By LARRY BOWEN
It happened three games into the season, in a contest played four days later than scheduled, but the A&M Consolidated football team made a mark Tuesday night.
The Tigers did it with a flourish, rolling to a 44-23 victory over Austin Westlake at Tigerland Stadium in a matchup of two traditionally strong programs seeking their first victory of the season.
Hurricane Ike pushed the game back four days to a rare Tuesday start, but it was worth the wait for the Tigers. Consol, 1-2, has a week and a half to prepare for its District 12-5A opener against Temple.
Westlake, which played in the state championship game two years ago, will take an 0-3 mark into 25-5A play next week.
Consol's struggling offense came alive against Westlake by piling up 477 yards and never punting.
It was a remarkable change for a Consol team that opened the season with a lopsided loss to Round Rock McNeil and then fell to first-year program Cypress Woods.
"The kids stepped up and did a great job tonight," Consol coach Jim Slaughter said. "At the same time, I think we handled the Tuesday night game a little better than Austin Westlake. With them having to travel, I knew that could be the case."
Consol's offense blossomed against a Westlake defense that had allowed 69 points against Cedar Park and Lake Travis. The Tigers got a huge boost from sophomore running backs Chris Nutall and Clinton Banks, who made their varsity debuts. Nutall rushed for 96 yards on nine carries, with one touchdown run and a 48-yard scoring reception. Banks added eight carries for 33 yards and a touchdown.
Several Tiger veterans provided major contributions, including the offensive linemen, receiver Garrett Smith (4 catches for 80 yards, one TD) and quarterback Patrick O'Quinn (10-of-15 passing for 194 yards, 2 TDs).
"Those two sophomores made us better because of their athletic ability, and they also made us better because everybody else realized they had to step it up or they were not going to be able to see the field," Slaughter said. "That was a very positive move for us."
Even Consol's mistakes seemed to work out. O'Quinn threw a potentially deflating interception in the end zone at the end of the first half that allowed the Chaparrals to remain within 17-14. However, the Tigers scored 27 of the next 30 points.
"As crazy as this sounds, that play at the end of the half made us a better football team," Slaughter said. "It would have been real easy for a bunch of us to be pointing fingers, and we didn't. We decided we were going to come out and do what we had to do."
The Tigers started the second half with a 79-yard drive that began with a 40-yard reception by Adam Anderson and ended when Smith caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from O'Quinn.
After the teams traded field goals, Westlake trailed 27-17 in the fourth quarter. The Chaps then lost two fumbles and threw an interception, leading to 17 Consol points.
Consol's Michael Todaro recovered a fumble on a kickoff return that led to an 8-yard touchdown run by Banks. Linebacker Taylor Kieschnick's recovery ended Westlake's next possession, and O'Quinn connected with Nutall on a 48-yard score on the ensuing play.
Stafford Brantley's pass interception led to a 26-yard field goal by backup kicker Paul McVay.
The Tigers gained 248 yards in the first half, but two turnovers kept the game close.
Seniors Smith and Anderson played big roles in the Tigers' first scoring drive, with Anderson making a 1-yard touchdown run. Consol's kiddie corps shined on the next possession, with junior quarterback Dillen Ashton getting his first varsity completion and Nutall scoring on an impressive 6-yard run in which he sped around a crowd off left tackle.
The 14-0 deficit seemed to inspire the Chaparrals, who responded with a 77-yard scoring drive. Running back Ryan Swope, who has committed to Texas A&M, sparked Westlake with a couple of tackle-breaking runs. Receiver Mike Walker out-jumped a Consol cornerback to grab an 8-yard touchdown pass.
Consol pushed the lead to 17-7 with a 37-yard field goal by Matt Stoll, but the Chaps zipped 73 yards for another score, finishing with an 11-yard pass from Tanner Price to Walker.
The Tigers nearly scored again before halftime. Kip Daily returned the ensuing kickoff 28 yards, then O'Quinn had consecutive 28-yard completions, the second on a leaping catch by Smith. Consol had second-and-goal at the 4, but O'Quinn under-threw a fade pass and Michael Perkins intercepted.