WESLACO — Weslaco High is one of two remaining teams in the Rio Grande Valley making repeat trips to the 6A regional semifinals, where the Panthers (10-2, 5-1) will square off in a rematch against the Lake Travis Cavaliers (11-1, 8-0) at 1 p.m. at Alamo Stadium in San Antonio.
The Panthers and Cavaliers played against each other in the third round of the 2018 UIL playoffs, when Lake Travis ended Weslaco’s season with a 56-14 victory on its way to the state semifinals.
“We’re just fortunate to be given an opportunity and very blessed to be playing on Thanksgiving week, that was one of our goals coming in,” Weslaco High head coach Roy Stroman said. “We’re going to go to San Antonio, and play a very good, talented Lake Travis team and we’re going to give it our best shot. That’s all that we can ask.”
In last year’s meeting, Lake Travis quarterback Hudson Card shredded the Panthers’ secondary and made it difficult for Weslaco’s offense to keep up. Card completed 18 of 22 pass attempts for 362 yards and seven touchdowns.
Weslaco hasn’t forgotten the Cavaliers’ speed or explosiveness and hopes to use last year’s experience as motivation and to help in preparation.
“They’re a well-coached team. They’ve been to state so many times. It’s kind of one of those where you have to be perfect,” defensive end Elijah Estevanes said. “They’re a physical team. They’re well coached, very fundamentally sound and they’re just a great team and school out there. They’re good; there’s nothing much you can take away from them.”
“We played them last year and using that experienced has helped a lot,” running back Peyton Knaub said. “We know what we’re getting ourselves into this year. We’re going to let the chips fall where they may and see if we can go out there and get the job done.”
Card, a verbal commitment to play at Texas next fall, suffered a season-ending injury, however, against district rival Austin Westlake midway through the season. But under junior Nate Yarnell, there’s been little to no drop off for Lake Travis’ quarterback play.
Yarnell has appeared in 10 games this season and played significant time in six contests down the stretch run. He’s thrown for 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season while completing 66.9% of his passes.
The Cavaliers also have a dangerous wide receiver in senior Kyle Eaves, who has 1,122 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns on the season. Lake Travis’ prolific passing game make it imperative for the Panthers’ pass rush to be active and effective like it was against McAllen Memorial.
“I just trusted my team and my D-line knowing everyone would be able to get their jobs done and do what they were assigned,” defensive end Elijah Estevanes said. “When we got that done, it opened up gaps for us to be able to make plays.”
Estevanes was one of several Panther defenders with multiple sacks and a forced fumble against Memorial. He and the Weslaco defensive front forced multiple key fumbles and constantly disrupted the Mustangs’ pass attempts, which they will have to repeat to slow down the Cavaliers.
“We’ve just got to play sound football and read our keys,” Estevanes said. “Eyes and feet are what my coach always preaches. We’ve just got to do that, play gaps and do our part, then hopefully we’ll come out successful.”
One of the big reasons for the Cavaliers’ consistent success is the team’s play along the offensive and defensive lines. Lake Travis’ defensive front has tallied 18.5 sacks and 13 fumble recoveries on the season, while its offensive line has given the offense time to develop big plays.
“I’ve been very impressed with their O-line and D-line,” Stroman said. “They have the skill players, a real good quarterback, real good receivers and fast, real physical running backs, but we’re going to have to control the line of scrimmage in order for us to be successful. That’s been our whole talk. That’s been our edge; if we can control the line of scrimmage, we feel that we can come out of this successful.”
The Panthers did dominate the line of scrimmage in their round one and two wins over Los Fresnos and Memorial. The advantage up front allowed Weslaco’s offense to ride a balanced offensive attack as both the running and passing games thrived.
“I feel like we clicked on all cylinders throughout the game on offense, defense and special teams,” Knuab said. “It just felt good to get out there and go to work.”
Weslaco’s offensive line play stood out in those games as well. The Panthers are hopeful that if they can maintain the same level of physicality and speed along the line of scrimmage, their offense can open things up and continue to score at a high clip.
“Our offensive line play opened up those holes where we could run and now it opens up the passing game. They open up the holes for Peyton and for Jacob, and they gave Jacob enough time. There were times when he was back there for 6 or 7 seconds looking for open receivers and then he would take off and run,” Stroman said. “To me the biggest difference was them controlling the line of scrimmage and opening up the holes for our backs and giving Jacob enough time to do his thing.”
“We’re going to have to hit on all cylinders like we did last week, score on every drive and limit turnovers,” Knaub said. “It all starts up front. If they’re not moving, we’re not going to move. A lot of pressure is on them to get it done. They’ve been doing it all season, so we’re going to look for them to do it again this week.”