High School Football

Nelson doesn’t mind being the playoff guest nobody invited

Byron Nelson quarterback Nicholaus Santini (13) hands the ball off to Jordan Joiner (3) against Northwest. The duo has keyed the Nelson offense.
Byron Nelson quarterback Nicholaus Santini (13) hands the ball off to Jordan Joiner (3) against Northwest. The duo has keyed the Nelson offense. Special to the Star-Telegram

Maybe there’s good reason to believe Trophy Club Nelson’s football program is the playoff guest nobody invited.

The Bobcats don’t have a winning record (5-6). They don’t present a dazzling offense, as there is neither a 1,000-yard running back nor a 1,000-yard receiver. Their defense has allowed 40 points or more four times.

What they do offer is finding the right yards and making the right stops to keep competing in the 2017 Texas High School football postseason. Nelson is the underdog in Friday’s 8 p.m. Class 6A Region I Division II area playoff game against No. 5 Waco Midway (11-0) at AT&T Stadium.

“I’m very pleased on just continuing the process,” second-year head coach Travis Pride said.

“We point out that the good that came out in a loss and give them something to keep their spirits alive and where they keep stepping up. But our kids have said they can do it and stayed engaged.”

Pride’s two seasons mirror each other but for different reasons. The 2016 squad featured 48 seniors including a senior quarterback in Eli Rusche.

With a new system running counter to lifelong players who learned to play a different way under Brian Polk, they had to adjust. There was also a pretty difficult non-district schedule in Sachse, San Angelo Central and Northwest ISD rival Justin Northwest.

That team dropped its first five games before stunning Euless Trinity, 21-20, at Bedford’s Pennington Field and eventually clinching a playoff spot before falling to Denton Guyer in the playoffs.

This team has more roster balance led by 30 seniors. There’s another senior starting quarterback in Nick Santini.

The learning curve from the underclassmen needed time. New linebackers and new members of the secondary filled out the second two levels.

With the same non-district schedule, Nelson began 0-4 before pulling off a 21-20 win at Flower Mound. The Bobcats won four of their last five and this time knocked off Denton Guyer in the bi-district round, 28-24.

The feat this year is a little more impressive. Sachse and Central are each 11-0. Sachse is No. 4 in the state. Central finished third among all teams receiving votes.

“Each time when we got off to these bad starts, we couldn’t feel sorry for ourselves,” said Nelson senior linebacker Josh Caraway, a two-year starter. “If we did that, we wouldn’t be playing. We just had to be patient as guys were getting through the system, picking up our intensity and implementing our mentality.”

Pride and his staff found what worked on where this team could be productive. Offensively, they stuck to the running game.

Senior Jordan Joiner has rushed for 919 of his 996 yards in the last eight games. His burst has set up the play-action pass. Nelson scored three of its touchdowns that way against Guyer. Santini has completed 69 percent of his passes and thrown five of his 12 touchdown passes in the last two.

Defensively, the 3-3-5 stack has been stubborn and taken away an opponent’s strength forcing three turnovers.

“We just emphasized it, focused on ourselves and got better,” Pride said. “With the kind of starts we’ve had, it would be difficult for teams to overcome that. Whether it’s Midway or anyone else, we have to execute well to give ourselves a shot.”