First-year QBs fit nicely into storied Lake Travis-Westlake rivalry

Blue-chip recruits, a pair of eventual NFL athletes and even the expected starters for Saturday’s Red River Showdown between Texas and Oklahoma have all played quarterback during the 11-year series between Lake Travis and Westlake.

But when the not-so-friendly neighbors renew their rivalry Friday night at Chaparral Stadium, two first-year starters will line up behind center for just the second time in the series’ history.

Both Westlake junior Taylor Anderson and Lake Travis senior Matthew Baldwin have enjoyed remarkable success in their first full seasons as starting varsity quarterbacks. Each has accounted for more than 1,500 yards of offense and at least 15 touchdowns, and both lead state-ranked Class 6A teams.

Baldwin assumed the starter’s role at Lake Travis almost immediately after eventual Baylor signee Charlie Brewer guided the Cavaliers to the Class 6A, Division I state championship last December, but Anderson took a more circuitous route. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound junior didn’t earn the starting nod over talented sophomore Kirkland Michaux until a week before Westlake’s season opener, but he has certainly met the oversized expectations that come with playing quarterback for the Chaparrals.

Anderson has thrown for 1,124 yards and 10 touchdowns and he’s rushed for another 413 yards and five touchdowns to help Westlake to a 6-0 record. He has shown a nice touch on deep throws and has become better at hitting his underneath receivers, said Westlake’s head coach, Todd Dodge. Anderson’s deft fakes and deceptive speed also have confounded defenses that focus too much on Chaps running back Nakia Watson, a Wisconsin pledge who has rolled to nearly 1,000 yards this season.

Anderson “has been exactly what we hoped he would be,” Dodge said. “He’s a dual-threat quarterback with a stronger arm than last year who’s worked hard on improving his intermediate passing. That improvement has coincided with us getting more people involved in the offense.”

Anderson opened the season by throwing a pair of interceptions in Westlake’s 35-28 victory at College Station, Dodge recalled, and “ever since then we’ve tried to trick him in practice with some similar coverages, but he just hasn’t made that mistake anymore.”

Since that opening-night victory, Anderson has thrown just one interception.

Dodge’s counterpart at Lake Travis, Hank Carter, said film study reveals that Anderson “looks like a typical Westlake quarterback. He’s a good runner, he gets the ball out on time (when he passes), and he’s just well-coached. And it looks like he has a lot more velocity on his throws than we saw last year.

“Coach Dodge always does such a good job with his quarterbacks.”

Anderson first saw extended playing time in Westlake’s District 25-6A matchup against Lake Travis last season.

He began the 2016 season on the junior varsity before injuries led to him being promoted to the varsity. After a first-quarter injury knocked Chaparrals starter Sam Ehlinger out of the game, Anderson came on and took his lumps, along with the rest of the Chaparrals, during a 49-7 loss.

“It happened so fast that I didn’t have time to be nervous,” Anderson said of his debut, “but I wouldn’t have had any of the success that I have if it wasn’t for that game.”

Said Dodge: “If you can image getting your first varsity snap before however many people that were packed into Cavalier Stadium — without any snaps with the No. 1 offense — that’s what Taylor had to do last season. To Taylor’s credit, he used that as a confidence builder. He survived, learned some lessons and quarterbacked us to a bunch of wins.”

In Ehlinger’s absence, Anderson started four games and helped Westlake reach the Class 6A, Division I state quarterfinals, where the Chaps lost to Lake Travis for the 10th straight time.

In praise of Baldwin

On Friday night, Carter and the Cavaliers will hand off much of the responsibility for their nearly decade-long winning streak against Westlake to Baldwin.

A 6-3, 210-pounder who has committed to Colorado State, Baldwin has passed for 1,867 yards and 24 touchdowns this season while completing 69 percent of his attempts. His prodigious production has helped the Cavaliers average more than 50 points a game and compares favorably with the college recruits who preceded him at Lake Travis. Through the first five games of the season, Baldwin has piled up more touchdown passes over that span than any other Cavaliers quarterback on a list that includes Baker Mayfield, who will lead the Sooners against Ehlinger and the Longhorns on Saturday; Michael Brewer; Garrett Gilbert; and Charlie Brewer.

“We’re really proud about how he’s playing,” Carter said. “We knew what we had with him, and we expected him to play at a high level. He’s met those expectations, and overall the offense has been productive.”

Baldwin is quick to point out that he has receivers who would bolster any quarterback’s stats. Junior receiver Garrett Wilson has 40 catches for 829 yards and nine touchdowns this season, and sophomore wideout Hudson Card has 644 yards from scrimmage and another nine TDs. Standing more than 6 feet, both can be matchup nightmares for defensive backs.

“Having guys like that makes it so much easier for me,” Baldwin said. “They’re both just playmakers, and they hardly ever bust routes.”

Baldwin also can tuck the ball and run when needed — he has 110 yards rushing and averages almost 5 yards per carry — but he relies on his textbook form in the pocket to pick apart defenses.

“He has such good fundamentals, and that helps with his accuracy,” Carter said. “He has great footwork, and he gets the ball out of his hand quickly. I think people may not have realized his arm strength; he has the type of arm you see in college or the NFL.”

Baldwin has an admirer in Dodge, a former Longhorns quarterback who has developed a reputation for grooming high school quarterbacks.

“There’s a reason he’s so accurate; he has great footwork, he lets his backside fly, and the ball explodes out of his hand,” said Dodge, who has coached six prep quarterbacks who went on to play Division I football. “He just has tremendous balance, and he makes it look effortless. And I’ll bet he never has arm issues because he’s so fundamentally sound.”

Baldwin resisted the urge to transfer from Lake Travis in an effort to gain playing time and improve his recruiting prospects. Instead, he waited patiently behind Charlie Brewer, a two-year starter.

“I’ve talked with my family about the what-ifs,” Baldwin said. “What if I had played at a smaller school? What if I had started (on the varsity) for three years?

“But if I had done that, I felt like I would have sold out a little bit. I’ve been in Lake Travis ever since I was born, and I’ve played with most of (the seniors) ever since I was a little kid. It just wouldn’t have felt right to play anywhere else.”

Dodge praises Baldwin for his long-standing commitment to playing for the Cavaliers.

“You see so many times these days that people want instant gratification, but he waited his turn and has stepped up,” Dodge said. “I respect guys like that.”

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