes from a 3-4 to a 4-3 look. The Longhorns return nine starters on defense and look to have a very formidable front four featuring Joseph Ossai (DE/LB), Keondre Coburn (DT) and Ta’Quon Graham (DT). Defensive end Marqez Bimage opted out of the 2020 season and likely left a vacancy for sophomore Moro Ojomo to step into this fall.

At linebacker, Juwan Mitchell is back after deciding to stay in Austin. DeMarvion Overshown is also back practicing with the team after a hiatus during which he advocated for changes within the university.

The secondary is absolutely loaded with talent thanks to the return of safeties Caden Sterns, B.J. Foster and Chris Brown. Cornerbacks Jalen Green, D’Shawn Jamison, Josh Thompson and Kenyatta Watson II are all back after seeing a strong amount of playing time last year.

WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR: The dismal 2019 defense allowed a total of 5,609 yards and were routinely burned in the air. The Longhorns gave up 6.1 yards per play last season and 7.9 per pass. An added element of pressure up front will be needed to make life much more uncomfortable for opposing QBs, who were afforded far too much time to scan the field in 2019.

SAMMY HEISMAN?

All of the stars seem aligned for a truly special season from Austin’s own Sam Ehlinger.

The former Westlake Chaparral has always had the ability to pull the ball down and run with his own signature blend of quickness and power. As a passer, though, Ehlinger has put in the time and has been able to improve his completion rate every year as a starter.

In 2019, Ehlinger completed over 65% of his throws and accounted for 4,326 total yards and 39 TDs.

The senior’s leadership and drive can’t be measured by statistics, but they’re two big reasons why Ehlinger has already earned a spot on Longhorns history. In 2020, he has a chance to cement his legacy even further if he’s able to become only the third Texas player to hoist the Heisman trophy.

However, it’s too early to tell Ricky and Earl to make room in their exclusive fraternity just yet.

Sports Future Uncertain

It all started innocently enough on Thursday, March 11 with an announcement that the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments would continue with a limited number of spectators in attendance.

Sure, fans thought it would be a little odd to watch March Madness without the stands full of people cheering for their favorite underdog, but at least the sports world would go on. That was supposed to be the silver lining.

And then, one by one, the dominoes began to fall.

By that same night, it was discovered that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus, which prompted the NBA’s decision to suspend the rest of the 2019-20 regular season, as well as the playoffs. It came as a shocking move at first, but as the days went on, the list of leagues following suit began to grow exponentially.

On March 12, the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments were canceled altogether, followed by the remainder of all remaining college winter and spring sports, including spring practices for the University of Texas football team. It was also announced that Major League Baseball had pushed back opening day at least two weeks, from March 26 to April 9.

The cancellations and postponements continued to sweep through the Lone Star State on March 13 as both the University Interscholastic League (UIL) and Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) suspended their current high school sports seasons for a minimum of two weeks. In the case of TAPPS, the return of athletic activity was pushed past Easter Sunday (April 12).

The UIL state boys basketball tournament was put on hold literally while it was being played, as the announcement regarding the suspension of games came at halftime of the Class 3A semifinal between Dallas Madison and Coldspring-Oakhurst at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The UIL has since announced that it plans to complete the state tournament “at some point in the future.”

Even the XFL shuttered its doors by cutting the 2020 season short, much to the dismay of football enthusiasts craving their fix until August rolled around.

By March 14, it was apparent that the spreading COVID-19 pandemic wouldn’t be just a passing trend. With the exception of the UFC, every major athletic organization in the country had altered its plans due to the virus.

Perhaps the only fans relieved by the postponements were in Houston, as the coronavirus stole all the headlines away from the Astros’ recent sign stealing scandal and subsequent fallout.

The only question remaining is simple — now what?

As of right now, there doesn’t seem to be an answer other than wait and hope. Some have used their spare time to gather around the house with family and watch movies or play video games. Some rediscovered their rec rooms and have already played countless games of billiards or air hockey.

Others tried to see how much toilet paper they could cram into their carts during a single trip to the grocery store.

On a serious note, it’s no secret that sports are an integral part of the nation and can provide a much-needed distraction when times get tough. Here’s hoping they return as soon as possible, and that the precautionary measures taken by all of the leagues worldwide will pay off and help limit the impact of COVID-19.

In the meantime, we’ll be patiently waiting until the next tipoff, pitch or starter’s pistol. Until then, stay safe everyone.

WESTLAKE STATE CHAMPS

Westlake secured the second state championship in program history at AT&T Stadium in Arlington by relying on one of the oldest coaching clichés in football.

You can’t lose if the other team doesn’t score.

The Chaparrals won the UIL Class 6A Division II crown by blanking Denton Guyer 24-0 at the home of the Dallas Cowboys. An interception by defensive back Henry Smogur secured the shutout late in the fourth quarter.

It was the first state championship since Drew Brees led the Chaps to glory in 1996. This time around, the quarterback was Kirkland Michaux, who capped the season with 2,894 yards passing and 44 touchdowns in addition to 404 yards and another seven scores on the ground.

In the title game against Guyer, Michaux tossed all three of the game’s TDs. The senior signal caller found Jake Misch on a 5-yard score in the first quarter and added a 33-yard strike to Mason Mangum in the second period.

“Our defense really kept us going,” Michaux said after the game. “The momentum they gave us was insane. I was able to give us some big plays.”

Michaux helped extend Westlake’s lead to 21-0 in the third quarter after hitting Jackson Coker for a 39-yard TD toss. Just for good measure, Chaps placekicker David Leadbetter tacked on an 18-yard chip shot late in the stanza to give Westlake a commanding lead.

The Chaps finished the 2019 campaign with a 15-1 overall record, with the lone loss coming against Lake Travis back on Oct. 11. That 26-25 setback cost Westlake a chance at the District 25-6A title, but head coach Todd Dodge’s team bounced back and steamrolled each of its next 10 opponents.

How dominant were the Chaps down the stretch? They won their final four district games by an average margin of victory of 50.3 points per game.

In the playoffs, Westlake continued its roll by winning its six contests by an average margin of 30.7 per outing. That includes a 63-3 bludgeoning of Katy Taylor in the state semifinals.

The state championship was the fifth overall for Dodge, who previously claimed four titles as the head coach at Southlake Carroll. However, the latest triumph was especially meaningful.

“This has been a bucket list wish for (wife) Elizabeth and I to come back to Westlake and be able to win a state championship here,” Dodge said. “After a six-year wait, this means everything to me and my family.”

The Chaps’ fearsome defense was paced by senior defensive back Leo Lowin, who led the team in tackles with 98. Lowin, a 6-foot-1 cornerback, also routinely shut down opposing wideouts, as did senior safety Sage Luther, who added 89 total stops this season.

The duo also tallied seven interceptions between the two of them. 

Up front, senior defensive linemen Austin McClendon and Bobby Duncum kept quarterbacks on their toes all year. McClendon posted a team-high nine sacks, and Duncum added another six. As a team, the Chaps registered 38 total sacks and also notched an impressive 33 total takeaways — 17 interceptions and 16 fumble recoveries.

By comparison, Westlake’s offense only turned the ball over 14 times during the entire season.

Michaux’s top targets in 2019 were senior wide receivers Ryan Lindley and Mangum, who capped the season with a combined 2,325 yards and 34 scores. Lindley hauled in 101 passes, which was a team-best total by a whopping 37 receptions.

On the ground, junior running back Zane Minors supplied 871 yards and 14 scores on 100 carries.