Saturday's high school football playoff schedule
Class 6A Division I state quarterfinals
Lake Travis (11-2) vs. O'Connor (13-0), Alamodome, 4 p.m.
Class 6A Division II state quarterfinals
Austin Westlake (13-0) vs. Steele (9-4), Alamodome, 8 p.m.
It’s a scientific fact that the strongest steel goes through the hottest fire. The Steele High School football team would know something about that.
Stumbling to an uncharacteristic 1-4 start this season, the Knights have been tempered by the fire of adversity and learned some important life lessons in the process.
Lesson No. 1: Don’t ever give up. You never know when success may be just around the corner.
Lesson No. 2: Don’t ever forget Lesson No. 1.
“Anytime you go through adversity, not only in football but in life, you rely on one another,” first-year Steele head coach David Saenz said Saturday. “During that 1-4 stretch, I think we played for one another. Anytime you have adversity in life, it will make you stronger. You’ve just got to make sure you handle it the right way.
“It’s a true testament to the team that we turned it around. They could have easily started pointing fingers at each other, and turning on one another. But they didn’t do that. They decided to stick together, like a brotherhood, and turn this thing around, which they’ve done.”
Facing a brutal schedule in the first half of the season, the Knights lost four consecutive games after winning their opener. They were 0-2 in District 27-6A before beating New Braunfels.
That victory was the start of an eight-game winning streak that has carried Steele to the state quarterfinals for the eighth year in a row.
Steele (9-4) continues its playoff march against Austin Westlake (13-0) in the Class 6A Division II state quarterfinals at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome. A victory would send the Knights to the state semifinals for the fourth year in a row.
Steele is 6-1 in the state quarterfinals, with its only loss in the round coming four years ago, when it fell to Johnson in a 42-41 thriller.
Because of their slow start, the Knights advanced to the playoffs as a fourth-place team. They face a Westlake team that beat defending Class 6A Division I state champion Austin Lake Travis in league play, and was ranked in the Associated Press 6A state poll throughout the season.
The Chaparrals are coached by Todd Dodge, who guided Southlake Carroll to state championships in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006.
“They’re a very good team,” Saenz said. “They’re very explosive. They don’t beat themselves. That’s the big thing. They play very disciplined football, very well coached. They’re really good in all three phases of the game. The challenge for us it to make sure that we play disciplined football as well.
“These rounds here, four, five and six, a lot of times the team that makes the most mistakes is not going to be very successful. Whether it’s a mental mistake, or an alignment mistake, things like that. We’ve just got to make sure that we’re on top of our game in all three phases also.”
The Knights began this season with a 36-3 rout of Madison, but lost a 34-31 heartbreaker to Austin Lake Travis the next week on a field goal with three seconds left. Losses to O’Connor (42-30), Smithson Valley (43-20) and Judson (35-28) followed on successive Fridays.
Steele’s four defeats came against opponents that finished the regular season a combined 36-4. Lake Travis, now 11-2, beat Judson (10-2) in the second round, and is playing O’Connor (13-0) in the 6A Division I state quarterfinals Saturday. Smithson Valley finished 10-2 after losing to Austin Westlake in the second round.
The Knights’ surge has paralleled the steady improvement of freshman quarterback Wyatt Begeal, who has started since the second half of the 26-3 win over New Braunfels. Begeal has completed 65 of 88 passes, with three interceptions, for 944 yards and nine TDs.
Brenden Brady fuels the Steele running game, rushing for 1,837 yards and 24 TDs. He averages 7.8 yards a carry.
Saenz expressed confidence that the Knights will hang with the Chaps.
“We had a good week of practice,” he said. “The weather changed a little bit. Anytime the weather changes, the kids get excited. We had a good week of preparation. They understand the magnitude of the game, obviously.”
Steele won the Class 5A Division II state title in 2010 and has lost in the finals two other times (2011, 2016).
“It’s always an exciting time, being in the playoffs,” Saenz said. “We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve made the fourth round these last eight years. The excitement of the community and the school is great to see. The kids can feel it. It’s great for the community and the kids.”
Saenz, 38, was promoted to head coach at Steele in February after Scott Lehnhoff resigned to become athletic director of the Scheetz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD. Saenz had been on the Knights’ coaching staff since 2007.