FORT BEND COUNTY (Covering Fort Bend News) – And then there were two…last week Ridge Point ended Bush’s run as one of the district’s unbeaten, and Travis bested Austin to remain undefeated in district play, leaving only Ridge Point and Travis perfect atop district 20-6A.
Last year Ridge Point pulled away late to defeat a very game Tigers squad in a 28-14 contest where the much-maligned Travis defense stepped up to slow the powerful Ridge Point run game for much of the game before finally succumbing down the stretch.
Travis has qualified for the state playoffs for the last four seasons in a row, but have yet to defeat the Panthers who moved up to the 6A level to join the Tigers in district during the 2016 season. Since that time the Panthers have yet to drop a district game, going a perfect 17-0 since joining their Fort Bend ISD 6A brethren.
What Travis Needs to Do to Win
No Arjei Henderson? No problem, with the Under Armour All-American sidelined, Junior WR Parker Washington took the next man up mentality and rose to the challenge of being the Tigers’ number one wide receiver. In their come from behind victory against Dulles, where Travis trailed 32-14 at the half, Washington had a night for the ages when he totaled 12 catches for an astronomical 300 yards and four touchdowns.
Look for Washington to continue to play like he has something to prove after missing all of last year with an injury and being perpetually overshadowed by his high-profile teammate. Thus far Washington is by far the leading receiver in district play, and that is in large part thanks to his junior QB Eric Rodriguez who leads 20-6A in most major statistical categories. Much like Washington, Rodriguez has proved Travis is able to “reload” quickly as he has performed admirably following in the footsteps of historic passer Amryn Jeffrey who graduated last year.
Perhaps the best offensive lineman in 20-6A is senior center Justin Gwalchmai. Known for his aggressiveness, leadership, and athletic play, Gwalchmai, and his O-line teammates will be critical in this game as they face one of the toughest defensive lines in the area with Ridge Point. While Travis is known for its high powered passing attack, the key will be if Travis can establish some semblance of a run game against the Panthers.
In order to beat a team like Ridge Point you must have balance offensively and not allow the Panthers to play coverage to slow the passing attack. Junior RB Kaelen Shankle blends excellent size and speed and has shown flashes of brilliance this year. If he is able to get going on the ground the Travis offense becomes exponentially more difficult to stop.
Much like has been the case in years past, the Travis defense is an unheralded bunch, but they also face a young Ridge Point offense that is missing some of the big names of years past such as Aaron Allen or Mustapha Muhammad. But the young Panthers are improving each and every week, so the Travis defense has a tough task ahead.
The Tigers are led by senior ILB Zach Zimos who has bulked up each year to make the move from safety, to outside linebacker, and now finally into the heart of the defense. Last year against Ridge Point the Tigers surprised many by standing up to the Ridge Point rushing attack for much of the game. They will have to do the exact same thing this year, and force some opportunistic takeaways to get over the hump this time around.
What Ridge Point Needs to Do to Win
Ridge Point may have raised some eyebrows this year in non-district play as they won a close opener against a Kingwood team they had handled easily in the past or the following week when they dropped a lopsided contest to state-power North Shore. Veteran Head Coach Brett Sniffin, who has led the program since its opening in 2010, was not worried, however. He knows how well-coached Kingwood is, and he knows just how real of a deal the North Shore Mustangs are. He also knows that he has a young team that needs time to gel, but he feels the talent is there. Will they gel fast enough to maintain the stranglehold they have had over the rest of the district with a key win against the Tigers?
In order to do so it all starts on defense, and it all starts up front with the dominant defensive line. Coach Sniffin typically loads his talent on the defensive side of the ball and this year is no different as his D-line of senior DE Nelson Caesar, junior DE Bryson Stewart, and senior NG Taylor Nimmo may be the most talented collection of defensive linemen in Ridge Point’s illustrious history.
Junior ILB Adrian Johnson calls the signals from his inside linebacker spot. He along with his defensive line will be critical on stopping Shankle on the ground so that Ridge Point can commit extra defenders into coverage to try and stymie the Tigers passing attack.
While he may have been overshadowed by Rodriguez and the high-flying Tigers, junior QB Will Pendergrass has put together a solid district campaign. He is joined in the backfield by a stable of capable running backs led by Senior Mason McBride. The Panthers enjoy a bit of a running back by committee approach with Junior RB John Norman also figuring in heavily in the offense.
The Panthers have long been known for relying on the running game, and so the progression of the young offensive line which started three sophomores and a junior last week against Austin will be critical in this huge matchup with Travis.
While I look for the Panthers to lean on the run game in this matchup with Travis, at some point they will need to hit a big passing play over the top. Travis has been known to load up the box at times with defenders and dare opposing teams to beat them through the air. Look for sophomore WR John Paul Richardson, son of Aggie great Bucky Richardson, to be the one to try and make the Tigers pay over the top.
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Travis (5-1, 3-0) vs. Ridge Point (5-1, 3-0)
Date: Friday, October 19
Game Time: 7:00 pm
Venue: Kenneth Hall Stadium