Varsity football not fazed by injuries in win over Brandeis

With injuries piling up, Westlake had to change things up going into the 6A Division II Region IV Final. Some changes were tactical, but past the running lanes and blocking assignments was one of the more noticeable adjustments: new numbers. To stand in solidarity with the injured members of the team, two active players — defensive lineman senior Trellis Collins and linebacker senior Jake Ehlinger — wore the jerseys of their injured teammates. Trellis wore number 62 for offensive lineman senior Blake Webster and Jake wore number 29 for running back senior Tripp Graham. While this was a cause for confusion in the announcer’s booth, there was little disarray on the field in the Chaps’ 26-0 shutout of San Antonio Brandeis Friday night.

“This is a tight-knit group,” head coach Todd Dodge said. “Those [injured] guys won’t be able to play for us any more this year. It was all in a good place, [the players] wanting to honor their teammates by wearing their numbers.”

It was a defensive showdown from start to finish, with four turnovers amongst both teams. Westlake’s defense posted a second-straight shutout, holding Brandeis to just 77 net yards of offense all game long.

“We came out prepared as a team,” defensive lineman junior Bobby Duncum said. “We grind every week in practice and we come out ready to play and never let up.”

Replacing quarterback senior Taylor Anderson (injured Nov. 30 against Vela) was possibly the most difficult task of the night, but Dodge was firm to his game plan, rotating quarterback juniors Drew Willoughby and Kirkland Michaux, for most of the game. They posted a combined 153 yards passing and two touchdowns in the air. Kirkland found success rushing the ball as well, taking 18 attempts for 135 yards and a touchdown.

“I told them that [I was] going to play both of them,” Dodge said. “Drew had earned the start, he was our everyday backup all year long. As the game unfolded, we were getting a lot of great production out of Kirkland in the run game and so I stuck with him.”

The plug-and-play mindset was in full force, with players such as running backs senior Rhett Kelley and sophomore Jax Crockett making the most of their 23 combined carries. When Jax hurt his leg (an injury which would ultimately sideline him for the rest of the game), Rhett took the workload and was able to carve out space up the middle of the field with his runs.

“It’s just the mentality of this entire team,” Dodge said. “We talk about paying attention to things we can control. We can’t control the injuries, weather, or the officials. We just go play, and [the players] were ready tonight.”

Westlake moves on to the State semifinals to play Beaumont West Brook. The game will be at 4 p.m. Saturday Dec. 15 at Legacy Stadium in Katy.