BY ANDREW MCCULLOCH
SAN ANTONIO — Seconds after the opening kickoff of the team’s third round playoff matchup, Austin Westlake senior quarterback Kirkland Michaux crouched behind his center. Michaux took the snap and handed it off to running back Zane Minors, who danced his way up the middle for a 70-yard touchdown run. Seconds later, the Chaparrals recovered a Weslaco East fumble deep in Wildcats’ territory and two plays later Michaux fired a tight spiral into the hands of senior wideout Mason Magnum for a 22-yard touchdown.
The score marked the second within the first two minutes of the game for Westlake, which used a lights-out defensive performance and Michaux’s big night through the air to earn a 45-14 victory over Weslaco East in the 6A-DII regional semifinals Friday night at Alamo Stadium.
“That first run opened up the pass a little bit. After that, we were able to get the ball spread out to some of our playmakers, and I think that was really it,” Michaux said. “Our O-line did a great job. I don’t think we gave up a sack all night. That’s a big goal for us heading into games and they did that perfectly.”
The Chaparrals scored on each of their first six drives of the game, moving the ball upfield efficiently and capitalizing on advantageous field position time after time. Westlake was also able to find the end zone in less than 2 minutes on three of their six first-half scoring drives.
“It definitely took pressure off, but it doesn’t make us slow down or anything,” Michaux said. “We’re still going to keep going. It just gives us momentum heading into our next drive.”
The Wildcats nabbed an interception on Westlake’s final drive of the second quarter, but entered the intermission trailing 38-0 and struggling to gain any offensive traction.
The Chaps’ fearsome defensive front contained and dramatically slowed down Weslaco East’s running game. The Wildcats’ rushers were held to an average of 1.7 yards per carry in the opening half and went back to the locker room with only 46 yards of total offense compared to Westlake’s 291. “Westlake is a pretty good team. I can see why they’re picked to be state champs. I wish we would have come out and played a little bit better East football in the first half,” Weslaco East head coach Mike Burget said. “We couldn’t hang onto the ball, I don’t know what it is, and we couldn’t tackle. I’m not putting down Westlake; they’re a great team and I think they’re going to win a state title. We’ve tackled better backs and for some reason it was like we were lunging at feet today.”
A botched punt and series of fumbles cost the Wildcats drives and valuable possession time throughout the first half. The team had difficulty establishing any sort of rhythm and entered the intermission with only three first downs.
It forced the Weslaco East defense into defending short fields frequently and given the less-than-ideal circumstances, Burget believes the unit held up well against a very high-powered Westlake offense.
“I think they did, and I think they did all year. Unfortunately, those kids that couldn’t handle the ball were our playmakers this year, so I really can’t say too much,” he said. “We just picked a bad time to drop the ball and just couldn’t get into a rhythm in the first half. We put our defense in positions with their back against the wall.”
Michaux continued his amazing aerial display in the second half, connecting again with Mangum on a 17-yard touchdown pass, the duo’s second of the day, to move ahead 45-0.
Mangum and fellow senior receiver Ryan Lindley each hauled in six receptions and two touchdown catches to go along with 75 and 57 receiving yards, respectively. Minors and back Grey Nakfoor combined for 123 rushing yards and a score on eight carries.
But Michaux truly stole the show for the Chaps. The senior tossed five touchdown passes and an interception while throwing for 215 yards on 18-of-25 passing through three quarters of play in one of his brightest performances of the entire season.
“I felt like I was on point. It definitely starts with practice and this week we really got things going,” he said. “Going into this game, I was really confident with everything and I think that’s going to be a big deal heading into next week too is just carrying my confidence from this game into the next one.”
Weslaco East played a much better second half of football, in which the team outscored Westlake 14-7. Senior quarterback Ramsey Vasquez scored a pair of rushing touchdowns inside the Chaps’ 5-yard line as part of a revamped rushing attack.
Vasquez tallied 75 yards on the ground off 26 carries, while running back Gio Guerra chipped in another 83 rushing yards on 16 touches.
“I’m pretty happy that our kids came out in the second half and fought,” Burget said. “That’s what East is all about. I didn’t see any quit or any walking around; until the end of the game, we played East football.”
But Westlake was effectively able to eliminate Weslaco East’s passing game, which helped the Chaps’ offensive confidence grow as the team carried a shutout into the fourth quarter.
“It was awesome. That’s a big goal for us: 14 points or less every week,” Michaux said. “We got that goal and the coaches are going to be happy about that, but the bar shouldn’t lower when the second string and other guys go in. We’re definitely stoked on the win, but we’ll get some things cleaned up for the next one.”
It’s an area that Burget and the Wildcats realize they’ll have to shore up in the near future.
“We definitely are going to have to develop our passing game a little bit. We relied on a heavy run this year and our offensive line,” he said. “We’re going to work hard this offseason on completing passes. The biggest thing is separation; we’ve got to get separation.”
With the victory, Austin Westlake advances to the 6A-DII regional finals where the team will face San Antonio Brandeis this week.