Cinco Ranch football working to match its own standard

September 17, 2018

The Cinco Ranch football team took a moment between the first and third quarters to honor several program alumni, from the very first varsity team in 2000 to last year’s 8-2 squad.

Those representing the 2008 team, which won the Cougars’ first and only district championship, and the 2009 state semifinalist received ovations among the loudest. The 2016 state semifinalists inspired similar applause.

Cinco Ranch celebrates its 20th year in session, a history that includes extracurricular success like one of the Houston area’s most consistent football teams.

Don Clayton, who has been the head coach every season, enjoyed the chance to bring so many former players together Sept. 15 at Legacy Stadium.

“It was great seeing the ones that were able to come back and the whole span from the first 2000 team all the way up to the team that played last year,” Clayton said. “It was great seeing them, particularly the ones up through 2009, because they’re into their lives now. They have families started, they’re in their careers. It’s good to see them making an effort. Some of them came in from Dallas, New Orleans, all over.”

The reunion included all three Cardone brothers, who Clayton recalled played in the program during a nine-year span in its first decade.

Ironically, as the Cougars celebrated their successful history, the current team was falling to a rare 0-3 start with a 56-28 loss to Pearland. It is the first such start to a season in at least 15 years.

Cinco Ranch scored the first touchdown of the game and rallied to tie the game at 21 later in the half. But a troublesome series left the Cougars down 35-21 at halftime and they never recovered.

“I told them we didn’t have any heart,” Clayton said. “The only difference between us and them, really, was heart. They had it and we didn’t. They were hungry and wanted that ballgame and we didn’t.”

The Cougars have not played a cupcake schedule, with the first two games on the road against Cypress Ranch and Jersey Village. But the results have not come either, with losses of 32-21 and 50-48 the first two weeks.

As the scores would suggest, a defense returning only one starter from 2017 is experiencing some growing pains. It did not help that the lone returner, linebacker David Gbenda, was ejected on a controversial targeting call against Pearland as he tumbled over a sliding quarterback.

“It hurt, obviously,” Clayton said. “He’s our best defensive player. It was not a very good call. Then they kind of walked it back after halftime and said ‘well, he didn’t hit him with his head, he brushed him with his shoulder pad.’”

Pearland finished the drive and took a 21-7 lead on its next. To their credit, the Cougars responded as Brannon King made a 55-yard catch on third and 10 to set up Cam Harper’s second touchdown run of the game.

Cinco Ranch took advantage of a short field to tie the game with 4:07 remaining. Sam Sobarzo’s first catch of the season went for 16 yards and Justin Hull later scored on a reverse near the goal line.

“I thought at times we battled well,” Clayton said. “But then, like second half, we came out, got a first down and fumbled the ball. Next play they score. That wasn’t a good way to start the second half. I thought we were going to close the gap. Kind of like Jersey Village, we were chasing points the whole night.”

The game was not without its positives for Cinco Ranch. King set career marks with five catches for 168 yards and a touchdown.

Hull added 99 yards from scrimmage to his team-leading total. Quarterbacks Harper and Trey Henderson both have the elusiveness to test defenses.

Dylan Bala led the Cougars with eight solo tackles against Pearland. Michael LaPalomento recorded six solo tackles, two for loss and a fumble recovery. Luke Long recovered another fumble, while Spencer Brown added an interception.

Part of Cinco Ranch’s own troubles were turnovers, namely a stretch of four in five possessions near halftime that turned the game in Pearland’s favor.

The Cougars have one more non-district game to make improvements. They host a Cedar Park team off to a similarly slow start at 1-2. The Timberwolves were an 11-2 area champion last year.

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