Many pundits thought the District 13-6A title would be decided between Pflugerville Hendrickson and Round Rock Cedar Ridge on Oct. 12. But that game might not matter at all after Vandegrift followed last week’s win against Cedar Ridge with a 29-20 upset of highly-touted Hendrickson Friday at The Pfield in Austin.
“All I know is we’re 2-0,” said Vandegrift coach Drew Sanders. “We’re just going to take them one at a time but that’s a really good team we beat… so that’s a great feeling.”
The Vipers had fourth down at the Hawks’ nine-yard line with a six-point lead and barely more than two minutes remaining when a lightning delay sent the teams to the locker room for more than an hour.
Sanders kept his team fresh by feeding them Uncrustables and bananas and senior kicker Tim Barney kept his mind off the potential game-icing field goal by listening to rap music, specifically XXX.
Barney got to practice the kick from the exact spot during the 10-minute warm-up period in between the end of the delay and the resumption of play, and then calmly sent the 26-yard attempt through the uprights to send the few Vandegrift fans that stayed through the delay into a frenzy.
“Obviously (the kick) was on my mind (during the delay) but I was just sitting there, listening to music trying to get my mind right,” Barney said. “It felt amazing just to seal that win. It was a great win. We’re 4-0 now so we’re just going to keep it rolling.”
Hendrickson’s defense suffocated its first two opponents – Texarkana Texas High and Round Rock Westwood – in dominating victories. But Vandegrift found a way to handle the Hawks’ nasty unit.
The connection between junior quarterback Dru Dawson and senior wide receiver Ryan Merrifield was working all night. Dawson completed 17-of-24 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers. Nine of those completions – including the touchdown – went to Merrifield for 144 yards.
“Coaches put in a great game plan and we had a great week of practice and we knew what we were doing and executed really good,” Dawson said. “Everyone just brought their A-game today. Even though we were playing Hendrickson, we stayed locked in the whole game and I’m just super proud of our team.”
While playmakers tend to get the headlines, nothing would have worked without the exemplary play of the offensive line who kept Dawson upright against a terrifying pass rush and did enough in the run game to help senior running back Isaiah Whitehead gain 65 yards on 24 carries, including a 28-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
“Their defensive line is tremendous,” Sanders said. “When you look at the size of those guys and how hard they play. They’re well coached. So (I’m) just really impressed with our ability to just move the ball some against them, and overall I thought we did well and we had very sustained drives, too.”
The Hawks aren’t the types to make excuses, but it was clear they didn’t bring their A-game. They had a number of back-breaking penalties including a roughing the holder that gave Barney a second chance to ice the game after missing a 38-yard attempt. They also turned the ball over five times while Vandegrift didn’t give it up once.
One of those turnovers was an unprovoked fumble near the end of the half that was picked up by Vandegrift junior defensive back Ryan Arnold and returned 27 yards for a touchdown that made it 23-6. Hendrickson also fumbled a snap on fourth-and-one from its own 19 in the fourth quarter. That play didn’t count as a turnover because it was recovered by the Hawks, but nonetheless gave the Vipers the short field they needed to hit the game-clinching field goal.
“We call them takeaways because we forced their hand on that. We did some run stunts that they hadn’t seen before so I’m proud of our guys for executing what we worked on all week,” Sanders said. “The biggest difference in the game tonight was our defense. We consistently did what we needed to do.”
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