Knights rely on strength in upset

BRAD KEITH brad.keith@empiretribune.com
Knights win

When Texas Christian Athletic League Division II champ Stephenville FAITH defeated UIL Six-Man Division I powerhouse Gordon 44-35 in Bluff Dale Friday night, the victory wasn't just one for the Knights but for all of TCAL.

The message: top tier teams in TCAL can play, and not just with other homeschool teams.

But there was another underlying message too, one FAITH head coach Cody Martin hopes was boldly received by his younger players Friday: hard work pays off.

"It was the weight room," he said. "We knew Gordon had great team speed, a lot more than us. But we thought if we relied on our work in the weight room we would prove to be the stronger team and that's what happened."

And lean on strength the Knights did, plowing their way to more than 300 rushing yards led by senior Jared Veldhuizen with 248 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.

"In the second half we ran three different plays over and over with most of the carries going to Jared," Martin said. "We had the lead most of the game and we knew they were fast and explosive on offense, so we played keep away. That, and they couldn't stop him. We respect Gordon, they have a great football team, but we have the stronger football team. We depended on the weight room and it carried us through. We may be homeschool kids, but we're a strong group of homeschool kids."

Veldhuizen had plenty of help as Jacob Thompson rushed 10 times for 83 yards and a pair of short yardage TDs and Justin Baugh hauled in a scoring pass from Shadd Cole.

"We showed our offensive versatility because the week before against Trinity Shadd led us in rushing out of the spread," Martin explained. "Against Gordon we lined up tight and ran the ball with the other guys and our running backs really kicked it into high gear."

Still, Martin said, it was the defense that led the way.

"That's kind of the way it's been since the championship game last year. It was that way in our scrimmages and it's stayed that way through our first two games," Martin said. "The story is our defense. I believe we have two of the best defensive ends playing six-man football anywhere in the state in (Thompson and Veldhuizen). They're athletic and strong, and when they do screw up, their hustle almost always makes up for it. They recover and make plays all over the field."

Thompson had 16 tackles including four sacks for a loss of 67 yards Friday, while Veldhuizen made 12 tackles and a sack. Linebacker Daniel Winkler had 14 tackles and two sacks.

But when it came time for the biggest defensive play of the night, Cole stepped up and made it.

"I made a coaching mistake and ran Jared one too many times, because he was exhausted," Martin said. "He fumbled on his last carry with about 50 seconds left and Gordon got it. They knew they had to score fast and get an onside kick, so they went deep on the first play and Shadd intercepted it and we kneeled on the ball and ran out the clock."

It was a stunning victory after Gordon was ranked No. 13 in the sixmanfootball.com all-inclusive statewide rankings with FAITH ranked No. 91.

"The moral of the story is hard work pays off," Martin said. "The kids are so thrilled to see the benefits of all their labor."

The Knights have another daunting task ahead this week as they try to avenge one of their three early season losses from last year. They visit Watauga Harvest Christian at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

"They don't have the team speed of Gordon, but they have one kid who's faster than anything (Gordon) had," Martin said Monday morning. "We'll watch our game film (Monday afternoon), but after that we don't get to high five anymore. It's all about Watauga, because they present another big challenge."

Big challenges are what the Knights are all about. And they tackled a huge one last week.

Follow Brad Keith on Twitter @etsports