The football teams at Gonzales and La Grange high schools certainly didn’t expect to be entering Week 3 of 4A-2 District 13 with identical 0-2 records in a make-or-break game for their respective playoff hopes.
But that is indeed the reality as the Apaches travel to face the Leopards at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23.
“I guarantee you he (Leopards coach Matt Kates) is just as dumbfounded and frustrated as we are,” said Apache head coach Mike Waldie. “They’ve had a rash of injuries similar to us. It goes unsaid this week that you don’t want to be the team left to just finish out the season. There is no sugar-coating it.”
The winner goes to 1-2 and stays in the mix for one of four playoff spots in the six-team district. The loser goes to 0-3, left with the daunting task of winning its last two games and hoping for help.
La Grange lost to Cuero (38-27) and Navasota (42-21), and closes out against Giddings and Smithville. Gonzales has lost to Giddings (47-31) and Smithville (43-15), and hosts Navasota before traveling to Cuero.
Preparing for the Leopards is the unknown around quarterback Caden Cooper, who has been battling a leg injury for a few weeks and was on crutches last week. If he plays, the team becomes a veer-option team utilizing the dynamic Matthew Johnson in the backfield, slot and receiver positions. If Cooper is still out, Johnson will get the snaps at quarterback in a tailback-dominate scheme.
The Apaches suffered yet another injury blow as Jared Cook suffered a rib injury. Cook, not only plays on both offense and defense, but is also the team’s rugby-style punter.
He not expected back for the La Grange game.
The defense will again be without Jeremiah Hastings and Aaron Guerrero, and Russell Thomas, who are still recovering from injuries, as is offensive lineman Ryan Gomez. The defense is already without safety Josh Esparza and inside linebacker Zachary Box due to season-ending injuries.
Against La Grange, the defense will start two freshmen, five sophomores, two juniors, and two seniors.
“No disrespect to the other teams we’ve played, but they (Smithville) are the second best team we’ve played behind ElCampo,” Waldie said. “Their speed, size, and overall athleticism is impressive. We did a lot right the other night, they just did it better. I felt we could’ve tackled better early to not allow it to be a three-score game as quickly as it was. But that is a really, really good football team.”
Against Smithville, the Apaches were down 14-0 after the first quarter and 28-0 at the half. In a unwelcomed recurrence from the non-district struggle, the Apaches were unable to run out the clock with than three minutes left in the first half, and saw their opponent tack on a score before heading to the locker room.
The Apaches had seven possessions in the first half: five ended in punts, one in a turnover off a fumble, and the last on a sack on the last play of the half.
Quarterback Jarren Johnson completed just 2-of-11 passes in the first half and was sacked twice. He finished 9-of-26 (7 of 15 in the second half) for 77 yards and an interception. Waldie was quick to point out that Johnson shouldn’t bear all of the responsibility for the poor numbers.
“We didn’t win a lot of one-on-ones – and that’s upfront, running backs, and receivers,” Waldie said. “You have to have time to throw it so they can get open. And there were times when we had enough time to throw it and they didn’t get open. There were times the O-line blocked it right and the running backs didn’t block it right.”
Things didn’t get much better in the second half, although the Apaches outscored the Tigers 15-14 – and shut them out in the fourth quarter.
Overall, the Apaches had just 133 yards of total offense (56 rushing and 77 passing). It marked the third time the Apaches were held to less than 200 yards total offense this season, joining the team’s 124 yards against Fredericksburg and 146 against El Campo.
Dillen Ramos, coming off a 175-yard effort against Giddings, had just 40 yards on 15 carries. Brett Breitschopf led receivers with 30 yards on three catches.
The Apaches finally scored with 31 seconds left in the first quarter on a 4-yard run by Derrick Garza. The drive covered 61 yards and was aided by Tigers’ penalty negated an interception. Tyler Pierpont had an 11-yard run on the drive.
Gonzales’ second score came with 20 seconds left in the game on Johnson’s 5-yard pass to Braden Barfield.