Big second half propels O’Connor past Steele
With only a handful of starters from a team that was a state quarterfinalist a season ago, O’Connor entered its season opener against Steele with some question marks.
After a come-from-behind 21-14 road victory against highly regarded Steele, Panthers coach David Malesky got some answers.
“I learned that they know to fight, and they know how to win and not give up in a tough situation in a tough environment,” O’Connor coach David Malesky said.
The Panthers no longer rely on the running and passing ability of three-year starting quarterback Roel Sanchez, last season’s Express-News Offensive Player of the Year.
Instead, the Panthers may have found a new identity as a ground-and-pound team that can hurt you in the air. O’Connor displayed it as the Panthers lit up the Lehnhoff Stadium scoreboard for two third-quarter touchdowns.
“We don’t know who we are yet,” Malesky said. “You have to spend the beginning of the football season figuring out who you are and what your identity is. ... It kind of became an attitude with our offense, and it started with those guys up front. They started coming off and knocking people off the football. And Jordan Maye started steamrolling a few guys.”
The senior running back rushed 35 times for 117 yards. That set it up for junior quarterback David Dodd, a transfer from Cornerstone, who threw for 161 yards and two touchdowns on 13-of-15 passing.
Dodd connected with Sam Castillo seven times for 102 yards. He also hit Chase Locke, an all-district performer at Boerne Champion last year, for a 33-yard completion on the drive that put the Panthers on the Knights 6, leading to the go-ahead score.
“When (Maye) is running like that, they have to respect him,” Castillo said. “Once they commit to him, that opens up me and Chase.”
After garnering just 77 total yards in the first half, O’Connor finished with 288 yards. Steele had 300 total yards.
“This was huge for us,” Castillo said. “We came in not knowing where we are, and I think we’re in a good spot right now. We showed we’re willing to fight. We didn’t start off good, but we kept at it and we wore them down eventually.”
O’Connor overcame two fumbles in the second half to hang on for the victory.
The first turnover stopped a promising drive on the first series of the second half. Steele’s Chase Cromarte recovered a Maye fumble on the Knights 26.
Steele responded with a three-and-out, and O’Connor took over at its 40 after a punt. Eight plays later, Maye scored from a yard out to put the Panthers up 14-7 with 3:54 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers took a 21-7 lead on their next series when Castillo caught a 15-yard pass from Dodd with 0:15 left in the third quarter.
Steele pulled within 21-14 when Daniel Jackson scored on a 58-yard catch on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Johnathon Rivera stopped a Steele scoring threat late in the fourth quarter when he sacked Wyatt Begeal on fourth down.
Steele opened the scoring at the 8:40 mark of the second quarter on an 11-yard TD catch by Jackson, who snagged the ball from an O’Connor defender’s hand in the end zone.
O’Connor answered with a 4-yard TD catch by Dylan Murray. The score, with 1:38 remaining in the second quarter, capped a 17-play, 70-yard drive.
Steele quickly moved the ball to O’Connor’s 4-yard-line on the next drive. Jackson caught an 8-yard pass and was tackled inbounds with less than 10 seconds left in the half. The Knights had no timeouts and tried to spike the ball twice, but were called for false starts each time. The clock ran out without the Knights getting a chance try for a go-ahead score.