NEW BRAUNFELS — Vandegrift knew the running game was going be the difference against Cibolo Steele.
The Knights outgunned the Vipers by 100 yards on the ground in a 36-18 win Friday afternoon at New Braunfels Canyon High School. It’s the second year in a row Vandegrift fell to Steele in the area round.
“We just couldn’t make the last tackle because they’re so quick and so fast,” Vipers head coach Drew Sanders said. “We actually clogged the gaps up pretty good. Offensively, we missed several opportunities. It was partly playing Steele and partly our mistakes.”
Vandegrift capitalized on a pair of turnovers and a muffed Steele punt in the first half, scoring a touchdown getting a long field goal. The Knights scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes of the first half and the Vipers could never recover.
Senior quarterback Justin Moore threw for 87 yards and a touchdown, a 5-yard pass to Bryson Brown early in the second quarter. Senior receiver Justin Florence led the Vipers’ receiving corps with six catches for 55 yards.
Isaiah Smallwood rushed for 155 yards and one touchdown.
Rice-bound Steele running back Brenden Brady ran for 188 yards on 33 carries and scored four touchdowns.
“They had three DI guys in the (secondary) and we wanted to establish the run to open up the play action stuff underneath,” Sanders said. “We took shots every once in awhile but weren’t as successful as we wanted to be. I don’t think we’re that far away from them.”
Moore threw his only interception on the first drive of the second half and the Knights returned it for a touchdown. Smallwood scored on the next drive to help cut the lead to 11 points.
Reece Watson came down with a Vandegrift interception early in the fourth quarter, but the Vipers went three-and-out thanks in part to a 15-yard personal foul. Brady scored again with just over three minutes left to put the game out of reach.
“It sure is disappointing when you talk to everybody at halftime and then go out and make a mistake like that,” Sanders said. “At the same time, we still came back and fought. We’ve had a hard time all year overcoming penalties (like that).”
This postseason mirrored last year for the Vipers. They started the playoffs with a come from behind win against San Antonio Johnson in the first round before losing to the Knights, who advanced to the state title game last season, in round two.
Vandegrift isn’t getting any smaller and figures to be a fixture in Class 6A for seasons to come.
“We’re eventually going to break through and have 6A success,” Sanders said. “Right now, we’re kind of stuck in the second round. I love the fight and the fire in the team. I’m so proud of the guys and I’m so proud to be the head coach at Vandegrift.”