Klein Oak knocks off The Woodlands 31-14 in first round
SHENANDOAH — As he stepped over The Woodlands senior quarterback Joseph Schneider, who lay on the turf after yet another sack by the Klein Oak defense, senior defensive lineman Nathan Hughes strutted toward his sideline, looked toward the visiting crowd and made the shape of an “O” with his hands.
It stands for Klein Oak’s slogan, “Oak ’em.” The Panthers did just that to the Highlanders on Friday night.
In front of a near-capacity crowd, the Panthers upset the fourth-ranked Class 5A team in the state, defeating The Woodlands 31-14 at Woodforest Bank Stadium.
The Panthers (8-3) advance to the Class 5A Division I Region II area round to face Round Rock Stony Point, a 35-10 winner over Austin Westlake, next week.
“It feels wonderful,” senior linebacker Lemon Ford said. “We’ve been the underdog for a good amount of games. We’re just showing the people that we can do it.”
It was a dominant night for Hughes and the rest of the Panthers’ defense, even though it began with The Woodlands moving the ball at will.
The Highlanders (10-1) built a 14-3 second-quarter lead behind the deft passing of Schneider (21-of-31 passing, 291 yards) and his crop of talented receivers led by Blake Webb, Max Ward and Jackson LaPlant. Schneider found Webb twice for scores of 63 and 13 yards for the 11-point lead at the 8:48 mark in the second.
Klein Oak was able to pull close before the half with an E.J. Fatu touchdown run, leaving it only a 14-10 deficit to negotiate at halftime.
Bringing the heat
In the third quarter, Oak turned up the heat, dialing up more pressure on Schneider. It led to a six-sack evening, four of which came in the second half. On one third-quarter series, the Panthers’ front seven tackled Schneider for a loss three straight times. The Highlanders had little success running the ball (28 carries, 33 yards), allowing the Panthers to focus on Schneider.
“They’re so dang good throwing and catching,” Klein Oak coach David Smith said. “So we sent five (pass rushers) and they were picking them all up so I said ‘Bring more.’ ”
Hughes, linebacker Joe Matthews, Ford and defensive lineman John Lewis led the charge.
Two errors by the Highlanders also proved costly. The Panthers blocked a Lance Miles punt on the Woodlands’ first second-half possession, setting up a 4-yard touchdown pass from Nicky Baratti to Fatu for a 17-14 lead. Then, when the Highlanders looked to respond, they fumbled the ball away on a shotgun snap at the Klein Oak 20.
“The blocked punt and the turnover down here when we were going to respond to their score, those were two things that were really tough to overcome,” The Woodlands coach Mark Schmid. “It’s real tough.”
Widening the gap
The Panthers took advantage, going all 80 yards in 10 plays as Fatu (19 carries, 101 yards) scored on a 2-yard run to extend the lead.
The Panthers also came up with two fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter, and Baratti added a touchdown run to put the game away.
The second fourth-down stop, which Hughes punctuated with the team’s signature hand gesture, ignited the players and the visiting crowd as time wound down.
“That’s what I’ve been dreaming about,” Hughes said. “My senior year, making a stop on fourth down and looking to my family in the stands and throwing up that ‘O’ letting them know that I do it for them. I couldn’t be happier.”
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