Cedar Park and Vandegrift don’t schedule cupcakes.
The two schools have walked parallel paths for their entire time they’ve been in existence, with similar district and state title ambitions. As the new season kicks off and the rivalry recommences, the Vipers and Timberwolves are treating this like just another game.
“My preparation is the same each week, even if the initial game is a little different because you only have one scrimmage to go off of,” Vandegrift head coach Drew Sanders said. “We’re not easing into the seasons and that’s a fun way to do it. The energy is great this week and the kids are excited.”
Cedar Park and Vandegrift face off the ninth year in a row when the two clash Friday at 7 p.m. at Gupton Stadium.
“I’m excited about it and our kids are excited about it,” Cedar Park head coach Carl Abseck said. “They have a great program out there, so it’s going to be a great challenge for us. It’s nice to finally get into the season and get into a routine and see the fruits of our labor.”
The postseason accolades speak for themselves. Vandegrift has made the playoffs five years in a row, while Cedar Park has at least 10 wins in straight seasons to go along with a pair of state titles.
The Timberwolves lead the head-to-head battle against the Vipers with wins in seven of the last eight games, including a 38-7 win a season ago as they held the Vipers to their smallest offensive output of the season.
Once again, Cedar Park’s defense figures to be a force to reckoned with as three varsity players return on the defensive line and three more come back in the secondary.
“Our defense really held together during our scrimmage against Westlake and that’s a big accomplishment,” defensive end Jacob Munoz said. “That’s a well-coached team and our defense held them to zero points. We came together and communicated.”
Both teams bring back plenty of experience on the offensive side of the ball with Cedar Park quarterback Ryan Fiala leading a stable of experienced receivers, including Brandon Breed and Carson Neel
For Vandegrift, Isaiah Smallwood returns as the lead back after finishing last year with 1,207 yards and 19 touchdowns with eight games of more than 100 yards last season, earning First-Team All-District honors.
Defensively, Army commit Spencer Jones leads the linebackers and most of the defensive line returns from a unit that gave up just 18.8 points per game during district play last season.
“We’re always excited for the Cedar Park game,” Vandegrift defensive lineman Varun Kalyanapuram said. “We’ve been playing them since middle school, but we try to treat them as just another opponent. The defense has looked good the last two scrimmages. I feel like we’re on track.”
Abseck said the biggest thing he wants to see in the season opener is continued growth getting ready for district play.
For Sanders, it’s about limiting mental errors, something he said the Vipers did too much in their scrimmage against Belton.
“Generally that first game comes down to the team that doesn’t turn the ball over and the team that is error free on special teams if the two teams are even,” Sanders said. “It’s one of two games and a short time that we have to get ready for district play.”
The Vipers face off with Killeen Ellison before jumping right into district play in Week 3, while the Timberwolves have a longer non-district schedule that includes games against state semifinalist Cedar Ridge and Katy Cinco Ranch.
But Friday night, when the players can take off the practice jerseys and suit up for real, has everyone’s focus for now.
“This is what you’re working for,” Munoz said. “You never get a break from football it seems. This is what we’ve done for so long it seems and we finally get to hit other people and we can finally hit a quarterback. It’s worth the wait.”