By BRAD KEITH
(September 24, 2017) — Grab a group of longtime TAIAO football followers and they’ll tell you there is San Antonio FEAST and there is Fort Worth THESA.
Somewhere down the line there is Stephenville FAITH.
That may sound a bit disrespectful of the Knights after winning six consecutive state championships in the Texas Christian Athletic League and the Texas Association of Independent Athletic Organizations, but those titles were in Division II, and FAITH tried to step up to the level of FEAST last year, remember?
FEAST made the near 4-hour trek to Three Way ISD and waltzed past the Knights 58-22, reminding them those teams just warming up each year while FAITH is celebrating its latest Division II title – usually FEAST and THESA – are really the class of the TAIAO.
Until this past Saturday evening, that is.
FAITH made a statement so loud Saturday that by the end of the fourth quarter the referee, much like in a UFC fight or professional boxing match waved his arms and said no more.
The Knights went in as the challengers and knocked out the usually festive FEAST 66-20, hammering a team known for doing the same to its opponents week after week out.
“I even had an official look over at me and say, ‘You guys just do everything so fast,'” said FAITH head coach Nick Braun. “And while we are fast, like team speed fast, it’s not just that, it’s how fast we execute things, and that’s because we incorporate it into everything we do. We set up for practice fast, we go through drill fast, we train the boys so they learn to execute their roles faster than the other team can think and react to them.
“What we have right now is the result of years of doing things this way. We have a grope of players on the field who all understand their individual assignments and how that fits within the team, and they do what their taught the way it’s supposed to be done without even thinking about it really. It’s just a habit, a reaction, and it does happen fast.”
Travis Loper is fast. For FEAST, he was too fast. So fast Braun did not even disguise what was a coming as Loper amassed 290 rushing yards and 4 TDs on the ground to go with 182 yards and 5 TDs through the air, giving him a hand in all 472 yards of total offense by the Knights.
And it all came in 2-1/2 quarters.
FAITH jumped ahead 30-4 after the opening minutes of the second quarter, allowing just a field goal – 4 points in six-man – in the time it took the Knights to score four touchdowns.
FEAST had nowhere to go against a FAITH defense that has yielded just 26 total points in three wins to begin the season. FEAST rushed 22 times for a total of just 23 yards. There was a bit of success through the air – 13-21 for 117 yards – but the Knights also picked off two passes. Then there were the six turnovers forced by FAITH, which collected four fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
“That’s what I’m most proud of is the way our defense played,” said Braun. “So many teams in six-man are worried about scoring 100 points, but we’re focused on how we can keep teams under 20, and I think so far this year, you can look out there and you can see right away that we spend a lot of time on defense. We read our keys, we know our assignments and we fly to the football. We have a habit of getting a bunch of guys getting off the pile each play because we have six guys working thorough the whistle to get to the ball every play.”
Nate Braun, son of the head coach, was the defensive bell cow on Saturday with 15 total tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, a sack, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Travis Loper had 11 tackles and 6 TFL while Ashton Breeding made 9 tackles, intercepted a pass and forced fumble.
Collier Jenkins had 5 tackles, 4 TFL, a sack, a fumble recovery and was strong on special teams, making 6-of-8 PAT kicks. Hayden Bridges had an interception and forced a fumble, as well.
On the other side, when Loper was running sweeps from the spread back spot where the formation gave the play away to a FEAST defense that still could not combine getting off FAITH blocks and wrestling down the ever jittery-quick and breakaway fast Knights star. And when he wasn’t outrunning FEAST, he was passing the ball to the likes of Nate Braun 3 times for 61 yards and two scores, Jenkins twice for 45 yards and another pair of end zone trips and even Breeding, who hauled in a 60-yard TD. Cole had two catches for 27 yards.
The Knights have not seen a fourth quarter this year, also invoking the 45-point mercy rule against UIL member Walnut Springs in the season-opening Hico Super Six-Man Saturday event and Johnson County Sports Association eight days prior to their San Antonio trip.
The only worry Braun has is the kind every coach in Texas, be it UIL, TAPPS, TAIAO, or even NCAA, would like to have, and that’s separating from this one in time to be prepared for another statement-making opportunity back home at Three Way ISD this week when Austin Veritas, a TAPPS powerhouse, visits the Knights. Veritas beat FAITH in Austin last season 70-24, so FAITH will have an opportunity to avenge both its losses from 2016 in a six-day span when the ball is teed up at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Three Way.
“We have to put this behind us now and that’s what we will focus on Monday in practice. Hopefully the guys will remember we didn’t just lose once last year, we lost twice, and that Veritas beat us worse even than FEAST did,” Braun said.
It is a different Veritas team than… The Defenders are 2-2, sling to UIL members Garden City and Borden County before 45-point ruling Giddings State School and Katy Faith West Academy. Keep in mind, those UIL losses are each to longtime, well established public school state powers.
“No one was awarded a state championship last Saturday,” said Braun. “Lets go out this week, get a little bit better like we have every week this season and like we have every season we’ve played. That’s what we do, and we cant’ stop now. Let’s go make another statement, that’s the message the team needs now.”
Note: In TAIAO, 16 teams are selected for the playoffs with no true automatic qualifying process. The number of athletes participating in the program – including junior varsity high school teams – is then used to determine the eight largest playoff invitees for Division I and the eight smallest for Division II. Athletic director Rod Cole and head coach Nick Braun both feel the Knights will be in Division I this year before resuming Division II in the 2017 post season.