Varsity football’s playoff run comes to an end with semifinal loss to North Shore

Offense struggles as Mustangs get the best of Chaps, 23-14
Mia Fillpot
Running back senior Jack Kayser runs for a touchdown in the third quarter of the Chaps’ playoff loss to North Shore at Pfield Dec. 9. The score was Kayser’s 76 of his Westlake career and 11 of the playoffs.

PFLUGERVILLE — A three-point deficit and the longest drive of the season stood between the Westlake varsity football team and a state championship berth. 

Three incomplete passes left the Chaps backed up to their own goal line with just a few seconds remaining. On a day in which Westlake compiled only 29 passing yards, it needed a miracle – a 94-yard walk-off completion. 

Quarterback sophomore Rees Wise looked for running back senior Jack Kayser on a screen pass. Before it reached Kayser, though, North Shore linebacker junior Charles Ross pressured Wise and tipped his pass high into the Pflugerville evening sky. 

While the ball floated through the air for only a second before falling into Ross’ waiting arms in the end zone, it was a second full of emotion for both teams. The North Shore sideline erupted, as yet another defensive stand secured their spot in the UIL 6A DI State Championship game. 

The Chaps, on the other hand, helplessly watched. Head coach Tony Salazar looked on from the sideline, his hopes of his first state championship as a head coach spoiled. 

I’m sad for our kids,” Salazar said to KXAN following the game. “We fought hard and prepared like champions for five weeks. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”

Salazar and the Chaps took the field Saturday afternoon just one win away from their fourth state championship appearance in the past five years. By the end of the day, they had nothing left to play for. 

It was an unfamiliar feeling, as the Chaps had only lost one game in the previous four years prior to Saturday. They weren’t yet accustomed to looking at the scoreboard and seeing a logo other than their own next to the words “State Bound.”

Westlake (14-1) fell to North Shore (15-0), 23-14, in the UIL 6A DI semifinal at the Pfield in Pflugerville Saturday. The Westlake defense kept the Chaps alive throughout the game, but the offensive unit failed to find consistency against a ruthless Mustang defense. 

The Chaps gained less than 200 total yards of offense for the first time all season. The loss marks the second-straight year Westlake has been eliminated by North Shore in the state semifinal. 

“I wish we could’ve done more this year, but we’ll be back,” Wise said. “I’m excited for next year. Our team is looking really good.” 

The Westlake offense simply couldn’t find its groove. Just two weeks removed from a game in which they put up 52 points and over 400 total yards of offense on Laredo United, the Chaps failed to string together consistent drives for much of their contest with North Shore. 

The only success the Westlake offense had in the first half was when faced with a short field. After a bad snap on a North Shore punt attempt led to a tackle-for-loss at the 16-yard line, the offense took advantage. Wise found the end zone from nine yards out to give the Chaps a 7-0 lead with just under two minutes to play in the first quarter. 

Westlake wouldn’t record another first down in the half. Back-to-back three-and-outs from the Chaps gave way to the North Shore offense, which began to get their run game going. 

The Westlake defense surrendered two touchdowns in the second quarter: a one-yard run by quarterback junior Kaleb Bailey on fourth down and a nine-yard run by running back junior D’Andre Hardeman with two and a half minutes until halftime. 

The Chaps looked deflated on both sides of the ball as the half came to a close, but their lack of offensive production was the biggest concern. 

The Chaps prepare to run a play in the first quarter of their playoff loss to North Shore. The Chaps struggled offensively, but their defense helped keep the game close down the stretch. (Mia Fillpot)

At the break, the Chaps had eight total passing yards, and their rushing attack, which proved dangerous throughout the playoffs, had failed to get going. They needed a major momentum swing in the second half to right the ship.

Kayser answered the call. After returning the second-half kickoff for 35 yards, Kayser darted past the North Shore defense on the Chaps’ first play from scrimmage of the half to restore the tie with a 45-yard touchdown run. 

Unfortunately for the Chaps, Kayser’s 11 touchdown of the playoffs and 76 of his varsity career would be one of their final signs of life offensively. After North Shore took the lead on a 26-yard field goal by kicker junior Jonathan Soto, both defenses began to dominate. 

The Chaps struggled to find their footing against a physical Mustang unit, as Wise faced pressure in the backfield nearly every time he dropped back to pass. Despite piecing together a few first downs, Westlake never got past the fifty yard line in the final twelve minutes of play.​​ 

As the Chaps desperately tried to muster up offense through the air, North Shore once again held strong. The Mustang defense intercepted Wise twice in the final few minutes of play, including Ross’ interception in the end zone. 

The Westlake defense stepped up during the second half, stopping North Shore on a number of 4th down attempts to keep the Chaps in the game. However, unable to capitalize on those opportunities down the stretch offensively, Westlake watched Ross’ pick-six place the final nail in the coffin.

As Salazar echoed to his squad in his post-game speech, the Chaps simply didn’t make enough plays on Saturday. 

The Westlake offense finished with 117 total yards and completed as many passes to North Shore defenders as Westlake receivers. The Chaps completed three passes for 29 yards, along with three interceptions. 

While the Chaps will lose 61 seniors, there are several names among the returners that give hope for yet another state title push. 

“I love [the players] so much, and they love this program,” Salazar said. “The standard is still the standard at Westlake, and these guys held up to it. I’m going to miss a lot of them. They’re good kids.”

Wise will return at the helm of the offense, alongside two starting receivers and four starting offensive linemen.

The Westlake defense, which was incredibly important to the Chaps’ success in the playoffs, will return several key players as well, such as linebacker junior Elliot Schaper, defensive back junior Payton Luther and a pair of junior defensive linemen in Cullen Devine and Connor Vasek. Next season, the Chaps’ young stars will have the experience that proves valuable come playoff time. 

“We’ll be right back in this spot,” Salazar said to the Austin-American Statesman. “We just have to finish it next time.”

United sorrowful emotion, offense of line junior Jet Crall surrounded by fellow varsity players, intently listens to head coach Tony Salazar in their post game huddle following their semi final loss to The North Shore Mustangs in Pflugerville Dec. 9. (Mia Fillpot)
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