From familiarity to obscurity, Nederland’s journey through the Class 4A Division I playoffs is a study in opposites the past two weeks.
Last week, the Bulldogs played a rival with a history that dated back 80 years. This week, Nederland’s area round opponent Pflugerville Connally is a team that has only been for 16 years and will be facing the Bulldogs for the first time.
One thing Connally has in common with Dayton is a strong defense.
“They fly to the ball defensively,” Neumann said. “They have athletes on both sides of the ball. No. 8 (Michael Egwuagu) is a really good player. No. 6 (Darrell Songy) is one of the best linebackers we’ve seen. They have two really good corners. They’re defensive line are hard chargers. They’re not so much like the Dayton nose tackle that stands up and runs around. They’re guys getting up field and trying to put pressure on you and then cover you up in the secondary. They’re very active on defense. They do some stunting too, so we have to be smart and try to pick it up.”
This season, Connally posted three shutouts and allowed 13.6 points per game through a 33-8 bidistrict victory over Montgomery. After falling 35-7 to Leander, the Cougars gave up an average of 7.5 points per game over the course of a seven game winning streak.
While standout linebackers like Egwuagu, who’s committed to Texas-San Antonio, and Songy, who’s committed to Texas State, give the Cougars a stout run defense, the secondary is just as strong. With a defensive line getting pressure up front, those defensive backs are even more effective in coverage.
That’s why one of the key matchups this week could be the rangy Colton Kimler, who scored two long touchdowns against Dayton, and how he will play against the Cougar defenders.
“Pflugerville Connally has an excellent secondary with very capable athletes back there,” Neumann said. “He’s a difficult matchup with his stature. He’s not going to run away from a lot of people, but if you’re even with him, you might lose that contest for the ball because of how big he is. That’s a feature you can’t coach. We wouldn’t be afraid to throw it to him against anyone. He’s a big kid who knows how to move his body around to make plays.”
As good as its defense has been Connally’s offense is what catches the eye first. The Cougars averaged 44.2 points per game in eight victories this season and are led by senior quarterback Dajon Williams. The dual threat has thrown for 1,383 yards this season and run for another 484 while accounting for 18 total touchdowns.
“He’s a lot like Dayton’s quarterback,” Neumann said. “He’s also a lot like Central’s (Robert) Mitchell. He can run and throw it. He’s got a pretty good arm. Sometimes in the videos, he’s misfired, but it’s going on a spiral and going in the right direction. It’s not like you think he can’t throw it. You think that could have been a touchdown, he just missed a little bit. He’s a very good quarterback.”
Connally is similar to Nederland in being pretty balanced offensively. The offense rushed for 201 yards per game this season and averaged 332 total yards in 11 games this year. Like Nederland, the Cougars also have a standout back in LaDaedrix Payton, who has rushed for 924 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
“Their running back (LaDaedrix Payton) is the first thing that jumps out at you about their offense,” Neumann said. “He reminds me in body-type of Wareall Grogan. He’s got great speed and is strong-looking. Our scouts said they heard people referring to him as ‘Little Ricky’ as in Ricky Williams from Texas. That’s pretty high praise, but the guy is a pretty good runner.”
Unlike Nederland, the Connally offense is more of a true one back, spread offense. That doesn’t mean the Cougars won’t hand off to Payton and take advantage of his playmaking ability; they just do it while also throwing to a host of receivers.
“They give him the ball in all gun with one back,” Neumann said. “Sometimes, they go empty, spread you out, run the counter and other things teams do out of that kind of offense. The quarterback will throw the ball and they’ve got some good receivers. They’re a quality football team and it’s going to be another good game for us.”
Looking at Connally’s three losses this season, it’s clear that stopping the run should be Nederland’s first priority on Friday. Leander, Georgetown and Manor all held Connally under 120 rushing yards, with both Manor and Georgetown holding the Cougars under 3 yards per carry.
With Nederland’s big front line and solid linebacking corps, that shouldn’t pose a problem for the Bulldogs. In the past four games, Nederland is averaging 55 rushing yards allowed per game. For the season, Nederland is allowing 129 rushing yards per game.
Four different Bulldog defenders have at least 10 tackles for a loss this season. Senior defensive end Koby Couron leads the way with 27 tackles for a loss. De Shawn Washington is second with 14 while Jordan Wood has 12 and Caleb Malveaux has 11.
PFLUGERVILLE CONNALLY vs. NEDERLAND
When: 6 p.m. Friday
Where: Shenandoah’s Woodforest Bank Stadium
Directions: Take 1-10 West to Loop 610 North. Take Loop 610 until it intersects I-45 North. Turn onto I-45 North and take it until the Lake Woodlands Dr/Research Forest Dr/Tamina Rd exit. Turn right onto Tamina Rd and left onto David Memorial Dr. The stadium will be on the right.
Records: Nederland (10-1); Connally (8-3)
Series: First-ever meeting
Radio: KLVI AM 560, legacysportsnetwork.com
Nederland capsule: Senior linebacker Korbin Stampley had 18 tackles against Dayton last week. It was the highest tackle total in a game this season for Nederland and the fourth time this season that Stampley had 10 or more tackles. He is also the only Bulldog to have 10 or more tackles in a game this year…. With Carson Raines’ 57-yard TD run against Dayton, the Bulldogs now have two players with 10 or more rushing TDs. The last time that happened for Nederland was in 1999, when Ross LaBove had 30 TDs and Brad Sullivan had 10. … With 133 rushing yards against Dayton, junior Kendrick Hopkins needs 34 yards to top 1,500 for the season. He also now has 1,750 yards in his varsity career with 17 career TDs. … Senior receiver Michael Shaw caught three passes for 32 yards against Dayton and now has 66 catches for 890 yards and 10 TDs in his career. Teammate Seth Barrow has 47 catches for 644 yards and six TDs in his Nederland career. … Sophomore guard Logan Albritton is still out with a knee injury he suffered in practice last week. His replacement, senior Brock Pryor, had three knockdowns against Dayton after practicing at right guard for just two days last week. Pryor is set to start again this week at guard.
Connally capsule: In the first ten seasons of the program’s history, Connally never had less than 10 victories in a season. That streak was broken after head coach Matt Monzingo left to take over Canyon Lake and new head coach Howard McMahan went 7-4 in his first season in 2007. The school then saw an 11-year playoff streak snapped in 2008 when the Cougars were moved up to Class 5A. Connally stayed at 5A for two seasons and missed the playoff both times before returning to 4A in 2010 and also returning to the playoffs. … Senior kicker Daniel Portillo provides a weapon on special teams for the Cougars. He has made 44 of 50 PATs this season and has made seven field goals, including a long of 43 yards. Portillo missed a 47-yard field goal attempt against Montgomery last week, but won the kickoff portion of the first Summer Texas Kickoff & Snapoff at Cedar Ridge last summer with a kickoff of 72 yards. He also won the punting contest with a 52-yard, 4.9 second punt and averaged 38 yards and 4.2 seconds on 13 punts. …Portillo has drawn interest from colleges, while three of his teammates have already committed. Senior linebacker Michael Egwuagu committed to Texas-San Antonio while senior quarterback Dajon Williams has committed to North Texas and senior linebacker Darrell Songy has committed to Texas State. … Williams leads the offense with 1,383 passing yards and 14 touchdowns this season while completing 58 percent of his passes and throwing three interceptions. Williams also had 484 rushing yards and four TDs. Senior running back LaDaedrix Payton has 139 carries for 924 yards and 11 TDs this season to lead the Cougars in rushing. Leo Dawson is the leading receiver with 25 catches for 460 yards and four TDs.
QB – Carson Raines (18)
RB – Kendrick Hopkins (24)
RB – Marcus Barton (3)
WR – Michael Shaw (2)
WR – Seth Barrow (4)
WR – Colton Kimler (9)
OL – Justin Byrd (69)
OL – Jacob Brinkley (66)
OL – Cole Brown (62)
OL – Brock Pryor (55)
OL – Dannis Latiolais (63)
QB – Dajon Williams (3)
FB – LaDaedrix Payton (30)
TB – Shaun Williams (5)
WR – Luther Yamthe (7)
TE – Andrew Hill (85)
WR – Leo Dawson (1)
OL – Isaiah Robinson (72)
OL – Gabriel Hernandez (56)
OL – Hayden Washington (65)
OL – Austen Brown (71)
OL – Joseph Aniekwe (78)
DE – Brandon Lee (42)
DT – Dareel Nix (52)
DT – Christian Rivera (66)
DE – Darius Atkinson (46)
LB – Matthew McMahan (2)
LB – Darrell Songy (6)
BN – Michael Egwuaga (8)
CB – Kole Sneed (22)
S – Ed-Drick McDonald (15)
S – Chris Luca (28)
CB – Michael Adeniken (19)
DE–DeShawn Washington (90)
DT – Caleb Malveaux (49)
DT – Brock Pryor (55)
DE – Koby Couron (92)
LB – Jordan Wood (25)
LB – Korbin Stampley (33)
CB – Zach Taylor (11)
S – Sage Seay (10)
S – Colton Kimler (9)
S – Bryce Whaley (8)
CB – Seth Barrow (4)