There’s an old coaching saying that winning breeds winning.
Vandegrift is taking that to heart.
The Vipers closed out the first undefeated season in school history last week and locked up the District 13-6A title. They begin the postseason Friday night at 7 p.m. at Monroe Stadium against Tomball Memorial.
“You start making plays and good things happen and you expect those things to happen,” head coach Drew Sanders said. “Even when the game’s not going exactly the way you think, you feel like you’ll get it going. Eventually, you start expecting good things to happen, and I think that’s where we’re headed.”
Since moving up to Class 6A two seasons ago, the Vipers have won their first-round game but failed to get past the area round.
Vandegrift showed it could win in just about every way during district play this season. It opened up the schedule with an overtime win against defending district champion Cedar Ridge, ground out a win against Hendrickson and rallied in the fourth quarter to beat Round Rock.
The Vipers had the best defense in the district, allowing less than 14 points per game.
That defense will be put to the test against the run-heavy offense of the Wildcats, who have combined to rush for more than 3,000 yards and nearly 40 touchdowns this season.
They’re led by Tulsa-bound running back Chris Lovick, who has nearly 1,500 yards rushing and almost 20 rushing touchdowns this season. Junior receiver Logan Kyle, a heavily-recruited receiver, averages nearly 25 yards a catch and has 12 touchdowns when Memorial does throw the ball.
“Tomball Memorial loves to run the ball,” Sanders said. “They have a junior quarterback that is a run threat also. They have a very aggressive defense that will presser from all angles and big defensive linemen that will test our ability to run the ball. It’s probably a second or third round matchup in the first round.”
The Wildcats finished their first season in Class 6A at 8-2 overall and 6-2 in District 14-6A in a three-way tie for second place.
“Our linebacking corps is extremely solid and they will take that as a challenge to play the run,” Sanders said.
The preparation for Vandegrift hasn’t changed much. Without sub-varsity games on Thursdays or middles school games early in the week, the coaches are putting in a little more time watching the film to get ready for a more unfamiliar opponent.
Before the season started, one of the biggest questions for the Vipers was the offensive line with just one returning starter in center Matt Sanders. Sanders said the rest of the group, including Jackson Oliver, Aidan Bernstein and Zane Dortch have stepped up and helped Vandegrift in both the running and passing game.
Senior running back Isaiah Smallwood had more than 1,000 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns and junior quarterback Dru Dawson has thrown for 16 touchdowns with just a trio of interceptions this year.
“They’ve come together and they care about each other and they work really hard to make sure the quarterback doesn’t get touched,” Sanders said. “They’re getting much better at run blocking and they’ve become good leaders in practice. I’ve seen a lot of growth in that position group.”
One further advantage for Vandegrift is it gets to start the postseason at home for the third straight year. Since the start of 2013, the Vipers are 26-7 at Monroe Stadium, and they beat San Antonio Johnson in the bi-district round there the last two seasons.
“It’s awesome when you have a good group of seniors like we do and they know this is their last chance to play at Monroe,” Sanders said. “That’s kind of special for them. We get a chance to go out right.”