North Shore rallies to beat Atascocita for district title in top-10 Texas showdown: 5 takeaways

HOUSTON, Texas — Galena Park North Shore came out of the locker room to start the third quarter locked in another tie during the team’s most important game of the season to date.

The Mustangs, the No. 6 team in SBLive’s Texas Top 50 statewide high school football rankings, entered halftime knotted up at 14 against seventh-ranked Humble Atascocita in the biggest District 21-6A contest of the year.

But with the district title at stake, North Shore came roaring out of the gates to spark a dominant second-half rally that pushed the Mustangs past Atascocita 31-21 in a back-and-forth battle to secure their fourth consecutive district championship Friday night at Galena Park ISD Stadium.

“They’re a great football team and a great program. Coach (Craig) Stump does a great job over there and these kids know each other,” Galena Park North Shore head football coach Jon Kay said.

“This is what it’s going to be like from this point forward. These are the kind of games we’re going to be in week and week out, so if you’re questioning your conditioning or your ability to focus in these situations, that’s playoff football at the 6A level in the state of Texas,” he added. “It gave us a great glimpse of what’s to come. We’re in the business of collecting data, and I think we collected a lot of data tonight. That’s what you expect when you play a team like Atascocita.”

PHOTOS: North Shore rallies to beat Atascocita for district title in top-10 showdown

Here are five key takeaways from the Mustangs’ win over the Eagles:

NORTH SHORE’S OFFENSE OWNED THIRD QUARTER FROM OPENING SNAP

The Mustangs hardly had to wait to retake the lead at the outset of the third quarter.

North Shore pounced on its first opportunity to reclaim the advantage when junior running back Rashaad Johnson burst up the middle and raced past two defenders in the open field for a 64-yard touchdown run that put the team back in front of Atascocita 21-14 just 19 seconds into the second half.

The Mustangs scored on their second possession of the third quarter too after a defensive stand set the offense up with promising field position. A few plays later, freshman quarterback Kaleb Bailey fired a dart to senior wide receiver Joseph Richard on a crossing route over the middle of the field for a 29-yard touchdown pass with 9:10 left on the clock during the third quarter to grab a two-possession advantage.

That touchdown throw from Bailey to Richard gave North Shore a two-possession edge after the team found the end zone twice during the first 2 minutes and 50 seconds of the second half.

Those two scoring plays, along with sophomore Aubrey Broussard’s 16-yard touchdown run on a quarterback scramble with 20 seconds left in the second quarter, represented a three-touchdown swing for the Mustangs within 3 minutes and 10 seconds of game time that quickly and decisively turned the tide in North Shore’s favor.

“I think everybody’s being accountable,” Kay said. “I’m in the business of playing field-position football and I made some decisions there that went against our nature. I was going to be held to account for that and I let them know that it’s alright for us to not be perfect. We’ve collected data in the first half, so let’s use the data and change. We came out in the second half, got back into our style of football. … Don’t fear failure, get after it.”

The Mustangs added a 26-yard field goal on their final drive of the third quarter to stake a three-score advantage — the largest lead of the game for either team — and come away with points on three of four offensive possessions during a dominant third quarter.

Bailey, who split time at quarterback with Broussard on Friday, led the charge for North Shore offensively through the air and on the ground. In the biggest game of his young high school career so far, Bailey tallied 71 rushing yards on 18 carries, both of which were game highs.

He also completed five of eight passes for 83 yards and two passing touchdowns, including a 34-yard touchdown throw to senior wide receiver David Amador on the team’s first drive of the night, and handled the pressure of the moment by limiting mistakes and keeping the offense moving downfield.

Johnson, who finished with 69 rushing yards and a touchdown on four carries, led a group of five other Mustangs who ran for 15 yards or more on the ground. North Shore’s relentless rushing attack racked up 221 yards on 38 runs throughout the night collectively, which gave the team a needed leg up in the time-of-possession battle during the second half.

MUSTANGS’ DEFENSE DOMINATED FOURTH QUARTER TO SEAL VICTORY

North Shore’s defense shut out Atascocita during the first quarter to jump out to an early lead, but the Mustangs’ work defensively during the fourth quarter was what ultimately guaranteed them the victory.

Despite being shorthanded after being bit by the injury bug, North Shore brought a high level of intensity defensively from its front seven to its secondary that peaked during the final quarter of play.

The Mustangs gave up their only points of the second half defensively with 4:36 left during the third quarter on a 9-yard touchdown run by sophomore Ja’marri Green that brought Atascocita back within a score of erasing Galena Park North Shore’s 28-21 lead with the fourth quarter looming.

But after the team bolstered its lead behind Carlos Dominguez’s 24-yard field goal kick on the next possession to close the third, North Shore’s defense took total control of the contest.

“(Davis) played really good, but it’s one of those things and it’s the nature of playing defensive back,” Kay said. “You can play 10 great plays and then that one time where you get your eyes where they don’t belong, you’re going to have a receiver like (Chase) Sowell get to you.”

Neither team was able to add points at any point during the fourth quarter, but the Mustangs made sure Atascocita hardly sniffed the end zone offensively in crunch time.

The Eagles mounted four drives during the last 12 minutes of the game as they tried to stage a late comeback.

One possession stalled deep inside their territory after they recovered a fumble near their own goal line during a North Shore punt return. The Mustangs’ defense, meanwhile, stopped Atascocita three times in fourth-down situations during the fourth quarter to prevent the team from putting a dent in their 10-point edge.

North Shore forced the Eagles to turn it over on downs five times throughout the game following defensive stops on fourth down. The Mustangs stopped Atascocita’s offense on fourth and goal twice, too.

The Eagles missed a 26-yard field goal attempt near the end of the first quarter after being halted at the 5-yard line by North Shore’s defense, but the Mustangs’ most important stop came during the early stages of the fourth quarter when they held their ground during another fourth-and-goal scenario at their own 5-yard line.

North Shore was especially effective against the run defensively as the game progressed and limited Atascocita to 94 total rushing yards on 31 carries throughout the night.

ATASCOCITA’S RECEIVERS VS NORTH SHORE’S SECONDARY; EAGLES’ O-LINE VS MUSTANGS’ D-LINE HIGHLIGHTED ELITE POSITIONAL BATTLES

Friday’s matchup between the Eagles and Mustangs included several high-level position battles that featured many of the state’s most elite and talented recruits.

Highlighting those intriguing head-to-head positional matchups across the field were Galena Park North Shore’s defensive backs versus Humble Atascocita’s wideouts and the Eagles’ offensive line against the Mustangs’ defensive front.

North Shore can boast one of the deepest secondaries anywhere in Texas high school football this season, but played without senior cornerback and five-star recruit Denver Harris, who was sidelined by a lingering hamstring injury Friday according to Kay postgame.

However, that did not prevent the Mustangs’ defensive backs from aggressively defending Atascocita’s prolific receiving corps, who went back and forth at one another all night exchanging acrobatic catches and pass deflections.

“That’s like holding a caged Tiger,” Kay said of resting Harris. “He wants to get out there, especially in a game like this, so for us to go out there and perform (well) without him I thought was good. When you play a team like Atascocita, it’s another great lesson. If you play a second of undisciplined football, they’ll take advantage of it and they did that. That’s healthy for our kids to see and see that other kids can play the game and move forward.”

Atascocita scored both its first-half touchdowns on 52 and 57-yard throws to senior receiver Chase Sowell, who twice beat busted coverage for walk-in scores midway through the second quarter.

Sowell, who holds multiple DI offers, and fellow senior wide receiver Keith Wheeler, a Tulsa commit, paced their team’s offense and accounted for 55.5% of the unit’s 384 total yards. during a game in which the Eagles relied on their passing attack to claw their way back into the contest. Wheeler caught a game-high eight passes for 86 receiving yards, while Sowell snagged four catches for 127 yards and two receiving touchdowns, both game highs.

North Shore senior cornerback Caleb Flagg, junior strong safety Jayven Anderson and junior corner Jacoby Davis, meanwhile, took the lead in providing lockdown pass coverage with strong open-field tackles and countless pass breakups.

“I loved that. I loved watching those two (Chase Sowell and Jacoby Davis) compete against each other all night,” Kay said. “I was a football fan way before I was a football coach and just to see those two go at it was exciting. They’re both from this side of town, and I just love the display that they put on for this whole area.”

The other head-to-head positional duel that took on a major role in shaping Friday’s outcome was focused in the trenches and pitted one of the best offensive tackles in Texas high school football against one of the state’s most physically-imposing D-linemen.

North Shore defensive lineman Kristopher Ross, a Texas commit, and Atascocita left tackle Kam Dewberry lined up opposite one another most of the game to create a head-to-head matchup between two four-star recruits who each rank among the top 45 Class of 2022 prospects in Texas high school football.

Ross and the Mustangs’ front seven were able to seal off outside running lanes and pick up several sacks after blowing up many plays behind or at the line of scrimmage.

Dewberry and the Eagles’ O-line, though, helped their team keep the chains moving offensively with strong run blocking between the tackles to establish their power-running game and provided ample pass protection to set up deep touchdown throws that helped give Atascocita a first-half lead.

NORTH SHORE’S JACOBY DAVIS, ATASCOCITA’S ZION BROWN STEPPED UP ON BIG STAGE

The two players who delivered most when their respective teams needed them in a pinch Friday were North Shore’s Davis and Humble Atascocita sophomore quarterback Zion Brown.

Davis — a four-star cornerback prospect in the Class of 2023 with 11 FBS offers— shouldered a large load of his squad’s defensive responsibility in the back end of the secondary, especially in the absence of Harris. The Mustangs’ standout junior corner stole the show in the secondary with one of the top performances of his high school career to date.

Davis blanketed and smothered the Eagles’ receivers with air-tight man-on-man coverage that led to numerous pass breakups, including two touchdown-saving deflections during the same first-half drive.

On the opposite sideline, Brown had his best performance of the season as well after being ushered into Atascocita’s starting quarterback role following a leg injury that cut senior quarterback Gavin Session’s season short in early October.

The Eagles’ sophomore signal caller was constantly on the move trying to avoid pressure in the face of North Shore’s powerful pass rush, but never hurt his team with costly turnovers.

Brown ran for 19 yards on 14 carries after sacks began to chip away at his contributions on the ground as a rusher and dual-threat quarterback, but he kept the Eagles in the contest by throwing for a career-high 290 yards and two touchdowns while completing 16 of 33 passes against a swarming Mustangs’ secondary.

He’ll have to keep it going for Atascocita to make noise in the postseason, but Brown appears to be up for the challenge and adjusting quickly to his new role.

MUSTANGS SHOULD BE FAVORITES FOR FOURTH STRAIGHT REGIONAL TITLE

Galena Park North Shore (9-1, 6-0) concluded its regular season with Friday’s win against the Eagles and will enter their bye week to prepare for the start of the 6A playoffs, which begin in two weeks.

The Mustangs have clinched District 21-6A’s top seed heading into the 6A DI playoffs and are likely to face Pasadena Dobie in their bi-district matchup.

North Shore should be an early favorite to emerge from Region III again this postseason and take a fourth consecutive trip to the state semifinals, especially with Katy and Pearland Dawson likely headed to 6A DII playoffs and fellow Houston-area 6A powers Cypress Bridgeland, Cypress Park, Spring and Spring Westfield stationed in Region II.

The Mustangs have outscored their opponents by 27.9 points per contest during regular-season play this fall and held opponents to one score or less in half of their 10 games, but are now focussed on resting and healing up in preparation for another deep playoff run.

“That’s the biggest thing that I’m taking away from tonight: I’m proud of the way our team performed from the coaches to the players and everybody,” Kay said. “We need (this bye) because we’re banged up, so this is going to give us an opportunity to get healthy. But we’re going to have to understand the level of conditioning that’s going to be necessary to make a playoff run and sometimes you lose that when you take a week off.”

“I know we’ll be going against a physical team at home and we’ll worry about that when the time comes,” he added. “Right now, we need to get back in the video room and need to get back in the weight room and heal up and start our preparation when the time comes.”

Humble Atascocita (7-2, 4-1), meanwhile, will return to action for its regular-season finale in Week 11 against postseason-hopeful Beaumont West Brook (5-4, 2-3) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Turner Stadium in Humble.

By virtue of their enrollment size as one of District 21-6A’s two largest schools, Atascocita has already locked up the district’s second seed moving into the 6A DI playoffs and will likely face Deer Park in its bi-district round matchup.

A win for Beaumont West Brook against the Eagles, however, keeps the Bruins in the hunt with Houston C.E. King and Humble Summer Creek for the district’s two tickets to the 6A DII playoffs and the 21-6A’s last two postseason berths.

Andrew McCulloch

Andrew McCulloch, SBLive

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