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On the Defensive: Chaparrals' stingy unit provides toughest test to date
Never before has the Plano West football office been buzzing like this in December.
Then again, this is the first time the Wolves have still been playing this late in the season.
"It's been crazy," said Mike Hughes, West head coach. "We've been getting all these calls and people stopping by."
Among the West alums in Waco for Saturday's 55-52 win over Lufkin were Texas junior Jackson Jeffcoat and freshman Bryce Cottrell.
"We had a lot of other former players that came out to the game too," Hughes said. "And that's one of the most rewarding parts of this job; when you have former players come by, email or text saying they were proud to be part of the program or are watching your progress and rooting you on."
There were plenty such supporters in the stands Saturday at Waco ISD Stadium as West drew a crowd that was markedly larger than the team's typical road attendance.
"The fans, and definitely the student body, are behind us," Hughes said. "This is the most support we've ever had, but it's also the most success we've ever had."
If that success is to continue, West (9-4) will have to overcome its toughest task of the playoffs as it returns to Waco ISD Stadium at 2 p.m. Saturday to play Austin Westlake (9-4) in the Region II Finals.
"Westlake is kind of like us," Hughes said. "They lost some games early, but have picked up a lot of confidence since then and seem to be peaking at the right time."
While West is predicated on offense, Westlake is led by its defense. The Chaparrals have not allowed more than 14 points in a game since a Sept. 21 loss to Cibolo Steele.
"That defense is tremendous," Hughes said. "You've got a bunch of 6-foot-2, 200-pound guys who play with great technique.
Among that crew are John Dodd, Canyon Manske and Alec Cohen.
Dodd had a 35-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown, Manske posted a 35-yard Pick 6 and Cohen scooped up a fumble for a 16-yard touchdown return in a seven turnover performance from the Westlake defense during last weekend's 38-10 win over Longview. A week before, the Chaparrals forced four turnovers and blocked two kicks in a 45-2 area playoff victory against A&M Consolidated.
Westlake will vary its schematic looks with odd- and even-man fronts.
"They run a lot of stunts too; it's a very attacking defense," Hughes said. "But we won't really change the way we prepare. We're still watching a ton of video and getting reps in a variety of schemes so we can be ready for whatever they throw at us."
That game plan is supported by the players.
"Getting this far is a big deal," said Jake Wodka, West senior linebacker, "but it also means we have to work that much harder if we want to keep going."
Wodka and the West defense is looking to bounce back from last week's struggles against Lufkin. And they will do so against a Chaparrals' offense that is decidedly less explosive than the Panthers. While Lufkin went to the air first, Westlake is a run-based offense with Jordan Severt frequently handing off to Alex Chavez, Keith Carter, Sean Rollings or Chris Canter.
"Their offense is a lot like South Garland or Plano (Senior) in that they will be looking to move the chains," Hughes said. "We will have to tackle well because stopping the run is key.
"But again, they're a lot like us where if you stack the box, they can throw on you."
West was adept at throwing the ball last week with senior quarterback Travis Korry passing for 254 yards, but it's on the ground where the team has made an impact in the playoffs. The Wolves (paced by Korry, junior running back Auston Anderson and sophomore running back Soso Jamabo) have exceeded 300 yards rushing in each of their three playoff games with Jamabo accumulating 13 touchdowns during that time.
"I'm honored to be playing alongside those guys," Anderson said, "and I'm honored to be part of this program."
Korry, Jamabo and Anderson all missed time at various points during the regular season, but have been a force in the playoffs.
"I think we are a team that has gone through some adversity," Hughes said. "We were able to handle that and now that we've had some success, we've shown we can handle that as well."
A win Saturday would make West the first Plano ISD team to advance to the Class 5A State Semifinals since Plano in 2007 and keep the Wolves' football offices buzzing for at least another week.
"Sure it's a lot more work," Hughes said. "But the kids are having a blast, the coaches are having fun too and we don't want this thing to end."