SAN ANTONIO – Churchill has reached the football state quarterfinals for the first time in 20 years, and Steele is in the same round of the high school playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.
The Chargers and Knights will meet for the first time on the football field when they clash in the Class 6A Division II state quarterfinals Saturday at the Alamodome. Kickoff is at 6 p.m.
Both teams won in routs Friday night, setting up a showdown between a school that was a state power in the 1970s and ’80s and another that has become one of the state’s most consistent winners since its first varsity season 10 years ago.
"We know that Churchill has a great tradition and is going to come out and fight," Steele coach Scott Lehnhoff said Sunday. "Obviously, they're playing with a lot of heart and energy. They suffered a tremendous loss early in the year with the young man that passed. You can see a little bit of that fire burn within them."
The Chargers have dedicated their season to late teammate Josh Pollard, who died in his sleep less than a week before the start of preseason workouts in August. An autopsy revealed that Pollard died from an enlarged heart. Pollard, a senior, was projected to start at cornerback this season.
Steele (12-1) rolled to a 56-0 victory win over Weslaco East in Corpus Christi, and Churchill (11-2) trounced Laredo United South 38-0 in Laredo to advance to the fourth round of the postseason.
“I didn’t see that coming,” Churchill coach Ron Harris said, alluding to the Chargers’ lopsided victory. “I was very proud of our guys. I think it was key we started fairly fast. We took the opening kick. We went down and scored. We were very fortunate to get a fumble on their first offensive snap, and were able to convert that turnover into another touchdown.
“Before anybody had really settled in, it was 14-0. That might have stunned them a little bit and it helped build our confidence, being on the road against good team.”
Steele opened in 2005 and quickly became a state power, winning the 5A Division II championship in 2010. The title run came in the Knights’ first season in what was then the UIL’s largest classification. Steele lost in the 2011 state final, and has reached the state semifinals four of the past five years. The Knights are 5-1 in the state quarterfinals.
Steele finished 3-7 in its first varsity season (2006), but has gone 123-17 since then. The Knights have been such consistent winners that they haven't lost more than one game in the same season since 2009. They have won seven consecutive district titles.
“It’s a combination of really good players and extremely well coached and prepared,” Harris said of Steele. “They’re not just making plays only because they’re athletes. They’re making plays using technique and a scheme, and all those things. The reason for their consistent success is their combination of talent and coaching.”
Lehnhoff has been just as impressed with the Chargers.
"Ron and his staff are doing a great job," he said. "Their kids are playing extremely hard. They're in the right positions, very sound up front on both sides of the football. They're doing a great job of stopping the run, and also running the ball. At every level of football that I know of that's a pretty good recipe for success. If you stop the run and run the ball, you've got a chance. They're just a sound, good football team."
Churchill opened its doors 50 years ago this fall and didn’t take long to become a state power itself, reaching the state quarterfinals in the UIL’s largest classification (then 4A) in its first playoff season (1973). Those were the days when only district champions advanced to the playoffs. The Chargers are 3-6 in nine appearances in the state quarterfinals.
The Chargers won the 4A state title in 1976, and reached the state semifinals in 1978 and 1981. Churchill has lost in the state quarterfinals four times since then – in 1982, 1983, 1987 and 1996 – and also fell in that round in 1973 and 1974.
The Chargers have made the playoffs eight times since their last trip to the state quarterfinals, but have gone 2-8 and advanced past the first round only twice. They had lost four consecutive playoff openers, all to Judson, before beating Cedar Park Vista Ridge 41-38 two weeks ago.
Churchill has won seven consecutive games since imploding in a 31-6 loss to eventual district champion Reagan. The Rattlers finished with only 212 total yards that night, but the Chargers finished with five turnovers.
“There’s no way you’re going to have a chance to be very competitive when you turn it over five times,” Harris said.
The Churchill-Steele winner meets the survivor of the Region III final between Houston Cypress Ridge (11-2) and Katy Cinco Ranch (10-3) in the state semifinals. Those team play in the state quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Saturday at TDECU Stadium in Houston.
Sterns commits to LSU: Versatile Steele junior Caden Sterns announced Sunday on Twitter that he has committed to LSU, becoming the first player to pledge to the Tigers since former interim coach Ed Orgeron was promoted to head coach Saturday. Sterns, who plays safety, wide receiver and returns kicks, is the younger brother of Jordan Sterns, who played on Steele's state championship team in 2010. Jordan Sterns is a starting senior safety at Oklahoma State this season. Caden Sterns has returned all three of his interceptions for TDs this season. He also has a punt return for a TD and 13 receptions for 280 yards and five TDs.
Area high school football playoffs
(All state quarterfinals)
Class 6A Division II: Steele (12-1) vs. Churchill (11-2), Saturday, 6 p.m., Alamodome
Class 4A Division II; Navarro (13-0) vs. Cuero (13-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Alamo Stadium
Class 3A Division I: Hallettsville (13-0) vs. Yoakum (9-4), Friday, 7:30 p.m., Heroes Stadium