Hightower was unable to pay back an October loss to the Katy Paetow Panthers in their regional final rematch Friday night, falling 35-12.
But that doesn’t mean the whole season was for not, according to head coach Cornelius Anthony – in fact, it means just the opposite.
“We just need to hit that reset button and keep it going,” he said after the game of his team, which started eight sophomores during the 2021 season. “…The silver lining is that we’ve got a great foundation to build upon, with (this team) being so young – I’ve got two more years with those guys, so I’m excited.”
The Hurricanes’ season came to an end Friday night at Rice Stadium in Houston, as they dropped a 35-12 decision to the Panthers in a Class 5A Division I state quarterfinal. Hightower, which finished the season with an 11-3 record, was denied its first trip to state since 2011.
And though the Hurricanes played demonstrably better than in the teams’ Oct. 21 matchup – which Paetow won 55-7 – it still was not enough to keep their season alive. Panthers running back Jacob Brown ran for 346 yards and five touchdowns, as Paetow kept to the script which has driven their season.
“They did what they do to most teams – they out-physical you. They just lined up and manhandled us,” Anthony said. “…When you get to these later rounds of the playoffs, you’re going to run up against teams that are just physically dominant.”
Senior Hightower receivers Kaleb Johnson and Caleb Douglas combined to catch eight passes for 134 yards in their final high school games, while senior safety D’Cambren Verrett had one of the Hurricanes’ three interceptions. Anthony praised his group of more than 30 graduating seniors, crediting them with holding things together despite his late hiring and amidst a slew of transfers that ensured immediately following his hiring.
Friday was Hightower’s first state quarterfinal since 2011, and the 11 wins this season was the most in a single season for the program since that 2011 campaign.
“I really wish that I had more time with (these seniors), because they’re a great group of kids – to take me in and buy in to the culture that we’re trying to establish, they did that,” Anthony said. “And that’s the reason why we went as far as we did.”
However, they fell short of their ultimate goal of winning a state championship. And though the foundation has been laid, Anthony said it needs to be built upon if they are to ultimately scale that peak.
“Remember this – remember this feeling,” he said to his team after the game.
And he looks to have some solid building blocks coming back. Sophomore quarterback K.J. Penson threw for 229 yards and two touchdowns in the game, while sophomore running back Jeremy Payne had 135 total yards including a 55-yard touchdown catch.
Sophomore receiver Zion Kearney had three catches for 23 yards, while junior cornerback Chisolm Onwuzurigbo hauled in two of the Hurricanes’ three interceptions.
“We’ll be back,” Anthony said. “We’ve just got to get in the lab, get in that offseason and that summer, and get better, stronger, and faster.