There’s been a lot made about Cedar Park’s ‘Black Rain’ defense, and rightfully so. The Timberwolves have fielded one of Central Texas’s best defensive units for some time now. But on Friday at John Gupton Stadium in Austin, the Vandegrift resistance stole the show.
Missing its most experienced defender, the Vipers pitched a first-half shutout, gathered two interceptions – one of which was returned for a touchdown – and held the Timberwolves to 251 yards on 56 plays (4.5 yards per play) in a convincing 29-13 season-opening win.
“Hey, it was our defense that showed up to play. That was from the very get-go,” said Vandegrift coach Drew Sanders. “They talk a lot about Black Rain, but I’m really impressed with the Vandegrift defense tonight.”
Vandegrift used a defensive strategy it had never ran against Cedar Park, which helped mask that is what playing without senior linebacker Spencer Jones, who made 136 tackles (11 for a loss) and five sacks last year.
The tweak was going with three-man fronts instead of even looks, and the Timberwolves looked utterly confused as they tried to dissect it. Senior quarterback Ryan Fiala, who came into the game with much hype, completed just 4-of-11 passes for 55 yards with two interceptions before being pulled late in the second quarter. Each of his last seven throws either fell to the turf or ended up in the hands of the defense.
“I think we’ve got a great defensive line,” Sanders said. “We probably have six guys that can all play at a very high level. We rotated them all tonight. That was the difference. We didn’t get tired as the game went on. I’m just so dang proud of our defense because we always kind of take a back seat. It was really nice to see our defense show up tonight.”
The game was deadlocked at zero for most the first half before two quick touchdowns gave Vandegrift a 14-0 lead going into the break. Junior quarterback Dru Dawson completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Trey Mongauzy on a slant with 4:27 to go. About a minute later, senior cornerback Reese Watson intercepted a pass and returned it 22 yards for another score.
“We schemed it very well. I knew I had to make a play on the ball to help my team just win,” Watson said. “It was absolutely amazing. We definitely set up our offense. Gave them confidence. Gave our whole team more confidence… We still have corrections to do and we still have work to do, but this means that this team can go really, really far.”
Dawson and Mongauzy hooked up again in the third quarter when Mongauzy got wide open for a 31-yard score to make it 22-0. Cedar Park got back within two possessions on the opening play of the fourth quarter when sophomore quarterback Ryder Hernandez (8-of-18, 98 yards, two touchdowns, 32 yards rushing) rolled to the right and threw a 12-yard scoring strike on the run to an open Carson Neel (five catches, 61 yards, two touchdowns).
But Dawson iced the game with a 19-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to senior running back Brandon Bennett with 3:02 to go. Dawson finished 8-of-13 for 111 yards with no interceptions and added 35 yards on the ground.
“(Dawson was) unbelievable, and he came back actually from kind of a so-so performance against Belton (in the scrimmage) and that shows his character or strength,” Sanders said. “He came back and that fourth down play to seal it (was a) beautiful pass. He was wide open. That’s hard to do as a junior (in your) first time starting in this game.”
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