On August 12, 2013 a journey began as 62 5A High Schools in San Antonio and South Texas started two-a-days with the same goal; to still be playing in December. Almost 4 months latter those 62 have been reduced to just 2.
Johnson and fellow NEISD school Madison are the only two 5A teams from Region IV that have not turned in their pads and uniforms. Due to the UIL split of 5A into two divisions for the playoffs Madison and Johnson play in separate brackets with out a chance to meet again during the playoffs.With just two more weeks of Football Johnson is now entering a Historic part of the Texas High School Football calendar. The State Semi-final week means Johnson will no longer play teams from South Texas but will now represent Region IV against Region III. Johnson is now one of four teams in the UIL division II 5A bracket and one of eight 5A teams still playing football.
To get to this point Johnson has had maybe the toughest road of any of the other State Semifinalist. The four teams Johnson has defeated in the UIL 5A Division II bracket entered the playoffs with a combined overall record of 41-6. Of the four teams three had won their district championship with an unblemished district mark.
Johnson who had only one playoff game under their belt at the start of this post season defeated perennial Region IV power Smithson Valley and Brandeis. They then faced off and beat Alexander a team that has played 12 playoff games over the last four years. And Saturday night the Jags defeated Steele. The Knights moved up to 5A four years ago and then won the Regional Title over the next three straight year in 5A Division II.
Steele entered the Saturday Night Regional Final / State Quarterfinal with an almost improbable stat. Since opening in 2006 Steele had never lost a playoff game to a team from the greater San Antonio area and had amassed a 14-0 record against SA teams in the playoffs.
With the Alamodome unavailable due to the USAA Christmas party the Jags and Knights settled on Texas State Bobcat Stadium in San Marcos to face off for a chance to advance to the State Semifinals. The Jaguars have deep ties to the Bobcat as it was the site of the Jags first ever playoff win just a few weeks before vs Smithson Valley.
The Bobcat is also where head coach Ron Rittimann played the final two years of his College Career and where he began coaching as a graduate assistant.
Steele came into the the Saturday night contest with one loss this season and an amazing record of 56-6 since moving to 5A.
With the temperature hovering around freezing the two teams faced off in what might go down as one of the best playoff games ever played in South Texas. After kicking off the Jags forced an early fumble on a pass play. The ball was recovered by Jerod Vick along the sideline giving the ball to the Jags.
Johnson would capitalize by driving the field and a scrambling Hunter Rittimann would find Devlin Gilligan in the back of the endzone for the first score of the night. Steele would answer right back with a score of their own to tie the game 7-7.
Johnson would score on their second possession as Josh Theissen got behind the defense and Rittimann found him for a 41 yard pass and catch for a score putting the Jags up 14-7. Again Steele would drive the field and score to tie the game at 14.
On Johnson’s third possession the Jags moved the ball to Steele’s 12 yard line and the old swinging gate play was called by offensive coordinator Jimmy Cueva. The Jags ran it to perfection and scored as Rittimann threw his third touchdown pass and second to Gilligan.
On Steele’s next play from scrimmage the Johnson defense forced another fumble and Linebacker Kyle Lollar came away with the ball. With less than a min to play the Jags again drove down the field and after running back Darion McElhannon came up inches short, Hunter Rittimann dove in for a score with just :20 left in the half giving the Jags a commanding 28-14 lead at the break.
On all four first half possessions the Jags found the endzone and the Johnson defense made two stops via fumbles. It was the Johnson defesne that again came up big to start the second half as Johnson fumbled on the first play from scrimmage to start the third quarter setting up a short field for the Knights.
Four plays later the Johnson offense was back on the field after the Jaguars stopped the Knights on four plays inside the Jaguars 30 yard line.
It would be Rittimann again finding the open receiver on a 41 yard pass play, as Charles Reininger drug a defender into the endzone for a score giving the Jags a three touchdown lead at 35-14. Reininger has now caught 9 passes in the post season with 6 of them going for scores.The Jaguars quickly found out that teams with rich histories and pride do not fold in the playoffs.
The Knights would score the next three touchdowns taking advantage of a Johnson Punt and a fumble. With 5:48 left to play the Jags took over on their own end of the field in a tie game 35-35. Like an instant replay of the Smithson Valley game just weeks before the Jags started a slow methodical drive down the field.
Eating up precious time on the clock and forcing Steele to use all of it’s time outs the Jags were facing a third and nine from the Knights 10 yard line with just over a min to play. Cueva again went to his bag of tricks and set up the swinging gate once again. But this time it was Rittiman to Theissen. It was Rittimann’s fifth touchdown pass of the game and Theissen’s second touchdown reception. It was also the sophomore’s 50 reception of the year tying him for the team lead with Gilligan.
The touchdown and Zack Elder extra point gave the Jags a 42-35 with just :55 left in the contest, but again the Jags were facing a great defending regional champion in Steele and their was still fight left in the Knights.
The Knights put together a drive that took only :30 and scored a touchdown. With the Jags preparing for overtime the Steele head coach left his place kicker, who had made 76 extra points this year, on the sideline. Going for two and the win Steele ran a play action roll out pass play that their four year Letterman running back Justin Stockton could not come up with.
A Johnson recovery of an onside kick and a knee was all that was left to send the Jags to the State Semifianls after a 42-41 win over Steele.
Johnson advances to the State Semifinals in just it’s sixth year of varsity Football. No other NEISD school has ever advanced to the State Semifinals quicker than Johnson. And no NEISD High School north of 1604 has ever advanced this far in the UIL football playoff bracket. The last time an NEISD school advanced to the State semifinals was in 2007 when Madison was defeated by Katy in the Alamodome. 2007 was the final year Coach Rittimann, Cueva and defensive Coordinator Blaine Pederson were all assistance at Madison before coming to open Johnson.
The Jags will travel to Houston for the 2013 UIL 5A Division II State Semifinals and will play in the home of the NFL Houston Texans, Reliant Stadium. Waiting for Johnson…. Katy.
The Katy Tigers are arguably the most successful High School Football program in the State of Texas. Katy High School was founded in 1898 with it’s first varsity football season in 1936. Katy has won seven State Championships and has advanced to the State finals 12 times.
Katy will be Johnson’s toughest test of the season and while the Jags have been near flawless the last four weeks they will have to step up their game once again. Katy played last week at Relient Stadium and with the playoff success over the years has played in the Houston dome plenty of times.
Katy is undefeated this season with a 14-0 record and is the reigning 5A division II State Champion. Katy’s last loss was in 2011 in the third round of the playoffs.
Johnson will come in battle tested as they have defeated three of the top teams in San Antonio to get this far and three district champions. Katy has been more convincing in their wins this year in the playoffs but has not faced the competition the Jags have.
At the start of the playoffs Katy’s four eventual opponents had an overall record of 28-12.
Katy opened the playoffs with a 70-0 win over Houston Madison. Madison finished fourth in their district with a 4-6 record. Katy then faced Cy-Woods who finished third in their district with a 7-3 overall regular season record. The Tigers competition got a little tougher in the third round as they took on Elkins who shared their district title with a 8-2 regular season record.
Last week Katy faced a Manvel team that had only one loss and had won the district 22-5A title by going 7-0.
The Jaguars will need a perfect performance and a little more of that magic they have found the past few weeks. The Jags will also be facing a “Sea of Red” in the stands of Reliant Stadium this Saturday at 4pm. The Jaguar faithful have been amazing this post season braving the cold, rain, wind and driving to Corpus. But Rittimann and the boys again need to ask for your support.
Google Maps puts Reliant Stadium at 204 miles or a 3 hour drive from Johnson High School. Game time is 4pm on Saturday and the players and coaches would like nothing more than to walk out of the locker room at 3:55pm and find a “Sea of Red” facing a “Sea of Blue.”