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FOUR KEYS: What Cy-Fair must do to upend North Shore for the Region III-6A, DI title

The defending state champion Cy-Fair Bobcats will have their hands full against North Shore this weekend at NRG Stadium. (ANGEL VERDEJO/VYPE)

Cy-Fair and North Shore clash Saturday at NRG Stadium for the right to represent Region III at the Class 6A, Division I state semifinals next week.

Cy-Fair is still in the hunt for a state championship repeat after last season’s undefeated storybook run. However, the Bobcats face one of its greatest challenges to date with a forceful Mustangs team that is running rampant to what looks to be another North Shore state title.

The Bobcats are 11-2 and outscoring opponents by 27.9 points per game this season. Terrific numbers. However, they pale in comparison to North Shore, which stands 13-0 with a point differential of plus-45.5. Ridiculously impressive.

The Bobcats conquered regional titan Atascocita last week, 41-38. The Mustangs are coming off a demonstrative performance against perennial state power Katy, 49-38.

Cy-Fair will have its hands full against a loaded Mustangs roster full of talent that will be featured on Saturdays in coming years. Still, it’s not an impossible task. North Shore, after all, wants what the Bobcats are defending: a state title.

Here are a few keys for Cy-Fair in how it can upset the titanic Mustangs and continue its strut toward a championship defense at AT&T Stadium.

MAKE NORTH SHORE PASS: Let’s get one thing straight. The Mustangs are dominant via the pass or the run. It doesn’t matter. Pick your poison. But something has to give, and the numbers show that North Shore has not been as effective via the pass as the run this postseason. Consider: in three playoff games, North Shore has rushed for an average of 265.3 yards per game on 29 carries per game. The Mustangs have 13 rushing touchdowns. But in the passing game this postseason, North Shore is completing 65.4 percent of its passes for 229 yards per game and eight touchdowns, averaging just 17.3 pass attempts per game. North Shore is averaging 9.1 yards per carry and 13.2 yards per pass attempt. Sophomore quarterback Dematrius Davis and an athletic, NCAA DI-ready receiving corps led by Shadrach Banks, Ajani Carter and Chance Pillar are a handful, but Cy-Fair’s playmaking defensive trio of linebackers Tre’von Mosley and Jaydon Harris, and defensive back Hunter Rangel has proven to be able to get into the backfield (a combined five sacks and 34 tackles for a loss). That’s not even including defensive end Joe Pustejovsky (five sacks). Take away North Shore’s most effective and preferred offense, the run game, and try and welcome big games for Davis, Banks and Co. Not easy, but again, it’s the lesser of two evils.

GO AGAINST THE NORM: Cy-Fair lives and dies by its run game. Being one-dimensional offensively, however, will play right into North Shore’s hands. This could, and should, be a big opportunity for Bobcats senior quarterback Ryan Nelub to step up. Nelub has only thrown for 1,248 yards this season, but that’s largely because of Cy-Fair’s conservative approach. Still, he has made the most of his chances, completing 65.9 percent of his passes and throwing for 17 touchdowns to two interceptions. He also has some capable big-play receivers in seniors Christian Richmond (14.8 yards per catch, five TDs) and Marcus McKinley (15.4 yards per catch, five TDs). The Mustangs won’t let you run on them — in the playoffs, North Shore is allowing just 151.3 rushing yards per game and surrendering just four yards per carry. Meanwhile, the Mustangs can be susceptible against the pass, allowing 212.3 passing yards per game these playoffs and six touchdowns via the air. In the last two playoff games in particular, North Shore has surrendered an average of 277.5 passing yards per game for five touchdowns. The play-action game, especially, could work for Cy-Fair, and if Nelub can loosen the defense with some timely passes, it could open things for the Bobcats’ vaunted run game. Katy abused the Mustangs consistently with play-fakes during last week’s regional semifinals, and it almost paid off: the Tigers were within 35-31 late during the fourth quarter.

JAKE RUIZ!: Cy-Fair has to win the field-position game. It cannot give North Shore short fields to work with. That’s where junior kicker Jake Ruiz comes in. Ruiz averages 54.1 yards with 24 touchbacks on 76 kick-offs this season. He averages 32.6 yards on 21 punts, with a long of 58 yards; that average will likely need to be closer to 40 against the Mustangs. Ruiz has connected on 6 of 8 field goals, with a long of 45 yards; he will play a big role if Cy-Fair is able to consistently get deep into North Shore’s side of the field, because the Bobcats will need points of any kid, be it touchdowns or field goals. If Cy-Fair is to pull off the win, trust that Ruiz will have had a say. He has had a strong season, and playing indoors on a big stage, he can showcase his skills and help generate plus-situations for the Bobcats’ offense and special teams.

MAKE 'EM SEE YELLOW (FLAGS): North Shore is aggressive, physical and skilled on defense. But the Mustangs can tend to get a bit too aggressive at times, and a smart offense can exploit that. The Mustangs have been whistled for 20 penalties in three playoff games for 188 yards. This could be key for offsides in awarding Cy-Fair free yards and opportunities for first downs to keep drives alive and play keep-away from North Shore’s explosive offense. The Bobcats will have to be diligent and disciplined with cadence and motion on offense to try and get North Shore to bite. Cy-Fair has to do whatever it takes to get positive situations on third down, and provoking penalties could be a considerable factor. Cy-Fair, meanwhile, has only committed 12 penalties this postseason.

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