Regional Semis

Lufkin stuns Westfield in regional semifinals, 14-11

It was a heartbreaker for Westfield this weekend. Photo by Jerry Baker

Originally appeared on Vype.com.

HOUSTON — Westfield simply ran out of time.

Down 14-11 with 4:01 left in the game, the Mustangs had a chance if the defense could hold.

After a wild few minutes, including a muffed punt, and defensive stand, Westfield made one final play only to see the lateral fall to the turf ending its perfect season as Lufkin won 14-11 in the Region II-6A Division II semifinal on Saturday at Texan Drive Stadium.

“You’re going to have to beat people all the way through, you get past the second round there isn’t no donkeys left and you’ve got to play,” Lufkin coach Todd Quick said. “If you want to win it you’ve got to beat people like that.”

Lufkin will face the winner of Longview — which beat Klein Collins 30-24 — in the regional final. This is the first regional final appearance for Lufkin sine 2005.

Westfield loses its first game of the season finishing the year at 11-1. This is the Mustangs’ first loss in the regional semifinals since losing to Dallas Skyline, 38-33, in 2012.

“We had our chances,” Westfield coach Matt Meekins said. “Did a good job of fighting back and giving ourselves a chance.”

Time was the biggest story of the game.

From the start, Lufkin (11-2) was able to control the clock with its highly effective rushing attack, fueled by senior Isaiah Phillips.

The Panthers racked up 315 yards of offense, 216 of it coming on the ground.

“They did a good job of running the ball,” Meekins said. “They were running zone play and blocking the backside defensive end. Our safeties weren’t coming up, especially in the first half and fitting like he was supposed to. We adjusted a little bit in the second half.”

Phillips rushed for 160 yards on 32 carries and one score in the win.

“The offensive line defeated a great defensive line,” Phillips said. “I felt like I just had to run through the holes and drive the ball.”

Behind that attack and ability to convert third downs, Lufkin dominated time of possession.

The Panthers in the end held the ball for 29:15 of the game, registering 18 first downs and going 9 of 15 on third down conversions.

“You do that, not only do you control the clock, you affect the tempo of what they want to do offensively,” Quick said. “They can’t get into a rhythm. They run four or five plays and then they’re off. Then you run seven or eight plays it kind of messes with your rythym offensively.”

Westfield struggled to find that rhythm early and it continued through the game.

The Mustangs in the first half were held to just four drives, one ending in an interception, two in punts, and the final in a 25-yard field goal from Brandon Amaya, making it 7-3 Lufkin at halftime.

The three points were the fewest Westfield has scored all season. It was the lowest since scoring just six against Dekaney in the opening half on the way to a 22-0 victory on October 6.

Trailing 14-3 with 4:52 to go in the game, Westfield’s defense came up big. Dorien Hawkins intercepted Lufkin quarterback Kewone Thomas and returned it to the 19 of the Panthers.

Westfield three plays later punched it in as Edwin Allen rumbled in from a yard out, making it 14-9. A two-point conversion was successful as Terrance Gipson hit Noah Massey, cutting the lead to three with 4:01 to go.

A defensive stand by Westfield forced Lufkin to punt. As the ball came towards Westfield’s return man, a fair catch was called. The ball all of a sudden was on the ground as Westfield and Lufkin players collided.

Initially flags flew, with Westfield’s sideline believing kick-catch interference would be called. Eventually, it was ruled holding against Westfield and no kick-catch interference, instead of a muffed punt and recovery by Lufkin at the 43.

Lufkin couldn’t do anything with the ball and would punt the ball back to Westfield with 53 seconds left.

A high snap nearly cost the Panthers but Max Quick was able to recover the ball and get off a punt, pinning Westfield at its 19 with 40 seconds to go.

“They work the bad snap drill and what to do with it,” Todd said. “I told him, son you’re a punter not a running back. Do whatever you have to do to punt the football. He didn’t get flustered, he didn’t get rattled. He turned, looked and made a play.”

Westfield had one last chance to drive down the field with 40 seconds.

Mustangs quarterback Terrance Gipson hit Ali Walter for a 23-yard pickup to the 42, leaving 26 seconds. A sack of Gipson back to the 34 and a spike stopped the clock with eight seconds.

This left time for last heave. A short pass and a failed lateral ended the game, giving Lufkin the 14-11 victory.

“Every possible emotion you could have from the highest to the lowest to the highest,” Quick said about the final five minutes. “You’ve got to believe in the kids. You put them out there and you know they’re going to do whatever they can. They made plays when they had to today.”

Gipson finished 9 of 13 for 133 yards and one interception and rushed seven times for 37 yards.

 

Scoring Summary

Lufkin: Kewone Thomas to Ja’Lynn Polk for 7-yard TD  7-0 (8:38 – 2nd quarter)

Westfield: Brandon Amaya 25-yard field goal                  7-3 (0:09 – 2nd quarter)
Lufkin: Isaiah Phillips rush for 2 yards                             14-3 (3:39 – 3rd quarter)

Westfield: Edwin Allen rush for 1 yard                            14-9 (4:01- 4th quarter)
Westfield: Terrance Gipson to Noah Massey 2pt conv    14-11 (4:01-4th quarter)

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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