Steele eyes, full hearts

Football looks to earn top seed in showdown with Steele


Paul Tubridy

Gabe Hoskins sprints to the edge against Wagner. Hoskins has rushed for 345 yards and 6 touchdowns on 69 carries this season.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

Since becoming district mates in 2014, football has played Steele six times. The Rangers have won just two of those six games, in 2017 and 2018. But this year’s contest will carry more weight than that of a series statline. Tangible changes to the teams’ respective playoff paths are well within reach, and this game stands as judge, juror and – well, not executioner, since they’re still in the playoffs. But the sentiment remains!

Both teams are destined for Class 6A, Region IV, Division I play in the postseason. But this game will determine who gets the higher seed in the playoff bracket, which is a convoluted mess that boils down to an obvious conclusion: the higher seed is better.

To get there, the Rangers will have to ramrod Steele, a traditional power that won double digit games all but one year from 2007 to 2016. But their winning ways have fallen by the wayside recently, as they haven’t won more than nine games since then. But a relative dip in production doesn’t mean the Knights aren’t still a formidable foe.

This season started out rough for Steele, who opened their season with a one-score loss to Life Christian Academy, a private school from Virginia. They then lost by a field goal to Reagan the next week in spectacular fashion. Overall, half of the Knights’ games have been one-score games, and three were decided by plays in the final minute.

“Well, they’ve won, [and] they’ve been a quality program for a long time,” said Larry Hill, head football coach at Smithson Valley. “So I don’t think they’re going to get rattled because the game’s close, or, ‘Oh, we’re behind,’ or, ‘Oh my goodness, what’s going on?’ That’s not going to bother them … So [they] hadn’t panicked [in close games] and I think they [are] bound to think that is a positive, because they’re not going to get rattled no matter what comes.”

Steele’s propensity for down-to-the-wire finishes first became evident during the Reagan game. The Knights, trailing by a touchdown, couldn’t score on a nearly nine-minute drive, after multiple scores were called back on penalties. They managed to force a Reagan fumble with 1:30 left on the clock and scored, but their potentially game-tying extra point was blocked and returned for a safety. Reagan won, 23-20.

A few weeks later, Steele trailed New Braunfels 21-14, but couldn’t score on the would-be final play of the game. A Unicorn penalty gave them another shot, yet they again failed to capitalize. Another penalty gave them a second untimed down, and Wyatt Begeal ran it in for a touchdown. He scored the two-point conversion, too, to give Steele a 22-21 victory.

Steele also squeezed out a 21-14 win over Clemens, but it took a last-second drop in the end zone by a Clemens receiver to seal the deal. Overall, the Knights are 2-2 in one-score games, a record that, one way or another, could change again on Friday.

“Both teams are playing very well,” Hill said. “Defensively, both teams have scored some points too. And so I’m expecting a close ball game, whether it’s low scoring or high, I couldn’t tell you, but as with most close games, it’s going to hinge on a few big plays. And that could come in the kicking game, it could come down to turnovers, just little things though. It would come down to just a handful of plays. You never know when that play’s going to happen, so you gotta be on your guard at all times. But I don’t think … people are thinking Smithson Valley’s going to blow Steele out. I don’t know that that’s happened.”

If it does come down to the kicking game, the Rangers have a clear advantage. Kicker Austin Hosier has converted eight of his nine field goal tries, including one in overtime at Wagner, and 28 of 29 extra point attempts. Plus, he’ll have home field advantage and nice (albeit breezy) weather on his side.

Leading the Steele offense is quarterback Wyatt Begeal, a four-year starter and Arkansas State commit. Begeal is as dangerous with his legs as his arm, and has given opposing defensive coordinators fits for nearly a half-decade now.

“Gosh, it seems like everybody in our league’s got a quarterback that can run it well [and] create outside of the pocket,” Hill said. “Of course he can also deliver the ball well on scheduled passing plays, he does all that. And he’s a four-year starter, so there’s very little you can throw at him that he hadn’t seen. So, he’s the feather in their cap. They obviously have other great skill players, but no question, he’s what makes them go.”

The Knights lost a lot of last season’s skill players to graduation, leaving Begeal with a very young supporting cast. He’s performed well under that stress, but also thrown a half-dozen picks, a weakness an opportunistic Ranger secondary (9 interceptions) will certainly try to exploit.

Whoever wins on Friday, they’ll have the opportunity to play the lesser of the District 28-6A representatives (Reagan or Madison) in the first round before a likely stare-down with Austin Lake Travis. The loser will play the higher-ranked 28-6A team (Johnson or Reagan) before potentially taking on reigning Division II champion Austin Westlake.

The game will kick off at 2:00 p.m. Friday at Ranger Stadium. The game will be streamed live on Rangers Network.