Welcome to TexasFootball.com’s Championship Central, your home for complete coverage of
the 2017 UIL Texas high school football state championships.
Welcome to TexasFootball.com’s Championship Central, your home for complete coverage of
6A Division I State Championship
Allen (15-0) vs. Lake Travis (13-2)
3 p.m. Saturday, December 23
Lake Travis went from a team confident in its chances to repeat as Class 6A Division I champs to a team desperately searching for a way to stop the bleeding in a matter of minutes at AT&T Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Senior quarterback Matthew Baldwin was a banged up after leaving last week’s win over Katy, but when he went down with a knee injury on the opening play of the game against Allen, momentum immediately shifted in the Eagles’ favor.
The Eagles jumped out to a three-score lead before Lake Travis recovered and Allen held off a furious comeback from the Cavaliers to take home the state title in a 35-33 win.
“There are flows, there is momentum and we’ve talked about it,” Allen head coach Terry Gambill. “If it’s negative don’t get too low and if it’s positive don’t get too high. Stay together as a team – it’s one of the things that’s helped us all year.”
While Allen appeared to put the game out of reach with Brock Sturges’ second rushing touchdown of the first quarter to make it 21-0, Lake Travis DB Nathan Parodi provided the spark that turned the game into a thriller.
Parodi returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown, igniting the Cavaliers on both sides of the ball.
Lake Travis went on to score 24 unanswered points, grabbing its first lead on the opening play of the second half when Kyle Eaves intercepted Allen QB Grant Tisdale and returned the ball 28 yards for a touchdown.
“We had a couple ups and downs at that point [of the interception],” Parodi said. “I knew we were down and needed a momentum switch. I just try to go out there and be that guy who gets our team hyped and back in the game. I know all it takes is one play.”
With sophomore Hudson Card filling in at quarterback from Baldwin, the Cardinals’ offense showed some of the explosiveness that’s to be expected in the coming years under Card’s guidance.
The sophomore, who normally starts at receiver, accounted for 297 total yards and two touchdowns after struggling in the first quarter and brought Lake Travis back within two points on a six-yard pass to running back Kyle Wakefield early in the fourth.
The Cavaliers needed a two-point conversion to even things up though and dialed up a trick play the Allen defense saw coming and put a stop to.
“We had a few plays ready for a two-point situation in the case we would need them, and we had a guy open,” Lake Travis coach Hank Carter said. “We just got pressure a little too quick. We liked the look we got, we just needed to speed our process up a little bit on that and we weren’t able to.”
Lake Travis had one last shot to pull ahead with just over 6:00 left in the fourth quarter and looked in the direction of the dynamic Garrett Wilson down the left sideline.
Card’s pass was on the money, but Allen safety Taj Bickham – the defensive MVP of the game – came flying across the field and made a diving interception to snag the ball just before it reached Wilson’s outstretched arms.
Allen took over inside its own 10-yard line and proceeded to eat up the final 6:03 off the clock behind Sturges and a dominant effort from the offensive line. Sturges, the offensive MVP, had 32 carries for 176 yards and three touchdowns.
— Brady Keane
A Closer Look
With just more than six minutes to play in Saturday’s Class 6A Division I state championship game, Allen got its fourth turnover of the game on an interception of Lake Travis quarterback Hudson Card and took possession on its own six-yard line with only a two-point cushion.
While Allen had the lead, it was far from a comfortable situation.
Then, Allen did what Allen does – keeping the ball while each remaining second ticked off the clock – and hoisted a state championship trophy to remain a perfect 5-for-5 in its title game appearances.
While Allen head coach Terry Gambill preached the idea of his Eagles scoring the ultimate team victory, it was impossible not to notice the effort of his senior running back Brock Sturges.
On that final drive that spanned 11 plays and covered just 34 yards over 6:03, Sturges carried the ball on six of them. In the end, he finished his final high school game with 32 carries for 176 yards and three touchdowns on a day when Allen only threw the ball eight times and completed five passes.
“He’s a great player, and they have a lot of them,” Lake Travis coach Hank Carter said. “They wore on us a little bit and we had a hard time tackling. That’s what excellent skill players will do. We knew they were a really good team, and we knew if they were able to just grind it out, then we’d have a tough time.”
That’s exactly what Allen did for much of the day offensively.
Sturges knew that was the key to an Allen victory, and just in case he’d forgotten, one of the greatest high school football players in Texas history was on the Allen sideline to remind him.
Kyler Murray, who led Allen to three consecutive titles and went 45-0 as a starter and is now the backup quarterback at Oklahoma to former Lake Travis star and Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, had some words of encouragement when Allen got the ball back with just more than six minutes to play and a state championship to clinch.
“He told us just that we had to take care of the ball and grind that clock out,” Sturges said. “He said, ‘Go talk to those big boys.’ I knew I had to go talk to those big boys [offensive linemen]. I’m nothing without them. I told them to keep grinding, keep pounding on them, and I promised them we’d get the job done.”
— Adam Boedeker
Allen 35, Lake Travis 33
1st Qtr. 11:46
Allen – Jayden Jernigan 14-yard fumble recovery (Brady Ellsworth kick)
1st Qtr. 9:25
Allen – Brock Sturges 13-yard run (Ellsworth kick)
1st Qtr. 4:40
Allen – Sturges 3-yard run (Ellsworth kick)
1st Qtr. 4:30
Lake Travis – Nathan Parodi 84-yard kickoff return (Cameron Dicker kick)
2nd Qtr. 11:27
Lake Travis – Hudson Card 3-yard run (Dicker kick)
2nd Qtr. 3:41
Lake Travis – Dicker 32-yard field goal
3rd Qtr. 11:53
Lake Travis – Kyle Eaves 28-yard interception return (Dicker kick)
3rd Qtr. 7:49
Allen – Grant Tisdale 2-yard run (Ellsworth kick)
3rd Qtr. 3:15
Lake Travis – Dicker 42-yard field goal
3rd Qtr. 0:51
Allen – Sturges 4-yard run (Ellsworth kick)
4th Qtr. 9:57
Lake Travis – Kyle Wakefield 6-yard pass from Card
|Punts – Avg.||4 – 39.5||1 – 29|
|Penalties – Yards||6 – 40||1 – 5|
|Fumbles – Lost||1 – 0||2 – 1|
|Third-Down Conversions||5 of 12||6 of 12|
Allen Individual Leaders
Rushing – Brock Sturges 32-176, Grant Tisdale 14-81, Jack Fee 6-31, Juwan Robinson 3-21.
Passing – Grant Tisdale 5-8-1-34.
Receiving – Theo Wease 4-27, Jack Fee 1-7.
Lake Travis Individual Leaders
Rushing – Hudson Card 16-73, Kyle Wakefield 9-24, Nathan Parodi 2-6, Garrett Wilson
Passing – Hudson Card 21-32-3-224.
Receiving – Garrett Wilson 8-99, Alec Fuentes 6-55, Carson Cross 4-58, Kyle Wakefield 2-(-1), Nathan Parodi 1-13.
Matt Stepp's Breakdown
Allen returns to the State Championship after a two-year absence and standing in its way is Austin’s top powerhouse, Lake Travis.
Allen slogged through a cold and rainy afternoon to beat Round Rock Cedar Ridge 28-7 last week. The Eagle defense proved to be the difference forcing five turnovers, which directly led to all four Eagles touchdowns. Allen’s offensive line in the passing game had a rough afternoon as Grant Tisdale was sacked seven times on the day so there’s no doubt that Lake Travis will look to contain Arizona State commit Brock Sturges at running back and force Allen into obvious passing downs.
The big question for Lake Travis is the status of Ohio State commit QB Matthew Baldwin, who left late in the game during the Cavaliers 28-14 win over Katy last week. However, Baldwin not playing could be a real problem for Allen as its likely that talented sophomore Hudson Card moves from WR to QB to pilot the offense. Card brings a unique dual threat dimension to the Cavs offense which could really put the Eagles’ defense in a bind as they still must account for sensational WR Garrett Wilson. Wilson did it all in the rain last week at Alamo Stadium as he ran for a touchdown, hauled in a touchdown pass and he threw a touchdown as well. There’s not much the sensational junior can’t do and for the Cavaliers to hand Allen its first ever loss in a title game, he and Card will both need to have big games on Saturday afternoon.
Brady Keane's Players to Watch
Allen OL Trey Stratford
Stratford is one of the top offensive linemen in the country and has more than 25 offers as he enters the final game of his high school career. He is committed to Stanford and anchors the Eagles’ offensive line.
Lake Travis WR Garrett Wilson
It’s hard to find a more explosive wide receiver anywhere in the country and Wilson is regarded as one of the top recruits in the Class of 2019. He has 91 catches for 1,677 yards and 26 touchdowns on the year, and played defense as well in the semifinal win over Katy.
Allen RB Brock Sturges
Sturges (1,985 yards, 27 TDs) needs just 15 yards to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark on the season. The Arizona State commit is a bruising runner and has been a star in his first year as the workhorse runner for Allen.
Lake Travis ATH Hudson Card
Card has been the perfect complement to Wilson on the perimeter of the Lake Travis offense all year. The sophomore has 69 catches for 1,137 yards and 13 touchdowns, but will move over to QB if the injured Matthew Baldwin (QB) is unable to go after suffering a knee injury against Katy.
Allen WR Theo Wease
Everyone knew the potential was there for Wease to have a breakout season, and he has done just that. The junior Oklahoma commit leads Allen with 53 catches for 852 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Lake Travis DB Nathan Parodi
Parodi has been an absolute ball hawk in the Lake Travis secondary throughout the playoffs, hauling in an interception in four of the Cavaliers’ five postseason games. He has seven on the year and will look to cause problems for Allen QB Grant Tisdale.
6A Division II State Championship
Hewitt Midway (15-0) vs. Cypress-Fairbanks (14-0)
7 p.m. Saturday, December 23
Defense wins championships – or at least, that’s how the old adage goes.
For the majority of the four-day UIL state championship marathon, defensive stops were few and far between. The average 11-man team scored over 31 points in the nine games leading up to Saturday night’s Class 6A Division II finale, so its only fitting Cy-Fair was the team to put a stop to the barrage of offense.
The Bobcats, which entered the night with the No. 6 ranked defense in 6A, put on a defensive clinic one final time against one of the better offensive units in Texas. Cy-Fair defeated Hewitt Midway 51-35, securing the first state title in program history.
The Bobcats held Cy-Fair to just seven points through three quarters before the Panthers narrowed the margin with the game already well in hand. Midway finished with just six yards rushing in the loss.
“They’ve been doing it all year long,” Cy-Fair head coach Ed Pustejovsky said of his defense. “Our coaches do a great job of putting them in the right fits, and the guys just play hard and get after it. Super proud of them – they just worked from day one.”
The Bobcats wasted no time jumping all over Midway in their first state championship appearance, adjusting to the magnitude of the stage at AT&T much more smoothly than the Panthers.
The Cy-Fair defense held Midway to just 18 yards on the team’s first four possession and put their offense in prime position to build an early lead. The Bobcats led 17-7 with less than a minute to go in the second quarter before really blowing the game open.
First, Midway snapped the ball over QB Tanner Mordecai’s head and into the end zone where Kyle Bell fell on it for a Cy-Fair touchdown. The Panthers coughed up the ball on the ensuing kickoff, essentially handing the Bobcats another three points just before the half.
Cy-Fair capitalized, took a 27-7 lead into the break and never looked back.
“We work very well together,” defensive MVP Cody Cunningham said. “We have the speed – everything fits perfect. We just wanted to go out and do what we did every week.”
While the Bobcats put up a season-high 51 points, it was almost completely a product of a statement effort on the defensive side for the entirety of three quarters.
Cy-Fair had just 193 yards of offense in the win, instead relying on four turnovers forced by the defense to provide a short field on several occasions. Trenton Kennedy rushed for 110 yards and three to earn offensive MVP honors as the Bobcats scored 24 points off turnovers.
“We didn’t expect it to be like this,” Kennedy said. “All we knew was that if we came out here and played hard, we would get the W. It’s great man – it’s a great feeling. It’s still surreal right now.”
— Brady Keane
A Closer Look
State championship week came and went and along the way, gave fans in attendance and watching on television more than their money’s worth.
There was the instant classic late Friday that saw Highland Park repeat as state champions and several state records fall. There was the new kid on the block, College Station, knocking off one of the state’s blue bloods, Aledo, by one point.
In reality, most of the first 11 games all had memorable things to offer.
Then, in the finale – a wire-to-wire domination in what might’ve been seen as the biggest slam dunk of the weekend, at least on the 11-man level. Except the other team was doing the dominating.
Cypress-Fairbanks, a title-combatant rarity in 6A football – part of a school district with 12 schools, and dispersed talent — entered as a decided underdog to Waco Midway, a traditional power from a one-school district.
Midway had the unstoppable, flashy offense led by Oklahoma signee Tanner Mordecai at quarterback, and Cy-Fair had, well, a chip on its shoulder.
And the Bobcats put it to their opponent, in every way possible.
The end result was fantastic for Cy-Fair, but much different for the casual fan and observer who had been treated to so many dramatic games decided in the final minutes, or seconds, or by one yard.
“We knew if we played hard and played our game, we’d win,” running back Trenton Kennedy said after rumbling for 110 yards and three touchdowns. “That’s exactly what we did. We balled out tonight.”
Cy-Fair played the game exactly the way it wanted to. Not much flash, but a lot of brute force, a dominant defensive effort against an elite offense unlike many at this stage in the season, and it ended the game seemingly soon after it began as the Bobcats built a 44-7 lead before the final quarter began.
The Bobcats held Mordecai in check, until the fourth quarter when the game was in hand, unlike many teams have over the course of his career at Midway. They came up with four huge turnovers defensively and asserted their will on ground offensively.
It was an unexpected, and in a way unwelcome, surprise for everyone that had been treated to such great theater over four long days at the temple of football.
Well, everyone except Cy-Fair.
“What people don’t realize is, is this stuff started in November of last year,” Ed Pustejovsky. “The offseason to spring ball to the summer – it’s a lot of commitment from these guys. They made that commitment.
— Adam Boedeker
Cy-Fair 51, Hewitt Midway 35
1st Qtr. 6:55
Cy-Fair – Trenton Kennedy 2-yard run (Max Duque kick)
1st Qtr. 2:39
Cy-Fair – Duque 21-yard field goal
2nd Qtr. 5:49
Cy-Fair – Cameron Arnold 2-yard run (Duque kick)
2nd Qtr. 5:01
Hewitt Midway – Dart Smith 48-yard pass from Tanner Mordecai (Dylan Benites kick)
2nd Qtr. 0:35
Cy-Fair – Kyle Bell 0-yard fumble recovery (Duque kick)
2nd Qtr. 0:05
Cy-Fair – Duque 37-yard field goal
3rd Qtr. 3:20
Cy-Fair – Duque 43-yard field goal
3rd Qtr. 3:06
Cy-Fair – Kennedy 3-yard run (Duque kick)
3rd Qtr. 1:43
Cy-Fair – Kennedy 17-yard run (Duque kick)
4th Qtr. 11:33
Hewitt Midway – C.J. Williams 16-yard pass from Mordecai (Benites kick)
4th Qtr. 7:11
Hewitt Midway – Williams 2-yard pass from Mordecai (Benites kick)
4th Qtr. 4:24
Hewitt Midway – Williams 7-yard pass from Mordecai (Benites kick)
4th Qtr. 4:17
Cy-Fair – Justin Uriarte 48-yard kickoff return (Duque kick)
4th Qtr. 2:00
Hewitt Midway – Demarcus Degrate 5-yard pass from Mordecai (Benites kick)
|Punts – Avg.||5 – 16.8||4 – 44.8|
|Penalties – Yards||5 – 25||3 – 17|
|Fumbles – Lost||5 – 4||2 – 1|
|Third-Down Conversions||5 of 15||4 of 11|
Hewitt Midway Individual Leaders
Rushing – James Fullbright 6-16, Tanner Mordecai 11-8, TEAM 1-(-18).
Passing – Tanner Mordecai 33-52-0-406.
Receiving – C.J. Williams 14-195, D’Ante Thomas 5-65, James Fullbright 5-37, Cobe Burch 4-35, Dart Smith 3-59, Demarcus Degrate 2-15.
Cy-Fair Individual Leaders
Rushing – Trenton Kennedy 23-110, Marcus McKinley 3-16, Christian Richmond 3-4, Eddie Sumler 2-4, Jaelon Woods 2-1, TEAM 1-(-3), Cameron Arnold 3-(-6).
Passing – Cameron Arnold 10-15-0-70.
Receiving – Trenton Kennedy 3-26, Christian Richmond 3-16, Justin Uriarte 2-14, Marcus McKinley 1-10, Jacob Farrell 1-4.
Matt Stepp's Breakdown
Midway had to earn it on a cold rainy night in Allen, but the Panthers found a way to escape Longview, 28-26, in a wild game that featured plenty of mistakes but also plenty of big time plays as well. Oklahoma commit QB Tanner Mordecai accounted for three touchdowns and over 250 yards of total offense, but he also fumbled once and threw a pair of interceptions. Midway’s defense late found a way to keep Longview out of the end zone and the Lobos missed two field goals down the stretch which lifted the Panthers to just their second title game appearance in school history.
Cy-Fair pulled off maybe the biggest upset of the semifinal weekend as the Bobcats’ underrated defense shut down an Austin Westlake offense averaging 47 points a game in a 14-6 win at NRG Stadium. Washington State commit Erick Hallett got it done on both sides of the ball with a key interception and a sensational touchdown reception in the second half to give Cy-Fair a 14-6 lead in the fourth quarter. Cy-Fair’s defense forced three total turnovers and held the Austin Westlake attack to just 210 yards of offense. The formula is simple for Cy-Fair, slow the pace down, rely on the big back Trenton Kennedy timely plays from QB Cam Arnold and that underrated defense. As long as the Bobcats don’t get in an early hole, they should be in this one until the end. Midway however, has the playmakers on offense and the type of offensive line that could really seize control of this one early. The lean goes toward the Panthers. That big offensive line is the catalyst in what will be the final game of 2017.
Brady Keane's Players to Watch
Cy-Fair RB Trenton Kennedy
Kennedy has helped Cy-Fair control the time of possession all year as the senior racked up north of 300 carries for more than 1,766 yards and 25 touchdowns. He has eight offers and is listed as a three-star back by 247sports heading into the state championship matchup against Waco Midway.
Hewitt Midway QB Tanner Mordecai
Mordecai may be the best quarterback to take the field at AT&T Stadium this week and leads one of the most explosive offenses at any level in the state. Mordecai has thrown for 3,995 yards and 48 touchdowns and he’s a threat on the ground as well with 1,132 yards and 23 scores.
Cy-Fair LB Patrick Atkinson
Atkinson is the leader of the stout Cy-Fair front seven and leads the team with 124 tackles and 21 tackles for loss. He has 11.5 sacks and 10 hurries as well and makes a living in opposing backfields.
Hewitt Midway DT Jaxon Player
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all about offense at Midway. Player has been a beast up front for the Panthers’ defense, totaling 117 tackles, 22 TFL, eight sacks and nine hurries this year.
Cy-Fair DB Erick Hallett
While Atkinson leads the middle of the defense, Hallett is the centerpiece of the secondary. Hallett, who has 23 offers and is committed to Washington State, has six interceptions on the season and has elite speed on the back end of the defense.
Hewitt Midway RB James Fullbright
While Mordecai gets a lot of the credit for the dominant offensive attack, Fullbright provides the balance in the run game and takes some of the pressure off the team’s star QB. He has 1,833 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing as a junior.
5A Division I State Championship
Highland Park (14-1) vs. Manvel (14-0)
7 p.m. Friday, December 22
The Highland Park secondary gave up 483 passing yards and five touchdowns to one of the most explosive offenses in the state – but when it came down to it, the Scots stopped Manvel’s best player from getting the one yard that mattered most.
In need of a touchdown with eight seconds left in Friday night’s Class 5A Division I state championship game, Manvel quarterback Kason Martin rolled to his left and heaved up one final prayer in the direction of star wideout Jalen Preston.
Preston, an A&M commit, caught the pass near the goal line with safety James Herring holding Preston in his arms. Despite the secondary’s struggles throughout the game, the unit needed just one stop from its best defender.
Herring dug his feet in at the one-yard line as Preston came down with the ball and pushed Manvel’s star receiver away from the end zone.
The stop secured a thrilling 53-49 win for Highland Park and gave the Scots their second consecutive state championship.
“I knew there were eight seconds left when the play started, so I knew it was the last play of the game,” Herring said. “At that point, whether my heels were in the end zone or not, I wasn’t going to let him in. It was a tough matchup, but we did it.”
Herring’s last stand was set up by a thrilling comeback effort from the Highland Park offense, as quarterback John Stephen Jones cemented his legacy as one of the best high school quarterbacks in Texas.
Manvel extended its lead to 10 points when Kam Scott returned 97-yard kickoff for a touchdown with 6:37 to go in the fourth.
Jones and the offense stalled out on the ensuing offensive possession, but got the ball back again with 3:21 left in the game. The odds of a comeback seemed slim, and even Jones mentioned it was hard to stay positive with such little time left.
“In all honestly, in my head, I was getting a little down,” Jones said. “But our team kept me up. Everybody was still saying, ‘Hey, we have a chance, we have a chance. The clock is not at zero yet.’”
Embracing his teammates’ mindset, Jones punched in a one-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes to go in the fourth. But Highland Park still trailed by a field goal and was in need of an onside kick.
With the Scots’ star receiver waiting on the right side of the field, kicker Matteo Cordray ripped a perfect onside kick that bounced right into the arms of Cade Saustad.
The rest is history.
Jones and the offense used just over a minute and a half to take the lead on a 16-yard pass from Jones to Saustad, setting up the dramatic ending for Herring and the defense.
“I think it was just the competiveness, the belief and the desire to want to come back no matter what the odds were,” Highland Park head coach Randy Allen said. “Knowing how to win close games is part of it.”
Herring’s tackle on the final play of the game put an end to a second half that featured a combined 71 points between the teams. Jones finished with 564 yards and four touchdowns through the air while Saustad had 12 catches for 220 yards and three touchdowns receiving.
Martin (483 yards, five touchdowns) and Preston (220 yards, three touchdowns) matched the Highland Park duo punch for punch throughout the game, but the Scots’ defense rose to the occasion.
“I was a nervous wreck,” Herring said. “But we came through in the end and got a stop when it counted.”
— Brady Keane
Highland Park finds a way around, over and through Manvel’s speed
Whenever Highland Park gets deep in the playoffs, as it so often does, the Scots’ speed disadvantage becomes a topic of discussion. It’s mentioned so often that you’d think the perennial powerhouse is fueled by a roster of guys with two left feet or noticeable limps.
To read Matt Wixon’s full column, click here.
A Closer Look
When Matthew Stafford led Highland Park to its first state championship in 48 years back in 2005, he was crowned as the savior of a tradition-rich Scots program.
When he went on to Georgia and the Detroit Lions, he cemented his place as one of the greatest products to ever come out of the Dallas high school.
In terms of what he did for the Scots’ program, however, there’s a new face prominently plastered on the Mount Rushmore of Highland Park Football.
John Stephen Jones cemented his legacy as arguably the greatest high school player in program history late Friday night when he led his team to back-to-back state titles via a dramatic come-from-behind win over a Manvel team that appeared to have the Scots outclassed in just about every way necessary.
In the process, he rewrote the UIL record book, throwing for 564 yards and four touchdowns on 37-of-58 passing. He even added a rushing touchdown.
He also became the first player in state championship game history – in any classification – to eclipse 500 passing yards.
Jones – right or wrong – is heavily scrutinized and forever in the spotlight thanks to his famous grandfather, who owns the stadium he ended his high school career in on Friday, but it’s never fazed him.
All he wanted was to leave his own stamp on the Texas football landscape.
“I just did what I do,” he said among a mob of television cameras and reporters when asked about his legacy. “You can call it what you want. I have the best teammates and the best coaches and it’s just an amazing feeling to come out and win.”
What Jones did on the field Friday night was pretty amazing, too, and it was never easy, despite the fact he made it look that way on multiple occasions.
Jones was sacked eight times, which tied a state championship game record. He could have easily been dropped five or six more times but used his deceptive elusiveness and pocket awareness to slither out of negative plays and turn them into positive ones.
Jones’ father, Stephen, was in a pool of his own sweat standing in a postgame scrum of reporters. The Cowboys’ executive vice president, CEO and director of player personnel ran frantically through the masses to find his son.
After a long and tearful embrace, he talked about the legacy his son has left, but was quick to mention he didn’t do it by himself.
“The Scots have two back-to-back now,” he said. “He gets to be a part of it. It’s obviously very special to be a part of Highland Park history. So many great players have played at Highland Park, and it doesn’t get any better than that. To be able to be a part of history with his teammates and coaching staff is special.
“I didn’t think I was gonna survive it. All I can tell you is, it’s raw emotion. You live for something like this. I’m so happy for him, his teammates and his coaches.”
Still unable to convey his thoughts into many words, the Highland Park senior wrapped up his final high school game and back-to-back championships pretty simply.
“It sounds beautiful,” he said when reminded he was going to be getting another ring. “Beautiful.”
Kind of like the newest legacy he’s now left in one of the most storied programs in the state’s storied history.
— Adam Boedeker
Highland Park 53, Manvel 49
1st Qtr. 6:53
Manvel – Garrison Johnson 1-yard run (Luis Moreno kick)
1st Qtr. 1:55
Highland Park – Cade Saustad 73-yard pass from John Stephen Jones (Matteo Cordray kick)
1st Qtr. 1:34
Manvel – Jalen Preston 69-yard pass from Kason Martin (Moreno kick)
2nd Qtr. 6:28
Manvel – Terence Norman 78-yard pass from Martin (Moreno kick)
2nd Qtr. 0:08
Highland Park – Cordray 32-yard field goal
3rd Qtr. 10:30
Highland Park – Paxton Alexander 10-yard run (Conner Allen pass from Jones)
3rd Qtr. 6:47
Manvel – Preston pass from 7-yard pass from Martin (Moreno kick)
3rd Qtr. 4:26
Highland Park – Jay Smith 4-yard pass from Jones (Cordray kick)
3rd Qtr. 1:04
Manvel – Colbey Washington 62-yard pass from Martin (Moreno kick)
4th Qtr. 11:16
Highland Park – Benner Page 6-yard run (Cordray kick)
4th Qtr. 10:56
Manvel – Preston 95-yard pass from Martin (Moreno kick)
4th Qtr. 6:42
Highland Park – Saustad 8-yard pass from Jones (Cordray kick)
4th Qtr. 6:27
Manvel – Kam Scott 97-yard kickoff return (Moreno kick)
4th Qtr. 2:06
Highland Park – Jones 1-yard run (Cordray kick)
4th Qtr. 0:34
Highland Park – Saustad 16-yard pass from Jones (Cordray kick)
|Punts – Avg.||4 – 34||3 – 39.7|
|Penalties – Yards||4 – 30||8 – 94|
|Fumbles – Lost||0 – 0||2 – 1|
|Third-Down Conversions||11 of 19||5 of 10|
Highland Park Individual Leaders
Rushing – Paxton Alexander 16-105, Conner Allen 4-16, Benner Page 1-6, John Stephen Jones 16-(-45).
Passing – John Stephen Jones 37-58-0-564, Conner Allen 0-1-0-0.
Receiving – Cade Saustad 12-220, 8-128, Finn Corwin 6-99, Scully Jenevain 6-51, Jay Smith 3-29, Conner Allen 1-22, Padgitt Diehl 1-15.
Manvel Individual Leaders
Rushing – Kam Scott 1-75, Ladarius Owens 4-24, Garrison Johnson 6-22, Deneric Prince 5-15, Jalen Preston 2-9, Kason Martin 1-9, Eric Hebert 1-3.
Passing – Kason Martin 16-30-0-483.
Receiving – Jalen Preston 5-220, Terence Norman 3-112, Colbey Washington 3-99, Deneric Prince 2-31, Warren Laster 1-16, Kam Scott 1-3, Ladarius Owens 1-2.
Matt Stepp's Breakdown
Highland Park once again is embracing and thriving in the underdog role as the Scots, picked by most to lose in the semifinals to Denton Ryan (for the second straight year), once again surprised the state with a 45-35 win. They’ll come in as a slight underdog in this one as Manvel is once again loaded top to bottom with seven current FBS commits.
Key for the Scots in the win was going an incredible 11-for-14 on third downs, especially considering the average distance was seven yards. QB John Stephen Jones was electric throwing for 358 yards and five touchdowns and showing incredible pocket presence being able to elude several defenders in the pocket in key moments.
Manvel, after several years of disappointment late in the playoffs, got over the hump in an emphatic fashion blowing past unbeaten Angleton 35-10 on Friday night. RB’s Deneric Prince and LaDarius Owens combined for 210 yards rushing and three touchdowns to lead the Maverick offense while the defense did a fantastic job slowing the Angleton offense. That Manvel defense, led by Texas A&M commit LB Brian Johnson, Navy commit LB Charles Reed and Penn State commit DB Trent Gordon, will have its hands full with the Scots’ offense which is operating an incredibly high level of efficiency.
If Manvel’s going to beat Highland Park, it’s going to have to win one-on- one battles and make tackles in space and get Jones to the ground in the pocket if they get pressure. If the Mavericks allow Jones to break the pocket, there are few better at improvising on the fly and making a defense pay dearly.
Brady Keane's Players to Watch
Highland Park QB John Stephen Jones
Not a lot of people gave Jones a chance to get back to AT&T Stadium for the season’s final week, but here he is. The senior has completed an extremely efficient 71 percent of his passes for 4,347 yards, 57 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Manvel QB Kason Martin
Martin, the son of Manvel head coach Kirk Martin, is committed to North Texas and has the Mavericks on the verge of their first state championship. He bounced back from a midseason injury to throw for 2,564 yards and 34 TDs through 13 games.
Highland Park WR Cade Saustad
Saustad is Jones’ favorite target on the perimeter, and he’s had a breakout year this season. Saustad has 75 catches for 1,374 yards and 19 touchdowns and is averaging more than 18 yards per reception.
Manvel WR Jalen Preston
Preston is a four-star recruit and one of the top players in the country with the ability to take any play to the house. He has elite speed and strength, and had 908 total yards and 13 TDs entering the team’s win against Angleton. The Texas A&M commit is a real threat in the return game as well.
Highland Park DE Prince Dorbah
While Jones and the offense are what carried Highland Park this far, it was the defense that came up big in the semifinal win over Denton Ryan. Dorbah is only a sophomore, but he leads the team with 10 sacks this season and will be key in getting pressure on Kason Martin.
Manvel DB Cecori Tolds
Todds has emerged as a versatile playmaker in the Manvel secondary and has six interceptions on the season. He has stepped up nicely next to Trent Gordon when opposing quarterbacks avoid throwing in Gordon’s direction, giving the Mavericks a talented duo on the back end.
5A Division II State Championship
Aledo (15-0) vs. College Station (13-2)
11 a.m. Saturday, December 23
When College Station began its football program just a few short years ago, head coach Steve Huff said he visited Aledo and wanted to use the Bearcats’ success as a goal to work toward for the Cougars.
Just four years after playing their first varsity game, Huff defeated the very team he set out to model his program after.
College Station brought down Aledo and put an end to the Bearcats’ hopes of back-to-back state championships with an exciting 20-19 win in the Class 5A Division II state title game Saturday afternoon.
“It’s huge for our community,” Huff said. “To be able to bring home a state championship at this point is a great credit to these guys right here.”
In order to dethrone the defending champs, College Station developed a game plan to slow down star running back Jase McClellan while forcing sophomore quarterback Jake Bishop to beat them through the air.
In the first half, the plan worked to perfection. McClellan managed just eight yards on seven carries as the Cougars went into the break with a 13-7 lead.
McClellan started to find some running room in the third quarter, breaking of a 76-yard run on the first play from scrimmage after the half. But College Station bounced back, holding the Oklahoma commit to 137 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns.
Bishop managed just six completions on 13 attempts for 58 yards and a score.
“More than anything it was about chasing,” Huff said. “He can run – there’s no doubt about that. We knew we were going to get a lot of helmets to the ball after the last couple weeks. We gave up one big one in the third quarter, but besides that the kids came back and chased well.”
After falling behind 19-13 on a two-yard run from McClellan late in the third quarter, it took no time at all for the Cougars to come up with the answer that ultimately served as the game-winning touchdown.
DaDa Anderson gave College Station a lead the team never relinquished on a six-yard scoring run just four plays after a 78-yard kickoff return from Jaelin Campbell. Anderson was named the offensive MVP, finishing with 99 yards and two scores on the ground.
Aledo began to find some momentum in the third quarter, but the Cougars returned to the defensive dominance they displayed in the first half. In desperate need of a scoring drive, the Bearcats managed just 43 yards in the final quarter of the game.
College Station put an end to Aledo’s best fourth-quarter scoring opportunity when senior Ben Wolz – the defensive MVP – pursued Bishop and brought the quarterback down for a loss of 27-yards on fourth down.
“To finally get the grip on his pads just felt really good,” Wolz said. “I kind of slipped off at the end, but I’m really glad my guys helped me finish the sack. It was an amazing feeling.”
— Brady Keane
A Closer Look
To get to the point where a program is as dominant over a long period of time as Aledo, a team usually has to be exceptional on special teams, where games can be won or lost at the drop of a hat.
Last week in the state semifinal against Mansfield Legacy, Aledo’s defense held the Broncos in check but Aledo almost lost the game due to several special teams miscues.
It happened again on Saturday in the Class 5A Division II championship against College Station, but this time, Aledo paid.
Two extra points sailed wide in a game Aledo lost 20-19, and College Station scored its game-winning touchdown in the waning seconds of the third quarter after Jaelin Campbell returned an Aledo kickoff back 78 yards.
“We missed some big opportunities,” Aledo head coach Steve Wood said. “We gave up the kickoff return. And then our kicker just didn’t have a very good day, and it’s not a great day to not have your best day. But I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. It’s a team game, and we had other opportunities to go score. I don’t want him to think this is his fault.”
College Station head coach Steve Huff and his team know all about heartbreaking losses due to special teams blunders.
In last year’s state semifinal, the Cougars were beaten by Corpus Christi Calallen after a blocked extra point was returned for two points. That memory stuck with the Cougars throughout the offseason and during every day of the season.
“I think our kids work extremely hard on special teams,” Huff said. “Last year was a flip-flop of today. We talk about that daily. Every time we line up to kick PATs in practice, we talk about how it’s something that can win or lose a ballgame.”
The two extra points were the beginning, the Campbell kickoff return was the nail in Aledo’s coffin and was perhaps the senior speedster’s greatest moment in a season that has featured four kickoff returns for touchdowns and multiple long returns.
“Yeah, we made some special teams mistakes,” Wood said. “I think the kickoff return, you have to give College Station credit. We kicked it to the wrong guy. That guy’s very explosive and we didn’t want to kick it to him. But we have to go tackle and make plays and we have to coach them better to go do those things.”
After that moment, Huff said he by no means believed that his team had won the game, but it helped relieve some offensive stress after Aledo’s defense had locked down the Cougars’ rushing attack.
“It was definitely a momentum swing for us at that point,” Huff said. “We had struggled to move the ball and got some good field position. I can’t say we were able to relax, but we could attack a little differently and it took some pressure off.
— Adam Boedeker
College Station 20, Aledo 19
2nd Qtr. 11:14
College Station – Alan Guerrieri 35-yard field goal
2nd Qtr. 8:24
Aledo – Money Parks 18-yard pass from Jake Bishop (Cole Daniels kick)
2nd Qtr. 2:55
College Station – DaDa Anderson 60-yard run (Guerrieri kick)
2nd Qtr. 0:00
College Station – Guerrieri 28-yard field goal
3rd Qtr. 11:40
Aledo – Jase McClellan 76-yard run (kick failed)
3rd Qtr. 1:49
Aledo – McClellan 2-yard run (kick failed)
3rd Qtr. 0:09
College Station – Anderson 6-yard run (Guerrieri kick)
|Punts – Avg.||6 – 38.8||6 – 36.5|
|Penalties – Yards||4 – 114||8 – 72|
|Fumbles – Lost||0 – 0||2 – 0|
|Third-Down Conversions||4 of 13||4 of 12|
Aledo Individual Leaders
Rushing – Jase McClellan 22-137, Jake Bishop 14-42, Tre Owens 9-40, Money Parks 1-7.
Passing – Jake Bishop 7-14-0-77.
Receiving – Money Parks 3-45, Jeffrey Carter 1-13, Max Lucas 1-7, Jase McClellan 1-6, Hunter Rosson 1-6.
College Station Individual Leaders
Rushing – DaDa Anderson 14-99, Marquez Perez 21-73.
Passing – Marquez Perez 18-25-0-143.
Receiving – Jaelin Campbell 8-70, DaDa Anderson 5-27, Harrison Wellmann 3-24, Spencer Maxwell 2-22.
Matt Stepp's Breakdown
It’s been a remarkable run for Aledo who is looking for state title number eight (six since 2009) along with the Bearcats currently holding a 31-game winning streak. They’ll take on newcomer College Station who is making its first ever state title appearance after a semifinal run a year ago.
Aledo’s playoff run has had a couple of gritty wins and last week was no different as the Bearcats overcame a strong Mansfield Legacy squad and their own miscues in special teams for a 28-21 win. Sophomore RB and Oklahoma commit Jase McClellan ran for 207 yards and three touchdowns in the win, including a sensational 46-yard game winner with 1:48 remaining.
College Station punched its state ticket with a dominating 49-21 win over previously unbeaten Austin McCallum on Saturday evening. The Cougars were led by dynamic dual threat QB Marquez Perez. The Tulsa verbal commit accounted for 335 yards of total offense and had a hand in five of the Cougars seven touchdowns.
Aledo has the championship pedigree and College Station had a better resume with wins over Temple, Fort Bend Marshall while also playing Houston St. Pius X and Austin Westlake. Aledo’s defense, led by four-year starter James “Big Game” Williams, could be the difference as the Bearcats will look to make someone other than Perez beat them.
Brady Keane's Players to Watch
Aledo RB Jase McClellan
McClellan missed a good part of the regular season with a wrist injury, but wasted absolutely no time exploding back onto the scene. He’s rushed for at least 178 yards in seven of the eight games since returning, and has 1,458 yards and 24 touchdowns on the year. The Oklahoma commit was the offensive player of the game in last year’s state title victory.
College Station QB Marquez Perez
Perez has established himself as one of the most exciting players in Texas this year and enters the week with 3,800 total yards and 48 touchdowns. His speed is game-changing and causes problems for any defense.
Aledo DT James Williams
Williams has a strong nose for the football in the middle of the Aledo defensive front and ranks second on the team with 88 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks this season.
College Station RB Da’mondrick Anderson
Anderson pairs up with Perez to give the Cougars a solid one-two punch in the backfield. He has 234 carries for 1,732 yards and 19 touchdowns this year, and has totaled 548 yards and seven TDs in the last three playoffs matchups alone.
Aledo FS Wyatt Harris
Harris has been a starter in the Aledo secondary since his freshman year and brings a lot of physicality from the safety position. He has three interceptions on the year with 61 tackles, and received an offer from SMU back in September.
College Station DT Marquise Conchola
A former defensive end, Conchola made the move to the middle of the defensive line last year and has thrived with a combination of size, speed and strength that opposing offensive linemen struggle to contain. He is the leader of the defense.
4A Division I State Championship
Kennedale (14-1) vs. Carthage (15-0)
11 a.m. Friday, December 22
Carthage knew it needed only a handful of defensive stops to walk away with a win in Friday’s Class 4A DI state championship.
The Bulldogs got the first of those stops on Kennedale’s first drive of the game, but it was a stop in the second quarter that served as the backbreaker.
Leading by two touchdowns with just over three minutes to go in the second, Carthage put a halt to a Kennedale drive that threatened to keep things tight going into the break. Linebacker Mykel Gates forced a key fumble and pounced on it to give his offense the ball back.
The turnover gave the Bulldogs an opportunity to add to its lead before the break and it was all downhill from there. Carthage cruised to a 49-21 win, claiming its sixth state championship in school history.
“It was tremendous,” Gates said. “I knew we needed to get them off the field and if we stopped them from scoring, the bleeding would start.”
All eyes were on Carthage RB Keaontay Ingram (Texas commit) entering the game, but the Bulldogs didn’t even need him to be the featured offensive star. Ingram carried the ball 15 times for 163 yards and three touchdowns, but Carthage did the majority of its damage in the passing game.
A week after struggling with four turnovers in a 46-39 win over Waco La Vega, QB Gunner Capps found a rhythm early and consistently delivered the ball on the money to the Bulldogs’ explosive set of receivers on the perimeter.
Capps finished with 365 yards and three touchdowns while completing 16-of-21 passes to earn Offensive MVP honors. The bounce-back effort was just what Carthage needed out of its junior gunslinger to extend the team’s winning streak to 26 games.
“It’s always a lot of pressure being in this program at Carthage with the expectations we have from the community,” Capps said. “I just trusted my boys, my teammates and the coaching staff, and made sure I held on to the ball a little bit better.”
The Bulldogs scored on their first seven drives and never took their foot off the gas. Mekhi Colbert finished with eight catches for 191 yards and a touchdown while Dee Bowens added four catches for 135 yards and a score.
It was a fitting end to a dominant run by the Bulldogs’ senior class, as the group closed out its career with a 40-6 record over the last three seasons. Carthage advanced to the state semifinals in 2015 before securing back-to-back titles.
Carthage head coach Scott Surratt took his starters off the field to a standing ovation in the fourth quarter.
“That’s a special moment,” Surratt said. “The previous five times we’ve been out here I was too stupid enough to do something like that. I told myself if we did it again we were going to try to recognize these seniors right. They needed the recognition, they deserved it and I’m proud we got it to them.”
While the Bulldogs offense shined, the defense was equally as dominant. Kennedale got into the end zone on a 37-yard pass from Evan Jowers to David Roper late in the first before adding two touchdowns in the fourth when things were already well in hand.
The Wildcats managed just 252 yards on the ground after entering the game averaging nearly 400 per outing this season.
“We’re proud of our defense,” Surratt said. “Last week, we just gave La Vega 21 points and we needed to clean that up. We didn’t give them any tonight and that’s were we needed to be. They scored late but you can’t be one dimensional against our defense. We’re going to stop the run.”
— Brady Keane
A Closer Look
With an old-fashioned offense like the Wing-T, teams don’t have much diversity on offense but do a few things really well.
Take that away, and a game is usually there for the taking.
When Kennedale met an athletic, fundamentally sound front seven of Carthage Friday morning in the Class 4A Division I championship game, the Wildcats had no riddle that Carthage’s defense couldn’t solve.
The key of the Wing-T is being able to execute the trap – something Kennedale has done all year on its way to a 14-1 record heading into Friday’s game with a pair of 2,000-yard running backs in Jaden Knowles and DJ Kirven.
Carthage’s defense, specifically a quick-to-the-ball, physical set of linebackers, had other plans.
Seniors Mykel Gates and Ahmad Brown wreaked havoc on Kennedale’s rushing attack to the tune of allowing just 252 yards on the ground, 157 yards below its season average – partly because Carthage jumped out to a quick lead and took the Wildcats out of their preferred mode of moving the ball, but also because they blew up the trap play from the opening snap.
“We stressed it a lot in practice that our defensive line had to take on a lot of blockers today – maybe two and a puller,” Brown said. “I think they did pretty good in practice to pick the blockers up, and they did what they were supposed to do today and left us free. It felt good.”
Gates and Brown tied for a game-high in tackles with 11 apiece and helped cement this year’s Carthage squad’s place among the all-time greats for one of the all-time great programs in Texas high school football.
“Our defense, man, we’re proud of those guys,” Carthage head coach Scott Surratt said. “Last week, we gave Waco LaVega 21 points and knew we needed to clean that up. We didn’t give them any tonight. That was more where we need to be. They scored late, but our defense is great. You can’t be one-dimensional against us. We’re gonna stop the run.”
While Carthage running back Keontay Ingram and his offensive teammates get a lot of attention, Kennedale head coach Richard Barrett knew exactly what his unique offense was up against in the week leading up to Friday’s game.
“I knew their names,” he said of Carthage’s linebackers. “Heck, they kept me up at night for the last week. They’re players. Golly. They did an exceptional job. There was always someone right there in the hole where we were going.
“Their down men and the linebackers were exceptional. We knew that. That’s certainly no secret. They’re very active. They run well, pursue well and tackle very well. We knew we’d have our hands full. Give them credit. They made plays.”
— Adam Boedeker
Carthage 49, Kennedale 21
1st Qtr. 6:35
Carthage – Dewaylon Ingram 14-yard pass from Gunner Capps (Alberto Sigala kick)
1st Qtr. 1:39
Carthage – Mekhi Colbert 64-yard pass from Capps (Sigala kick)
2nd Qtr. 9:50
Kennedale – David Roper 37-yard pass from Evan Jowers (Kevin Tiero kick)
2nd Qtr. 7:10
Carthage – Keaontay Ingram 20-yard run (Sigala kick)
2nd Qtr. 0:52
Carthage – Keaontay Ingram 41-yard run (Sigala kick)
3rd Qtr. 9:35
Carthage – Dee Bowens 76-yard pass from Capps (Sigala kick)
3rd Qtr. 5:08
Carthage – Bowens 39-yard run (Sigala kick)
4th Qtr. 10:22
Kennedale – DJ Kirven 4-yard run (Tiero kick)
4th Qtr. 7:58
Carthage – Keaontay Ingram 65-yard run (Sigala kick)
4th Qtr. 0:10
Kennedale – Jaden Knowles 4-yard run (Tiero kick)
|Punts – Avg.||3 – 39||1 – 33|
|Penalties – Yards||4 – 25||6 – 45|
|Fumbles – Lost||2 – 1||1 – 0|
|Third-Down Conversions||5 of 12||6 of 8|
Carthage Individual Leaders
Rushing – Keaontay Ingram 15-163, Dee Bowens 1-39, Mekhi Colbet 2-7, Anthony Wilson 1-7, Tucker Smith 1-5, Gunner Capps 2-(-7).
Passing – Gunner Capps 16-21-0-365.
Receiving – Mekhi Colbert 8-191, Dee Bowens 4-135, Dewaylon Ingram 4-39.
Kennedale Individual Leaders
Rushing – DJ Kirven 20-11, Jaden Knowles 15-61, David Roper 4-44, Evan Jowers 9-36.
Passing – Evan Jowers 4-10-0-55.
Receiving – Jaden Smith 2-10, David Roper 1-37, DJ Kirven 1-8.
Matt Stepp's Breakdown
Kennedale finally got past the state semifinal hump last week in emphatic fashion with a dominating 54-28 win over Stephenville. Its reward? Five-time state champion Carthage, who is playing for its sixth title in 10 years under head coach Scott Surratt.
The Bulldogs are 5-0 in title games and come in as the favorite as they’ve been the No. 1 team in 4A all year led by Texas commit RB Keaontay Ingram who is considered by many to be the top running back in the state. The Bulldogs escaped a late charge from Waco La Vega last week in a 46-39 win as Ingram had a pair of key fourth-quarter touchdown runs to salt the game away. Mekhi Colbert was outstanding as well rushing for two scores and returning an interception for a score. Carthage, however, was sloppy in the win with multiple turnovers and some key breakdowns in all three phases of the game.
The Carthage staff will certainly look to clean that up against a very athletic and dangerous Kennedale squad. D.J. Kirven ran wild against Stephenville rolling up 348 yards rushing and five touchdowns as the Wildcats Wing-T offense churned up Stephenville. Jaden Knowles gives Kennedale a great threat on the trap play up the middle as he accounted for 173 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Both offenses, although different, are elite in their own right and will crush you if you make mistakes.
I don’t believe Kennedale has seen a defense as good as Carthage since the West Orange-Stark game and I think Carthage’s offense is vastly superior to the West Orange-Stark attack. That leads me to think Carthage has the edge here.
Brady Keane's Players to Watch
Carthage RB Keaontay Ingram
The Texas commit is the complete package in the Carthage backfield and now has the opportunity to go out with back-to-back state championships to close out his high school career. Ingram has 1,957 yards and 32 TDs rushing to pace the Bulldogs offense.
Kennedale RB D.J. Kirven
Kirven has a ton of momentum entering the final week of the season after rushing for 348 yards and five scores in the win over Stephenville last week. He has 2,185 yards and 41 TDs to lead the Wildcats in scoring this season.
Carthage WR Dee Bowens
Bowens has been the leading receiver for QB Gunner Capps Jr. He’s averaging more than 22 yards per catch and has a team-high 1,239 receiving yards and 21 TDs among a talented group of receivers.
Kennedale RB Jaden Knowles
While Kirven is the team-leader in touchdowns, Knowles leads Kennedale in yardage with 2,205 rushing yards and 34 scores. It’s a one-two punch that rivals that of any backfield in the state.
Carthage LB Mykel Gates
Gates is a physical linebacker with a lot of size and great speed in the middle of the Carthage defense. He’s a three-star prospect according to 247Sports and leads the Bulldogs with 18 tackles for loss this season.
Kennedale DB Larry Brooks
The Tulane commit is the latest Division I prospect to emerge from the Wildcats’ defensive unit. He had 146 tackles, 13 TFL, and three interceptions through 14 games.
4A Division II State Championship
Pleasant Grove (15-0) vs. West Orange-Stark (13-0)
3 p.m. Friday, December 22
For the fourth straight year, West Orange-Stark entered the Class 4A Division II state championship game boasting one of the best defenses in the state.
At this point, it’s the standard for head coach Cornel Thompson and the Mustangs, who had won the title in both 2015 and 2016. The WO-S defense didn’t give up a touchdown in either of those games and the unit was again the hallmark of a team in search of an elusive three-peat.
That’s why Pleasant Grove’s 41-21 win Friday afternoon was so impressive.
The Hawks had plenty of talent on their roster and were one of the most explosive teams in the state throughout the year. But they took a page out of West Orange-Stark’s book and turned the tables on the Mustangs.
Pleasant Grove held WO-S to just 283 yards of offense and 21 points to claim the first state championship in program history while ending the Mustangs’ 40-game winning streak.
“They’ve been unbelievable this whole year,” Pleasant Grove coach Josh Gibson said of his defense. “We’ve prided ourselves on being one of the best defenses in the state. We know West Orange-Stark has a ton of credibility – to be able to shut them down, our defensive has been unbelievable this year.”
The Hawks ended the game as emphatically as possible after failing to initially seal the game with a long field goal attempt. West Orange-Stark had a chance to tie it after taking over from its own 22-yard line with 28 seconds to go.
QB Chaka Watson threw an incomplete pass on first down before Texas Tech commit Xavier Benson intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown to ignite a big celebration.
The party only intensified when Pleasant Grove’s Aaron Harmon intercepted Watson on the very next play and took it to the house as time expired in the fourth.
“It was amazing knowing we closed the game out and looking up at the scoreboard knowing we were 16-0 and completed a perfect season,” Benson said. “It was emotional.”
It was a dominant performance by the Hawks’ defense, starting in the trenches with the physical group of Austin Toler, Nick Gavirel, Drake Fowler and Landon Jackson.
Jackson, a freshman, led the way with three tackles and two sacks as the group consistently ate up blockers to allow Caleb Porchia to make plays from the secondary.
Porchia had a game-high 11 tackles and two sacks, earning defensive MVP honors.
WO-S struggled to open any running lanes and finished with 43 yards rushing while averaging just 1.9 yards per carry.
Pleasant Grove also had trouble finding the success it experienced all year on the ground, finishing with just 111 yards on 41 carries. But the Hawks’ defensive effort combined with a big day from sophomore quarterback Ben Harmon (248 yards, 2 TDs) guided the team to a win.
“We didn’t reach the top of the mountain, but we were halfway up that rascal,” West Orange-Stark coach Cornel Thompson said. “Today was a great day for Orange County – we have something to rally around because there were two teams playing today and both were pretty dang good.”
— Brady Keane
A Closer Look
To beat a two-time defending state champion that hasn’t allowed an offensive touchdown in either of those previous title games and had 40 straight wins, you’re probably going to need a few things to break your way.
After a week of studying and preparing, Texarkana Pleasant Grove head coach Josh Gibson saw something he could exploit in the vaunted “Chain Gang” defense of West Orange-Stark.
It took the Hawks exactly one play – just 10 seconds – to get the break they wanted.
When Ben Harmon hit T.J. Cole for a 75-yard touchdown pass on the game’s first snap to put state championship newcomer Texarkana Pleasant Grove in the driver’s seat against the seasoned veteran Mustangs, it marked the beginning of a coming out party for the Pleasant Grove program and its young coach.
“To say I was licking my chops [for the first play] against that defense is a hard thing to say,” Gibson said with a smirk. “They’re so good at stacking the box and lining up against he Wing-T. One of the things they take away is almost every single type of run we can run. TJ has great hands and we hadn’t shown that look. We wanted to take advantage of their pursuit and how hard they pursue and their speed coming down.
“TJ ran a little knife route and made it look like a jet sweep. It was wide open.”
Suddenly, this baseball school with two state championships on the diamond in its trophy case and eight state tournament appearances in the last 10 years, is a force with Gibson at the helm. All the Hawks did to prove it was slay the biggest giant in the Class 4A Division II landscape over the past five years.
Gibson, the fourth-year head coach, came from Frisco where he was the offensive coordinator for nine years for his dad, Vance Gibson. Josh Gibson’s brother, Justin, is now his offensive coordinator.
Now Josh, who will turn 39 years old next week, has a state title for a program that had never made it past the state quarterfinals before this year.
As if that wasn’t cool enough, he did it with his dad, and coaching mentor, on his sideline.
“It’s really special,” Josh Gibson said. “I grew up on his hip and didn’t want to do anything other than coach my whole life. To have him and the rest of my family there was extremely special because they’re all involved. The support I get from them is second to none.”
With that championship, Gibson’s name can now be placed in the hopper of some of the best young head coaches in the state –to no surprise of one of his senior standouts.
“He’s such a good coach because he’s such a good man,” said Texas Tech commit Xavier Benson, whose interception return for a touchdown in the closing minutes iced the game. “He cares for us and wants the best for everyone on the field. He’s going to have a great career.”
— Adam Boedeker
Pleasant Grove 41, West Orange-Stark 21
1st Qtr. 11:50
Pleasant Grove – TJ Cole 75-yard pass from Ben Harmon (Dillon Williams kick)
1st Qtr. 5:22
West Orange-Stark – Kayven Cooper 3-yard run (Kick failed)
1st Qtr. 0:44
Pleasant Grove – Cole 34-yard pass from Ben Harmon (Williams kick)
2nd Qtr. 1:04
Pleasant Grove – Cole 6-yard run (Williams kick)
4th Qtr. 10:02
Pleasant Grove – Bruce Garrett 4-yard run (Williams kick)
4th Qtr. 8:25
West Orange-Stark – Jarron Morris 44-yard pass from Chaka Watson (Morris pass from Watson)
4th Qtr. 4:35
West Orange-Stark – Blake Robinson 3-yard pass from Watson (Chad Dallas kick)
4th Qtr 0:15 –
Pleasant Grove – Xavier Benson 22-yard interception return (Williams kick)
4th Qtr. 0:00
Pleasant Grove – Aaron Harmon 44-yard interception return
|Pleasant Grove||West Orange-Stark|
|Punts – Avg.||6 – 37.5||4 – 43.2|
|Penalties – Yards||4 – 22||4 – 32|
|Fumbles – Lost||2 – 0||0 – 0|
|Third-Down Conversions||7 of 14||2 of 11|
Pleasant Grove Individual Leaders
Rushing – TJ Cole 22-81, Chauncey Martin 5-25, Bruce Garrett 8-15, Josh Roberts 2-6, Ben Harmon 3-(-3).
Passing – Ben Harmon 9-14-0-248.
Receiving – Xavier Benson 4-114, TJ Cole 3-107, Carson Cox 2-27.
West Orange-Stark Individual Leaders
Rushing – Kayven Cooper 5-25, Chaka Watson 13-9, Herzel Washington 1-6, Justin Sibley 3-4, Jarron Morris 1-(-1).
Passing – Chaka Watson 18-31-3-240.
Receiving – Jarron Morris 3-85, Blake Robinson 3-24, Deiondr’e Hawthorne 2-29, Kayven Cooper 2-25, Dashawn Holt 2-25, Mark Thibodeaux 2-14, Justin Sibley 2-10, Jaylon Mims 1-24, Renaldo Rose 1-4.
Matt Stepp's Breakdown
Two of the state’s best defensive teams clash in a game that can best be described as a throwback type game. Texarkana Pleasant Grove is making its first ever appearance in the state title game while West Orange-Stark is one of the state’s most tradition rich programs and the Mustangs hold a 40-game winning streak and back-to-back state titles.
Pleasant Grove has been a monster during this playoff run as its Wing-T offense and punishing defense leads the way. Last week the Hawks ripped past unbeaten Graham, 45-14, as Bruce Garrett and T.J. Cole combined for 295 yards rushing and four touchdowns while the Hawks’ defense held an offense averaging well over 40 points per game to just 249 yards of offense and two scores, one of which was on the game’s final play of the game.
After a couple of weeks of less than stellar offensive output, West Orange-Stark’s offense got it rolling last week in a 30-21 win over Wimberley. QB Chaka Watson’s 99-yard touchdown run in the second quarter put the Mustangs up for good at halftime 27-21 and the Chain Gang defense rose to the occasion in the second half pitching a shutout on an explosive Wimberley offensive attack.
The way to beat West Orange-Stark’s defense is through the air — the Mustangs typically wear out Wing and Slot-T offenses, so it’ll be interesting to see if the unstoppable force can overcome the immovable object as this game will be strength on strength.
Brady Keane's Players to Watch
Pleasant Grove LB Xavier Benson
Benson is a four-year starter and sees time on both sides of the ball for Pleasant Grove. He is a versatile athlete and can do just about anything the Hawks ask of him, and committed to Texas Tech over the summer.
West Orange-Stark CB Jarron Morris
Morris, a Texas State commit, was the difference-maker in the win over Wimberley last week and provided the spark that helped West Orange-Stark pull away. He’s a key player in the secondary but is also an elite return man.
Pleasant Grove RB TJ Cole
Cole transitioned from quarterback to take over duties as the team’s workhorse runner and he has racked 1,531 yards and 22 scores on 205 carries.
West Orange-Stark QB Chaka Watson
Watson rushed for 238 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Wimberley and is the team’s most explosive offensive player. He’ll provide most of the scoring for West Orange-Stark.
Pleasant Grove LB Caleb Porchia
Benson is the big name player on the defensive on of the ball, but Porchia is one of the most productive linebackers in the state. He flies over the field and leads the team with 175 tackles and forced five fumbles.
West Orange-Stark RB Kavyn Cooper
When defenses zero in on Watson, Cooper is back as a proven runner in the backfield for the second consecutive year. He averaged almost 10 yards per carry against the Texans.
3A Division I State Championship
Brock (13-2) vs. Rockdale (12-3)
3 p.m. Thursday, December 21
After taking a big hit, away from the ball, that resulted in a personal foul penalty against Brock, Jaqualyn Crawford flipped a switch.
If the Oklahoma signee ever needed a reason to get fired up, the late hit seemed to serve as a motivating factor that sparked a response.
Crawford blew past the first level on the very next play, called for the ball before he even had a step of separation in the secondary, hauled in a bomb from quarterback Torry Locklin and high-stepped his way into the end zone.
There goes that man again!
— Dave Campbell’s Texas Football — TexasFootball.com (@dctf) December 21, 2017
Crawford finished with 158 total yards – 57 rushing, 82 receiving and 19 passing – and three touchdowns as the Tigers rolled to a 45-29 win over Brock in Thursday’s Class 3A Division I state championship game.
“I played bad early on but you just can’t think about it too much,” Crawford said. “You just have to do what you do. It was a good hit, but a little late. It was nice [to score on the next play] though.”
Crawford’s electric reception was the fourth unanswered touchdown the Tigers scored after falling into an early 21-0 hole, and it was the exclamation point Rockdale needed to truly run away with things in the second half.
After taking the lead for the first time, the Tigers continued their dominance in the second half and finished the game by scoring 45 unanswered points before Brock broke off a late run to stop the bleeding.
Locklin, who accounted for 477 total yards and five touchdowns, was named offensive MVP. The come-from-behind win gives Rockdale its second state championship in school history, with the other trophy coming way back in 1976.
“It means a lot to our community,” Crawford said. “We had teams that could have won state championship and didn’t, so that was frustrating to the community. 41 years is a long time to wait. I’m just glad I could be a part of bringing Rockdale a state championship.”
The game was ultimately a tale of two dramatic swings of momentum, beginning with the white-hot start from Brock right out of the gate. It took just three plays for Dawson Littlepage to break off a 60-yard touchdown run, and he added two more scoring runs from 1 and 2-yards out to give the Eagles a 21-0 lead with 11:22 left in the second quarter.
“I’m a little upset at the UIL for telling us we played at 3:30 and not 3:00, because that’s how we came out,” Rockdale coach Jeff Miller said with a laugh. “It was good play design and execution by Brock, and we were just a little hyped up I guess. That’s understandable in this ball game.”
But after finally settling down, the explosive Rockdale offense got to work.
First, it was a two-yard touchdown run by Locklin. Then Crawford broke off a 41-yard score and threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Locklin in a span of two minutes to tie things up at 21-21.
As the offense began to heat up, the Rockdale defense totally shutdown Brock’s potent rushing attack. The Eagles had 184 yards and three scores on their first four drives of the game, but managed just 159 yards and one touchdown the rest of the way.
The nail in the coffin came with just under five minutes to go when Jackson Perry intercepted a pass to set up Locklin’s final touchdown of the game.
“We knew they had the ability to score on every play,” Brock coach Chad Worrell said. “They’re really well coached. I’ve never seen a momentum swing like that or been a part of one as a coach. Once it swung, we just tried to make plays and came up short.”
A Closer Look
One might say that Torry Locklin was made to lead his team to a state championship.
In the Rockdale senior quarterback’s case, the statement could not be more accurate.
The Locklin name and Rockdale football have a history, and on Thursday evening at AT&T Stadium, Locklin cemented it in his final high school game by leading his team to a furious rally before cruising to a 45-29 win over Brock to claim the Class 3A Division I state title.
Locklin’s father, Kerry Locklin, led the Tigers to the 1976 Class 2A championship before going on to a successful collegiate career at New Mexico State and a three-year stint in the NFL. He is currently the defensive line coach for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League.
That was the last time Rockdale appeared in a title game. On Thursday, it was the younger Locklin’s turn.
“Forty-one years – that’s a long time,” Torry Locklin said. “For us to come out here and do what we did, it’s amazing.”
The Rockdale signal-caller stayed poised when his team fell into a quick 21-0 hole before leading his team back with 477 total yards – 202 through the air and 256 on the ground along with a 19-yard touchdown catch. He accounted for five touchdowns, including three on the ground.
The line of successful football players didn’t begin with Kerry Locklin in 1976.
Prior to that, Torry’s grandfather, Billy Ray Locklin, played for the Rockdale Aycock team that claimed a Prairie View Interscholastic League Class 1A title in 1955 before public school integration in the 1960s.
He was later drafted by the Oakland Raiders before being named a CFL All Star three times.
“It’s a blessing,” Torry said. “For my grandpa to do it, my dad to do it and for me to come out here with these great guys is awesome. We built a strong bond at the beginning of the season, and we just ran with it.”
Speaking of family and bonds, the presence of those two things became plainly evident on the game’s final snap.
Instead of Locklin taking the final snap in victory formation, the honor was given to Rockdale head coach Jeff Miller’s son, Gunner.
The younger Miller had to give up playing football following a Ewing’s Sarcoma diagnosis and entered the game for the final snap.
“It’s amazing,” Locklin said of the gesture. “For me to come in this year, when I heard his story, it brought me to tears. He’s been through a lot. To see him go out there, that was amazing.”
Even though the final gesture wasn’t Jeff Miller’s idea, he agreed with Locklin’s sentiment, if for no other reason than what the situation meant for his team.
“I’ll tell you this,” Miller said, choking back tears. “I didn’t care who took it. We’re in victory formation in the championship game. You know what that means? That means we just won the dang thing.
“It wasn’t even my idea. It was his teammates’ idea. I’m not smart enough to even think of that. I had some of them come to me and asked if I’d be willing to do it. They didn’t have to ask me twice.”
Then, Miller went into a story about going to the doctor with his wife in 1999, when they were set to find out if they were having a boy or girl. When the doctor told them they would have a son, Miller lost it.
“I just started bawling,” he said. “I had so many things go through my mind that day, but this moment right here was one of those things that went through my mind.”
So, it didn’t all go exactly as he might have dreamed it up, but for Miller, the gesture by his team meant perhaps even more.
“These guys here are pretty stinkin’ incredible kids,” he said. “These are his best friends. …It’s a family thing. You say family? Yeah, we’ve got a pretty gosh dang good family. It’s pretty special.
— Adam Boedeker
Rockdale 45, Brock 29
1st Qtr. 10:41
Brock – Dawson Littlepage 60-yard run (Noah Nye kick)
1st Qtr. 8:23
Brock – Littlepage 1-yard run (Nye kick)
2nd Qtr. 11:22
Brock – Littlepage 2-yard run (Nye kick)
2nd Qtr. 8:38
Rockdale – Torry Locklin 2-yard run (Luis Iruegas kick)
2nd Qtr. 6:33
Rockdale – Jaquayln Crawford 41-yard run (Iruegas kick)
2nd Qtr. 4:07
Rockdale – Locklin 19-yard pass from Crawford (Iruegas kick)
2nd Qtr. 1:21
Rockdale – Crawford 74-yard pass from Locklin (Iruegas kick)
3rd Qtr. 7:57
Rockdale – Locklin 41-yard run (Iruegas kick)
4th Qtr. 4:54
Rockdale – Ireugas 26-yard field goal
4th Qtr. 2:42
Rockdale – Locklin 4-yard run (Iruegas kick)
4th Qtr. 2:30
Brock – Tanner Patino 52-yard run (Patino rush)
|Punts – Avg.||4 – 27.2||3 – 45.7|
|Penalties – Yards||6 – 45||7 – 62|
|Fumbles – Lost||3 – 2||2 – 2|
|Third-Down Conversions||2 of 9||8 of 12|
Brock Individual Leaders
Rushing – Tanner Patino 15-161, Dawson Littlepage 11-94, Jake Teskey 4-17, Tommy Merrill 2-8, Toby Morrison 1-6, Tripp Jones 5-1.
Passing – Tripp Jones 2-7-1-56.
Receiving – Baylor Cupp 1-40, Tanner Patino 2-16.
Rockdale Individual Leaders
Rushing – Torry Locklin 32-256, Jaquayln Crawford 9-57, Brajon Ayala 1-(-1), Dylan Rowe 1-(-9).
Passing – Torry Locklin 7-15-0-202, Jaquayln Crawford 1-1-0-19.
Receiving – Jaquayln Crawford 2-82, Quentin Hughes 2-59, Tyler Lehmkuhl 2-47, Torry Locklin 1-19, Chris Johnson 1-14.
Matt Stepp's Breakdown
Brock looks for its second state title in just four years of playing varsity football while Rockdale, always a solid team in the Brazos Valley, is seeking its first state title since 1976.
Brock has dominated in the playoffs up to this point as the Eagles haven’t had a game closer than 18 points, including last week’s 49-21 rout of Kemp. The Eagles’ running back duo of Dawson Littlepage and Tanner Patino combined for 189 yards rushing and three touchdowns and they sat out the entire fourth quarter.
Brock’s aggressive 10-1 defense will have their hands full this week trying to corral the playmakers at Rockdale, namely QB Torry Locklin and Oklahoma commit JaQualyin Crawford. That dynamic duo led the Tigers to a 31-21 upset of Yoakum last week. Locklin, whose dad played on the 1976 team at Rockdale, put his team on his back last week rushing for 313 yards and three touchdowns in the win. Crawford, in a supporting role, chipped in 103 yards rushing and a score in the win. Rockdale’s going to have to be patient on offense, because of Brock’s style of play, it tends to force a lot of negative plays. But if Crawford can get a crease or Locklin can make throws into tight coverage, there are yards to be had.
Brock’s offense isn’t flashy, but it is very reminiscent of the old Celina and Pilot Point teams of the 1980’s which reflects head coach Chad Worrell’s pedigree. Rockdale’s defense has a much different challenge this week than last week when it had to try and contain all that speed Yoakum brought to the table. If Rockdale can get some early success and force Brock into a shootout, it has a shot to pull the upset.
Brady Keane's Players to Watch
Brock RBs Dawson Littlepage and Tanner Patino
Okay, we’re cheating a little bit here. But it’s hard to pick between Brock’s backfield duo. Littlepage missed the majority of last season with an injury but is back with an important role while Patino led the way with 156 yards and two scores last week.
Rockdale QB Torry Locklin
Both Locklin’s dad and grandfather played on state championship teams for Rockdale, so he certainly has the family history. Locklin has been a star all year long and has 4,512 total yards and 53 touchdowns on the season.
Brock DT Skylar Collier
Collier is the leader of the defensive front again this season and solidifies the front seven for coach Chad Worrell. He has 143 tackles and 10 sacks as a defensive tackle.
Rockdale ATH Jaquayln Crawford
Crawford was the District 10-3A MVP last season and is an elite athlete on both sides of the ball. He’s a state champion in track as well and has used that speed to accumulate 1,329 total yards and 21 touchdowns.
Brock LB Zakk Young
Young’s older brother Zane was a key player on Brock’s 2015 state championship squad and Zakk has followed suit as a physical presence on the Eagles’ defense. He leads the team with 193 tackles this season.
Rockdale LB Dylan David
David was the district defensive MVP last year and combines his size with great speed to make an impact from sideline-to-sideline on the Rockdale defense. He combines with JR Hinojosa to give the Tigers a talented linebacking corps.
3A Division II State Championship
Gunter (15-0) vs. Newton (14-0)
7 p.m. Thursday, December 21
Newton wide receiver Noah Williams was convinced the Gunter secondary couldn’t cover him in Thursday night’s Class 3A DII state championship game – and for good reason.
The senior had three catches for 56 yards and a touchdown in the first half and gave the Tigers all kinds of trouble throughout.
— Brady Keane (@BradyKeane) December 22, 2017
But when Gunter’s Braiden Clopton baited Newton quarterback Josh Foster into throwing a third quarter interception by playing underneath an out-route thrown in Williams’ direction, it appeared the Eagles looked in his direction one too many times.
That is, until Foster connected with Williams on the team’s next offensive possession.
Williams’ fifth catch of the game, a 66-yard bomb down the sideline, gave Newton a lead it never relinquished as the Eagles went on to snap Gunter’s 31-game winning streak in a 40-16 win.
“I mean, I’ve always had that confidence,” Williams said. “On a big stage like this, you really just have to come up big and help the team. The team rolled after that. We solidified it and didn’t stop.”
When Williams crossed the end zone on that long score, the momentum shifted completely in favor of the Eagles. Newton forced Gunter into consecutive three-and-outs to open the fourth quarter and secured the win when Davein Johnson intercepted a Daylan Bower pass with 7:24 left.
It was a dominant second half from the Eagles as the team held the Tigers to just 52 yards in the final two quarters of the game.
Gunter, which had the second-best scoring offense in 3A DII (50.4 ppg), finished with just 184 yards in the loss.
“The whole thing about the first half was we just had a couple of malfunctions,” Newton coach WT Johnston said. “We got them in at half time and fixed it – that’s the way we’ve done it every game. We just told them to take the pitch and quit missing tackles.”
Eliminating mistakes on the defensive side led to total domination offensively as Newton outgained the Tigers 540-184 despite possessing the ball for almost eight fewer minutes.
The combination of Darwin Barlow (137 yards, 1 TD) and Tamauzia Brown (118 yards, 1 TD) on the ground provided elusive speed to compliment the air attack of QB Josh Foster (217 yards, 3 TDs) to Williams (143 yards, 2 TDs).
All of those players – with the exception of Williams – are juniors, giving the Eagles a dynamic edge on the field for a shot at repeating next season.
“Everything just fell into place,” Johnston said. “I thought we had a chance to win it last year – we just played one bad game. I knew coming back we good skill people – better skill people than everybody else has, and they’re all juniors. We just had to find a couple linemen to go with them. And they stepped up.”
A Closer Look
At this point, Newton head coach W.T. Johnston knows that every game he coaches could be his last.
It’s a harsh reality for a man facing a disease so rare, there are only a handful of confirmed cases in the United States.
And that’s Johnston’s reality.
If Thursday night’s Class 3A Division II championship game at AT&T Stadium was the final time Johnston paced the sideline wearing Newton’s purple and white, it’s going to be one he, and, perhaps most importantly, everyone associated with him will remember forever.
“It means everything, man,” said junior running back Darwin Barlow who has quite a back story with his head coach. “We were gonna be thinking about this for our whole life. We just knew we had to come out, keep playing hard, never let up and we were gonna get it for him.”
They know the uncertainty facing their head coach, who’s been a coach at Newton for nearly 25 years.
Johnston suffers from graft-versus-host disease, which he developed after a lung transplant in 2015. He’s already blown the typical life expectancy of 280 days out of the water.
“I’ve been told there’s nothing they can do for me a bunch of times,” Barlow said. “Somebody asked me why I’m here. I told them I have really good doctors, but I serve a really big god. That’s why I’m here. The power of prayer is real. If you don’t believe that, you can’t see me. It’s a real thing. God has a reason for me still being here, and I don’t think it was just a state championship.”
Johnston stressed that fact numerous times after his team won its first state championship since 2005, when Johnston was an assistant under the late Curtis Barbay.
There is much more to coaching than winning games and teaching X’s and O’s, he said – a realization that has come about since his grim medical diagnosis.
“I’m not supposed to be here,” Johnston said after the game, sweating profusely with tears streaming down his cheek and, at times, gasping for breath. “So there’s a reason. I think that’s the reason. Not just to win games. It’s to do the other things right.
“I had a kid die on me a couple of years ago and I got to thinking, ‘What did I ever teach that kid besides football?’ And I had to answer that with, ‘I didn’t teach him anything.’ That was before I got really sick. I started realizing then – his sister came to me and said he thought of me as his dad. Coaches don’t realize that impact sometimes. That’s how I look at things now.”
With all that said, Johnston said the win was “sweet,” and he hopes it can do something to repay the Newton community for all it has done for him and his family.
Ask Barlow what Johnston has done for him, and the answer is immediate – one Barlow will remember for the rest of his life.
“He means everything to me,” Barlow said. “He’s more than just a coach to me. I care about him. He’s been there for me through thick and thin. I just love him.”
— Adam Boedeker
Newton 40, Gunter 16
1st Qtr. 3:59
Newton – Darwin Barlow 28-yard run (Caleb Colon kick)
1st Qtr. 0:58
Gunter – Peyton Lowe 3-yard run (Evan Gonzalez kick)
2nd Qtr. 10:02
Newton – Noah Williams 11-yard pass from Josh Foster (Colon kick)
2nd Qtr. 6:09
Gunter – Evan Gonzalez 32-yard field goal
3rd Qtr. 8:15
Gunter – Braiden Clopton 23-yard pass from Daylan Bower (Kick failed)
3rd Qtr. 0:00
Newton – Noah Williams 66-yard pass from Foster (Kick failed)
4th Qtr. 9:35
Newton – LaKendrick Adams 74-yard pass from Foster (Colon kick)
4th Qtr. 7:24
Newton – Tamauzia Brown 75-yard run (Colon kick)
4th Qtr. 2:41
Newton – Foster 8-yard run (Kick failed)
|Punts – Avg.||8 – 40.5||5 – 34|
|Penalties – Yards||4 – 35||8 – 64|
|Fumbles – Lost||1 – 0||1 – 1|
|Third-Down Conversions||4 of 15||4 of 9|
Gunter Individual Leaders
Rushing – Dylan Jantz 11-65, Braiden Clopton 5-36, Peyton Lowe 5-21, Daylan Bower 16-15, Zach Lowe 4-10, Bryson Rigsby 2-3, Ethan Everson 1-(-9).
Passing – Daylan Bower 4-9-2-46, Ethan Everson 0-1-0-0.
Receiving – Dylan Jantz 3-23, Braiden Clopton 1-23.
Newton Individual Leaders
Rushing – Darwin Barlow 18-137, Tamauzia Brown 5-118, Josh Foster 11-39, Kevin Watson 7-31, Davien Johnson 1-2.
Passing – Josh Foster 6-12-1-217.
Receiving – Noah Williams 5-143, LaKendrick Adams 1-74.
Matt Stepp's Breakdown
It’s the matchup we all wanted when the playoffs started as the two titans in 3A Division II clash after dominating runs through the regular season and the playoffs.
Gunter blew past previously undefeated Canadian in impressive fashion with a 56-27 win. Stats didn’t tell the whole story of the win as Canadian actually outgained Gunter. QB Dylan Bower and versatile Braiden Clopton did most of the damage for the Tigers as Bower ran for four touchdowns and Clopton chipped in two rushing touchdowns and an interception return for a touchdown as well.
Gunter will face its biggest test to date in its 31-game winning streak as it takes on an ultra-talented Newton squad. The Eagles dug themselves an early 14-0 hole against Boling and Vernon Jackson, but the Eagles settled down and blew the doors off 56-28. RB Darwin Barlow did much of the damage for the Eagles as he ran for 149 yards and three touchdowns in addition to a 69-yard touchdown reception.
The matchup of the Newton defense against the Gunter offense will be one of the most fascinating unit matchup battles of the weekend at UIL State and the winner of this showdown likely wins the game. Newton’s overall team speed will be a major challenge for GHS, while Gunter’s execution and underrated athletic ability will be a great counter to that NHS team speed.
Brady Keane's Players to Watch
Gunter RB/DB Dylan Jantz
Jantz has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the year and he had a team-high 24 touchdowns through 14 games. There are a lot of weapons in that backfield, but Jantz is the leader and stars in the secondary as well.
Newton RB Darwin Barlow
After a productive sophomore year, Barlow has taken it to an entirely new level this season. He has 1,945 yards and 35 touchdowns, and has surpassed 143 yards in each of the last four games.
Gunter LB/RB Zach Lowe
Lowe, an all-state linebacker, is the leader of the defense, but also serves as a capable runner in the backfield. He had three rushing touchdowns in the team’s blowout win over New Diana on Dec. 8.
Newton LB Corbin Foster
Foster leads the Newton defense with an eye-popping 193 tackles, seven tackles for loss and four sacks. He’s a dominant linebacker and is within reach of the 200-tackle mark for the second consecutive year.
Gunter OL Adrian Martinez
The Tigers’ run game is as dominant as they come, and while the backfield gets the majority of the credit, the success starts up front with Martinez and company. Martinez was an all-state selection as a junior last season.
Newton ATH Tamuazia Brown
Like Barlow, Brown is a beast. He’s averaging more than 16 yards per catch and has 802 yards and 13 scores through the air while adding 355 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. In the secondary, he has 11 interceptions and has given opposing offenses fits.
2A Division I State Championship
Mart (14-1) vs. Refugio (13-1)
7 p.m. Wednesday, December 20
For the first four minutes of Wednesday night’s Class 2A Division I state championship game, Refugio looked like a team on a mission.
Mart had no answer for the Bobcats on the team’s first five plays from scrimmage, as Refugio QB Jared Kelley connected with Jamel LaFond on a 66-yard touchdown and Jake Tinsman on a 42-yard touchdown before the Panthers even realized what hit them.
But it didn’t take long for Mart to produce a counter punch of its own. And for the rest of the game, the Panthers’ offense was the one running up and down the field imposing its will.
After falling behind 14-0, Mart outscored Refugio 34-7 in a dominant effort on both sides of the ball to claim its sixth state championship by the final score of 34-21.
“We just settled down,” Mart coach Kevin Hoffman said. “We’ve never played in this building before. 98 percent of my kids have never seen this place. We knew if we could weather the storm and get settled down, they would forget about all this other stuff.”
The Panthers were able to move the ball on the ground via the trio of Jace Terry, Tyreke Horne and Shatydrick Bailey, who combined to carry the ball 45 times for 243 yards and three touchdowns.
But the running game opened up thanks to a monster game from senior wide receiver Jalon Kirven on the perimeter. Kirven, who didn’t have a game with more than 72 receiving yards through the first 15 games of the year, finished with seven catches for 199 yards and a touchdown.
If that wasn’t enough, Kirven had three tackles and a fourth quarter interception that essentially sealed the win for the Panthers. He then caught a 32-yard pass from Terry on fourth-and-seven, allowing Mart to run out the clock.
“I didn’t want to lose and I wanted to play big,” Kirven said. “I didn’t want to let my teammates down and it worked out alright. It was a cherry on top there at the end – just a special moment. It’s a dream come true.”
Kirven and the offense put up 486 total yards in the game, but it was the defense’s ability to hold Refugio to just 273 yards that suppressed any hope of a comeback.
The Bobcats managed just 27 yards rushing on 18 carries, averaging 1.5 yards per attempt just a week after rushing for more than 400 yards against San Augustine. That put a lot of pressure on sophomore quarterback Jared Kelley in the passing game and the Mart secondary capitalized.
“We just never gave up and it really showed,” defensive MVP Jermaine Madkins said. “They put it down on us early but we picked it up. I think we played our best game of the year today.”
— Brady Keane
A Closer Look
Shatydrick Bailey knows how opponents might perceive him on first glance.
Standing at 5 feet, 3 inches, the Mart junior is undersized, no matter what level of football is being played.
Bailey said he played Wednesday’s Class 2A Division I championship game with the same edge he’s always played with, and he rode that edge to offensive MVP honors as his team overcame an early deficit to roll to a 34-21 win over Refugio.
Whether it was Bailey’s momentum-shifting touchdowns or his on-field energy on both sides of the football, he led the way for the Panthers, just like he had all season long.
“Ever since two-a-days, coach [Kevin] Hoffman told me to be a leader and to step up, so tonight, that’s what I did,” Bailey said.
He finished his night with 12 carries for 82 yards and two touchdowns and caught a 2-yard touchdown pass on a fake field goal to cap a three-touchdown rally by Bailey, himself, answering an early 14-0 lead by Refugio.
“He can do anything,” Mart senior quarterback Jace Terry said. “He’ll catch passes. He’ll run. It doesn’t matter. Whenever we get him involved, this is usually the outcome.”
Entering the game, Bailey was his team’s third leading rusher with 908 yards on just 58 carries (15.7 yards per carry) and 19 touchdowns. He was the leading receiver with 30 catches for 482 yards (34.4 yards per catch) and 10 scores.
Oh, and he also entered the game with 95 tackles, including a staggering 28 behind the line of scrimmage and seven sacks. On Wednesday, he had three tackles and added one to his sack total.
“It’s huge for us on both sides of the ball,” Terry said. “The littlest dude is winning offensive MVP. That’s crazy. I love having him on my team. I wouldn’t want to play against him.”
— Adam Boedeker
Mart 34, Refugio 21
1st Qtr. 11:40
Refugio – Jamel LaFond 66-yard pass from Jared Kelley (Diego Gonzales kick)
1st Qtr. 8:15
Refugio – Jake Tinsman 42-yard pass from Kelley (Gonzales kick)
2nd Qtr. 11:20
Mart – Shatydrick Bailey 44-yard run (Angel Ortiz kick)
2nd Qtr. 2:36
Mart – Bailey 2-yard pass from Jace Terry (Ortiz kick)
2nd Qtr. 0:16
Mart – Bailey 1-yard run (Ortiz kick)
4th Qtr. 9:22
Mart – Jalon Kirven 29-yard pass from Terry (Ortiz kick)
4th Qtr. 8:20
Refugio – Tinsman 23-yard pass from Kelley (Gonzales kick)
4th Qtr. 6:24
Mart – Terry 64-yard run (Kick failed)
|Punts – Avg.||3 – 36.3||4 – 43,2|
|Penalties – Yards||4 – 20||3 – 15|
|Fumbles – Lost||0||1 – 0|
|Third-Down Conversions||4 of 13||3 of 11|
Mart Individual Leaders
Rushing – Jace Terry 17-94, Shatydrick Bailey 12-82, Tyrek Horne 16-67, Anthony Sauceda 1-(-1).
Passing – Jace Terry 11-17-1-252.
Receiving – Jalon Kirven 7-199, Anthony Sauceda 2-24, Tyrek Horne 1-29, Shatydrick Bailey 1-2.
Refugio Individual Leaders
Rushing – Daryon Ramirez 7-38, Ysidro Mascorro 3-6, Donavon Bailey 1-5, Jacobe Avery 1-4, Chris Moya 1-2, Jared Kelley 4-(-23).
Passing – Jared Kelley 14-27-0-237, Jacobe Avery 2-2-0-9, Donovon Bailey 0-1-1-0.
Receiving – Jamel LaFond 4-80, Donovon Bailey 4-13, Jake Tinsman 2-65, Trent Ross 2-52, Daryon Ramirez 2-22, Ysidro Mascorro 1-10, Trevor Ross 1-4.
Matt Stepp's Breakdown
Since Refugio dropped to Class 2A four years ago, this was the matchup most fans had been waiting for. After dominating seasons against 2A competition, we finally get to see strength-on-strength when Refugio and Mart collide on Wednesday night.
Mart went out west to Snyder on Thursday and handled a very physical Stratford squad 33-13 to advance to the title game for the first time since 2012. The Panthers jumped out to a 19-0 lead in the third quarter as QB Jace Terry ran for two touchdowns and threw another to Houston commit WR Zamar Kirven. But Stratford rallied back to cut the lead to 19-13 with over nine minutes left. The Panthers showed some championship mettle on the ensuing drive would rush for his third touchdown of the night and then the game was put away by Kyler Martin’s 88-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
Refugio blew past previously undefeated San Augustine 63-21 to advance to the state title game for third straight season. The Bobcat running game was simply too much as Daryon Ramirez, Ysidro Moscorro and Jacobe Avery led the Bobcats rushing attack that rolled up 467 yards of offense.
Both teams feature tremendous athletes, but the key is which defense can settle in and get a few stops? Refugio’s edge may be that it will be able to adjust to Mart’s speed having just taken down a fast San Augustine squad not to mention that the Bobcat likely hold an advantage in the trenches.
Brady Keane's Players to Watch
Mart QB Jace Terry
Jerry is surrounded by offensive talent but is a both a capable thrower and runner for the loaded Mart offense. He’s thrown for 2,013 yards and 31 touchdowns and has 924 yards and 17 scores on the ground.
Refugio RB/LB Jacobe Avery
If you were at the state title games last year, its hard to forget the gutty performance Avery had as the team’s QB to lead the Bobcats to a championship. He’s transitioned to running back and had nine touchdowns and a punt return for a score entering last week. He’s comfortable playing on the big stage.
Mart RB Tyrek Horne
Horne exceeded the 2,000-yard mark last week and leads the team with 26 rushing touchdowns. He’s incredibly hard to bring down and packs a punch while averaging more than 14 yards per carry.
Refugio OL/DL Armonie Brown
Brown is a three-year starter in the trenches and has been totally dominant, especially on the defensive side of the ball this season. He had a ridiculous 44 tackles for loss through 14 games.
Mart LB Cooper Baize
The Panthers have five players with more than 100 tackles on the season, but Baize leads the way with 174 and 17 tackles for loss.
Refugio QB Jared Kelley
Kelley emerged as a dominant weapon for Refugio and took over at QB during the offseason. He’s thrown for over 3,000 yards and had 44 touchdowns through 14 games.
2A Division II State Championship
Muenster (15-0) vs. Tenaha (15-0)
11 a.m. Thursday, December 21
For the better part of the first 24 minutes of Thursday’s Class 2A Division II state championship game, Muenster and Tenaha were locked in a stalemate.
The Hornets held Tenaha completely in check offensively, but found themselves leading by just three at the half thanks to a fumble and a red zone stand from the Tigers.
The script was completely flipped by the time the third quarter rolled around. The teams combined for 30 points in the frame, setting up for an intense finish.
While the offensive outburst set the stage, it was fitting that the game was ultimately decided by another stout defensive effort. Muenster got the stops it needed late in the fourth to claim its first state championship in a 27-20 win.
“I think it was just like it was billed up to be,” Muenster head coach Brady Carney said. “It ended up being just a tremendous football game, which is kind of what we expected, right? It’s tremendous.”
The win gives the Hornets a clean sweep in 2017 as the team won Class 2A state championships in boys’ basketball, baseball and football. Senior Clay Stevens played on all three teams and will be looking to add to his ring collection when basketball season rolls around next week.
“This feeling is unreal,” Stevens said. “Growing up, this is what we all dream about. It’s hard to put into words. It’s just crazy and just speaks volumes about the athletes we have in Muenster.”
After a nine-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Parker McGrew just before the end of the third quarter, Muenster entered the fourth with a seven-point edge simply needing its defense to return to the level of play displayed in the first half to walk away with a win.
The Hornets did just that by forcing a turnover on downs with 8:33 left in the fourth quarter when Logan Pagel and Carson Cheaney sacked Tenaha QB C.J. Horn. Muenster went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, but the defense picked up the slack by again shutting down the Tigers.
Senior Stetson McGrew broke up a pass from Horn with just over 3:47 to go in the game. That was the last time Tenaha touched the ball, as Parker McGrew and the offense picked up two first downs while staying in bounds to eat up the remainder of the clock.
“It’s amazing how hard they work, but it’s really amazing how smart they are,” Carney said. “There’s things we do to adjust or new things we put in and we go over it one time and they have it. I don’t even know if I said stay in bounds and I look up and they’re looking for a place to go down in bounds. They make my job really easy.”
The game appeared to be on pace for a back-and-forth offensive battle when the teams traded touchdowns on their opening possessions of the game. Parker McGrew connected with sophomore Danny Luttmer on a beautiful 20-yard touchdown pass, but Tenaha answered with a 16-yard TD pass from Horn to Trai Gardner.
The Hornets continued their efficient offensive attack on the ensuing possession, but the Tenaha defense stiffened inside the 5-yard line. The Tigers held Muenster to a 25-yard field goal from Trey McTaggart late in the first quarter, giving the Hornets a 10-7 lead.
The rest of the half was all defense, as Tenaha finished with just 65 yards through the first two quarters. A fumble and a three-and-out before the half kept the game low scoring going into the break.
While the third quarter brought some excitement to AT&T Stadium, it was the stout defensive effort from Hornets’ in the fourth that sealed the vwin. Muenster held Onterio Thompson, Tenaha’s 2,000-plus yard rusher to just 36 yards on the ground.
“That’s the difference in the ball game,” Tenaha coach Craig Horn said. “They lined up and played at the line of scrimmage. That was huge, and it’s hard to complete passes when you’re running backwards.”
— Brady Keane
A Closer Look
When Muenster took the field Thursday for the Class 2A Division II state championship game against unbeaten Tenaha, the Hornets had a streak of their own to protect.
Sure, there was the 15-0 record, as well as an unreal streak of success dating back to last school year when Muenster teams claimed the Class 2A championships in both boys’ basketball and baseball.
Football would have made it three, but that number, three, had a much greater significance for the Hornets on Thursday afternoon.
That’s where Cal York enters the story.
York never played football for Muenster, but was teammates with football stars Clay Stevens and Danny Luttmer on both the basketball and baseball teams that claimed state championships last school year.
York wasn’t able to enjoy the baseball title in June after he was tragically killed in a car accident on May 20.
That leads to the most impressive streak in Muenster, which continued Thursday – seven months and one day from that tragic day – as no boys’ team has lost a game since Stevens, Luttmer and the rest of the community lost their good friend. And on Thursday, they did it with a large helmet decal of York’s No. 3 plastered on one side of their headgear.
“It’s unreal, really,” Stevens said of the streak. “It’s something we could’ve never imagined. I’m glad we were able to get this done for his family — his dad and his mom and sister. They mean the world to us. Just seeing that 3 on the side of our helmet every day at practice and every game pushed us harder. To get this done for them, I can’t put that into words.”
Moments after the final seconds ticked off the clock and Muenster was awarded its third consecutive UIL championship trophy over the last seven months, the team gathered on the field at AT&T Stadium for a quick team picture. In it, every player held up three fingers.
Maybe it was just a nod to the school’s run of success in boys’ athletics. But it was likely something much bigger.
“I know Cal is always with us,” one of York’s best friends, running back Carson Trubenbach said. “Every day we have the 3 on our helmets to remember him by, but there’s not a day that goes by when we don’t think about him. He’s with us every day and he’s watching us.”
– Adam Boedeker
Muenster 27, Tenaha 20
1st Qtr. 7:58
Muenster – Danny Luttmer 20-yard pass from Parker McGrew (Trey McTaggart kick)
1st Qtr. 3:08
Tenaha – Trai Gardner 26-yard pass from CJ Horn (Christian Castillo kick)
2nd Qtr. 8:18
Muenster – McTaggart 25-yard field goal
3rd Qtr. 9:53
Tenaha – Gardner 60-yard pass from Horn (Castillo kick)
3rd Qtr. 7:10
Muenster – Carson Trubenback 8-yard pass from McGrew (McTaggart kick)
3rd Qtr. 2:24
Muenster – McTaggart 35-yard field goal
3rd Qtr. 2:13
Tenaha – Gardner 55-yard run (Castillo kick)
3rd Qtr. 0:01
Muenster – McGrew 9-yard run (McTaggart kick)
|Punts – Avg.||2 – 48.5||3 – 31.3|
|Penalties – Yards||11 – 65||3 – 25|
|Fumbles – Lost||1 – 1||0 – 0|
|Third-Down Conversions||8 of 14||4 of 10|
Muenster Individual Leaders
Rushing – Parker McGrew 21-90, Carson Trubenbach 5-46, Clay Stevens 15-32.
Passing – Parker McGrew 14-23-0-193.
Receiving – Danny Luttmer 7-99, Clay Stevens 3-28, Carson Trubenback 2-39, Stetson McGrew 2-27.
Tenaha Individual Leaders
Rushing – Trai Gardner 2-54, Onterio Thompson 11-36, CJ Horn 8-14, Jay Lloyd 3-11.
Passing – CJ Horn 8-15-1-136.
Receiving – Trai Gardner 6-108, Jay Lloyd 2-28.
Matt Stepp's Breakdown
We’ll kick off the Thursday slate with a massive matchup of undefeated teams as Muenster and Tenaha battle for the state title. These two have been on a collision course all year.
Muenster advanced to its first state title game in school history last Thursday with a 31-28 win over Wellington. The Hornets trailed at the half for the first time all year, but head coach Brady Carney’s squad handled the adversity well. Trailing 21-17 at the half, Muenster had a pair of big plays in the second half including Danny Luttmer’s 81-yard touchdown pass from Parker McGrew with 4:32 left in the third quarter to lift Muenster to the win. McGrew came up big with 240 yards passing and three touchdown passes of over 50 yards and the MHS defense rose to the occasion not allowing an offensive touchdown in the second quarter.
Tenaha, who still hasn’t played a game closer than 19 points since Week 2, continued its domination with a 60-22 rout of Burton last week. Tenaha’s elite skill talent was too much for Burton to handle as Trai Gardner showed how he can impact a game in multiple ways. The senior had a pair of interceptions, including a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown. He also hauled in two touchdown passes and finished with four catches for 160 yards and had a 65-yard touchdown run. In addition, Gardner even had a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown called back due to a penalty as well.
Muenster has good team speed, but Tenaha is on a different level at the skill spots. The key for the Hornets will be can their outstanding defensive line dominate the game and throw the Tigers off before their playmakers get a head of steam? Muenster has enough on offense led by McGrew, but this game will be decided by its defense.
Brady Keane's Players to Watch
Muenster QB Parker McGrew
McGrew is the leader of an offense averaging almost 53 points per game as he has thrown for 2,531 yards and 39 touchdowns while adding 1,121 yards and 17 scores on the ground. He’s excelled in taking over for Blayne Jones after playing RB as a sophomore last season.
Tenaha QB CJ Horn
The DCTF 2A DII preseason offensive player of the year has lived up to the billing, throwing for 2,796 yards 38 touchdowns. He’s accurate throwing the ball but also has the mobility to evade pressure and keep plays alive.
Muenster RB/FS Clay Stevens
Stevens is the team’s leading rusher (1,137 yards, 17 TDs) but also thrives in the secondary where he leads the way with six interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He’s a leader on a defense giving up less than seven points per game.
Tenaha RB Onterio Thompson
As impressive as Horn has been throwing the ball, Thompson has been a star in the running game. He’s over 2,400 yards on the season and has 34 touchdowns, exceeding the 100-yard mark in 14 of the team’s 15 games.
Muenster OL/DL Carson Cheaney
Cheaney isn’t the biggest player in the trenches for the Hornets, but he is one of the most talented and athletic linemen on the roster. He causes problems defensively on one of the biggest defensive fronts at the 2A level.
Tenaha LB Tavoris Giles
Giles is one of the few players in Texas over the 200-tackle mark, and he captains the Tigers’ defense with a tireless work ethic that continues to translate to big numbers.
1A Division I State Championship
Borden County (14-0) vs. Jonesboro (13-1)
11 a.m. Wednesday, December 20
It took some time for the Borden County defense to display the dominance it had for the entire regular season, but once the Coyotes got into a rhythm there was no slowing them down.
After allowing three first-half touchdowns to Jonesboro and leading by just two at the break, Borden County flipped a switch and returned to form in the second half.
The Coyotes forced three straight turnovers to open the third quarter, igniting a blowout 60-22 win as the team claimed the Class 1A Division I state championship for the second consecutive year.
“What a neat deal and a neat experience,” Borden County head coach Trey Richey said. “These guys have been told that they’re basketball players, that they can’t play football. That was a chip on their shoulder. These kids were amazing.”
The defensive effort was headed by junior defensive lineman Ben Justice, who recovered three fumbles and returned one 40 yards for a touchdown midway through the third.
Justice and the rest of the defense, including Miles Wilson, Trace Richey and Ryan Willborn, asserted its dominance to set the second half rout on its course. Borden County allowed just 69 yards in the second half while shutting out the Jonesboro offense for the final two quarters.
Justice was named the game’s Defensive MVP after the game and finished with a team-high 11 tackles and a sack.
“We just followed coach [Bubba] Edwards game plan,” Justice said. “[The first half] kind of made us mad. I think we came out and faced that adversity we’ve faced all year.”
While the Coyotes’ defense took over in the second half, it was the offense that kept the team in position to put the game out of reach. After Borden County fumbled on the opening possession, Jonesboro drove down the field while chewing up the majority of the first quarter.
The Eagles took an 8-0 lead on a 12-yard pass from Ethan Lilljedahl to Trevor Sellers, but the Coyotes wasted little time answering. Nick Proulx broke off a 64-yard touchdown on the first of three consecutive one-play drives for Borden County, leading to a first half shootout.
Proulx’s 42-yard run with 4:51 left in the second quarter gave the Coyotes a 24-22 lead and the team never looked back. “I can’t really tell you [about those long runs], except that I couldn’t have done it without great blocking and great coaching,” Proulx said.
After falling 65-12 to the Coyotes in last year’s state title game, Jonesboro was able to control the time of possession and eat up some clock to put an early scare into Borden County.
Lilljedahl accounted for 105 yards and two passing touchdowns – both to Sellers – while Wyatt Young rushed for 176 yards and a score to lead the way for Jonesboro.
The Eagles held the ball for more than 17 minutes in the first half alone, but the Coyotes’ stifling defense and size advantage up front stole the show to put the game out of reach.
“I thought we executed our game plan really well until the last possession [in the first half],” Jonesboro coach Eddie Gallegos said. “We were concerned about their (Borden County’s) speed and that played out, especially in the first half.
I don’t think the stage was too much for these guys – we game out confident and I thought we played really well in the first half.”
— Brady Keane
A Closer Look
While Borden County’s defense had some early, uncharacteristic struggles, the Coyotes leaned on one of their senior playmakers on the other side of the ball to right the ship.
Nick Proulx acted as a one-man answering machine for Borden County – responding to every shot underdog Jonesboro fired with something bigger and more spectacular of his own.
Proulx finished his final game for the Coyotes with 11 carries for 251 yards while helping lead them to a second consecutive Class 1A Division I state championship. The way in which he accumulated those yards was perhaps the most impressive thing about his day.
For every long, plodding drive for Jonesboro, Proulx responded with highlight-reel run after highlight-reel run, starting with his 64-yard touchdown run on the Coyotes’ first play from scrimmage after Jonesboro had struck first to put Borden County in an extremely rare, early hole.
The theme continued.
Proulx scored Borden County’s next two touchdowns – each on one-play scoring drives that covered 55 and 42 yards, respectively.
Proulx single-handedly gave his team a 24-22 halftime advantage over a Jonesboro squad that Borden County easily beat in last year’s title game via the 45-point mercy rule.
Things went more according to plan for the Coyotes in the second half, and Proulx capped his scoring day with a 2-yard touchdown plunge midway through the third quarter, which was the third of six consecutive Borden County scores to help the Coyotes pull away in the second half.
“I couldn’t have done it without my blockers,” Proulx, who was voted the game’s offensive MVP, said abruptly.
When asked again, the answer was the same.
Then, his head coach, Trey Richey, chimed in.
“What people don’t know about Nick, he was a hidden commodity that no one’s seen,” Richey said. “He was hurt on the first play of the second game last year and missed the whole year. That’s the lead leg on our state championship relay. That’s the lead leg on our runner-up sprint relay. We knew he had the wheels.
“But he understands, being fast is one thing, but if there’s not a hole, speed matters for nothing.”
— Adam Boedeker
Borden County 60, Jonesboro 22
1st Qtr. 0:41
Jonesboro – Tyler Sellers 12-yard pass from Ethan Lilljedahl (Wyatt Young kick)
1st Qtr. 0:24
Borden County – Nick Proulx 64-yard run (Easton Edwards kick)
1st Qtr. 0:00
Jonesboro – Wyatt Young 70-yard run (Kick failed)
2nd Qtr. 9:48
Borden County – Proulx 55-yard run (Edwards kick)
2nd Qtr. 5:09
Jonesboro – Sellers 23-yard pass from Lilljedahl
2nd Qtr. 4:51
Borden County – Proulx 42-yard run (Edwards kick)
3rd Qtr. 8:19
Borden County – JW Nix 10-yard pass from Morgan Wilson (Edwards kick)
3rd Qtr. 7:29
Borden County – Proulx 2-yard run (Edwards kick)
3rd Qtr. 6:06
Borden County – Payton Merket 16-yard run (Edwards kick)
3rd Qtr. 5:50
Borden County – Ben Justice 40-yard fumble return (Edwards kick)
3rd Qtr. 1:29
Borden County – Edwards 32-yard field goal
|Punts – Avg.||0||0|
|Penalties – Yards||9-43||7-48|
|Fumbles – Lost||1-1||4-4|
Borden County Individual Leaders
Rushing – N. Proulx 11-251, T. Richey 6-46, P. Merket 3-35, B. Torres 4-27, R. Willborn 2-13, T. Kingston 4-9.
Passing – T. Richey 1-3-0-28, Mo. Wilson 1-1-0-10, N. Proulx 0-1-0-0.
Receiving – P. Merket 1-28, J. Nix, 1-10.
Jonesboro Individual Leaders
Rushing – W. Young 22-176, E. Lilljedahl 13-44, C. Baker 2-11, P. Merx 4-10, A. Lopez 1-(-13).
Passing – E. Lilljedahl 4-5-0-61, A. Lopez 3-4-0-25.
Receiving – T. Sellers 3-38, G. Bragewitz 1-23, W. Young 1-13, Al. Sarmiento 1-12, E. Lilljedahl 1-0. 7
Leman Saunders' Breakdown
In a rematch of last year’s division one state championship game, Borden County Coyotes tangles with the Jonesboro Eagles. The Coyotes are vying for their fifth state championship and Jonesboro will be looking to procure its first.
Borden County enters the game 14-0 on the season and with a 27-game win streak. This season, only six teams have managed to score on Borden County’s outstanding defense that is allowing an amazingly low eight points per game. Last week, it allowed a season-high 38 points in its semi-final win over Happy who previously averaged over 77 points per game going into the contest. The unit is one of the biggest six-man teams in the state and it shows along the offensive and defensive lines. Linemen Ben Justice, Zane Allen, J.W. Nix and Braxton Barnes rarely get the accolades, but are the main reason why Borden County is playing in this game.
Jonesboro, with a very tough schedule, enters the state game 13-1 with its only loss coming at the hands of Milford, 71-44, back in week 2. The Eagles have defeated 11 playoff teams including the TAPPS DI state champions, Dallas Lutheran. Wyatt Young is the spark plug on offense and on defense for the Eagles. Ethan Lilljedahl and Andy and Alex Sarmiento are vital offensive and defensive components as well.
Borden County might be a tougher team than it was last year. Jonesboro looks to be better offensively than it was a year ago, but will need to play the perfect game and come up with big turnovers if it wants to pull off the upset here. I expect Jonesboro to score a few more points than it did last year but this game going roughly the same way it did last year with Borden County in control and Jonesboro fighting to pace and the Coyotes size up front will be too much to overcome over the course of the game.
Leman Saunders' Players to Watch
Borden County RB/S Nick Proulx
The team’s leading rusher with 1,971 yards and 41 touchdowns on the season. Scored five touchdowns last week against Happy and can find running lanes and follow blocks better than any RB I’ve seen this season.
Jonesboro RB/S Wyatt Young
The Eagles’ playmaker on both sides of the ball. On the season, Young has 2,501 yards, 44 touchdowns rushing and 176 tackles, seven interceptions on defense and 51 total touchdowns scored.
Borden County QB/LB/S Trace Richey
Playmaker. He leads the team with 168 tackles and has picked off six passes with 27 tackles for a loss at the LB and safety positions. 2,253 yards of total offense on the season.
Jonesboro RB/CB Ethan Lilljedahl
With 1,549 yards of total offense on the season, Lilljedahl is the perfect complement to Young on offense. Has scored 24 touchdowns on the ground and thrown for nine more.
Borden County FB/DE Ben Justice
One of the big guys up front at defensive end and lead blocker at FB on offense. Has recorded 137 tackles, 29 for loss, five sacks, three interceptions, five fumble recoveries and blocked two punts this season.
Jonesboro RB/DE/K Andy Sarmiento
Jack-of-all-trades type of player who is a standout on offense, defense with and special teams with 110 tackles and converting 70 percent of his attempts as the Eagles’ PAT kicker.
1A Division II State Championship
Balmorhea (13-0) vs. Strawn (14-0)
2 p.m. Wednesday, December 20
While it took just two plays for Balmorhea to score on its opening possession, the Strawn defense buckled down and came up with a set of key stops early in the game that allowed the Greyhounds to build a lead.
Strawn forced two consecutive turnovers on fourth down stops and used those possessions to fuel a big first-half effort that sent the team on its way to a 78-42 victory in the Class 1A Division II state championship game.
In a matchup where the teams combined for 120 points, it was those two early stops that made the difference for the Greyhounds.
“They [the stops] were huge,” Strawn coach Dewaine Lee said. “The defense we put in, coach [Jose] Cervantes did get a great job. They had a good game plan. We never got our head down and it never fazed us. We knew we were going to wear them down.”
Defense was a key strength for Strawn all year long as the team entered the title game giving up an average of fewer than 11 points per game. This time the effort was led by the trio of J.W. Montgomery (14 tackles), Marco Lopez (12 tackles, three sacks) and Ivan Rodriguez (15 tackles, one sack).
The victory gave the Greyhounds their third state championship in school history in dominant fashion against a Balmorhea team that fell short of the title at AT&T Stadium for the second consecutive year.
“They stayed focused,” Lee said. “In the middle of the season, there were times we were beating people and trying to get better. The biggest thing we did was keeping our focus. Absolutely the hardest working bunch we’ve had.”
After scoring on a 30-yard pass from Carlos Villanueva to Gavin Duncan with just over a minute to go in the second quarter, Strawn came out swinging in the second half. Villanueva scored three times in the third as the Greyhounds outscored the Bears 24-6 to blow the game wide open.
Villanueva finished with a team-high 180 total yards and five touchdowns, including a 46-yard kickoff return for a score, while Tanner Hodgkins added 173 total yards and four touchdowns.
“We made some good plays,” Lee said. “When we call good plays it’s nice, but they executed. I just think it was the condition we’re in – they told me last week, ‘Coach, don’t worry about it.’ They just believed.”
After having some first-half success with Kyle Garcia on the ground, Balmorhea struggled to keep up with Strawn. Garcia had touchdown runs of 63, 28 and 3 yards in the first two quarters before adding scoring runs of five and 34-yards in the fourth.
By the time of Garcia’s final touchdown run, the Greyhounds held a 28-point lead. Garcia finished with 29 carries for 276 yards and five touchdowns on the ground while adding 55 passing yards in the loss.
“Kyle did an outstanding job just like he always does,” Balmorhea coach Robert Vance Jones said. “Our kids do a great job blocking and he hit the holes. He’s the best example you could have because of his work ethic, how dedicated he is and how hard he works every day. They’re great leaders and great young men.”
– Brady Keane
A Closer Look
After last week’s state semifinal win over Milford, Strawn senior K-Lani Nava was given an ultimatum by her head coach heading into Wednesday’s Class 1A Division II state championship game.
“One chance,” he barked. “Miss it, and you’re finished.”
Nava, who became the first female football player to score points in the history of the UIL state championships, took the threat to heart.
She nailed her first attempt Wednesday – the history-making kick – and then proceeded to drill eight more extra points on the day, as her team beat Balmorhea 78-42 to claim the program’s third state championship.
Surely head coach Dewaine Lee wasn’t serious with the hard ultimatum?
“Oh, yes,” he said in the postgame press conference. “One-hundred percent, yes. She knows I was serious. We have two other kickers.”
It never came to that, and Nava now can lay claim to history after scoring 18 points on 9-of-10 extra point attempts, with her lone miss coming on a blocked kick that Lee was quick to point out was not her fault.
“I had zero pressure,” Nava said. “I did think about it [the first kick] this morning, but when I got on the field and ready to kick, it didn’t cross my mind. All I worried about was the ball getting on the tee, and me making the right contact with it. I do my job. I know the snapper and my holder do their jobs. They do those jobs very well, and I trust them.”
It makes sense, since Nava has known most of her team for her entire life as a lifelong resident of the small town 82 miles west of Arlington, just north of Interstate 20.
“I’m gonna remember that I played with the people that I’m most close with,” Nava said. “They’re my family, no matter what. I’ve been with them since pre-K. We’ve had new people come in, but they’ve all been a part of my family.”
Nava started her high school career on the junior varsity team, but after two games kicking on the sub-varsity level, she was moved up to varsity and has been the team’s kicker ever since.
In the postgame press conference, 10 Strawn players and Lee all crowded on to the podium with the rest of the team strewn throughout the media room. Junior Ivan Ruiz quickly called for Nava to come join them on the podium before the press conference began.
It just wouldn’t have felt right without her next to him.
“Strawn is a really close community,” he said. “Lani has been a part of it forever. We rooted her on in basketball forever when she played and she’s been a part of Strawn forever. She did good and worked hard like everyone else. She’s just another football player to us.”
Now, she’s a football player with her name in the history books.
— Adam Boedeker
Strawn 78, Balmorhea 42
1st Qtr. 9:14
Balmorhea – Kyle Garcia 63-yard run (Marcos Mendoza kick)
1st Qtr. 7:49
Strawn – Carlos Villanueva 35-yard run (K-Lani Nava kick)
1st Qtr. 3:43
Strawn – Tanner Hodgkins 4-yard run (Nava kick)
2nd Qtr. 9:21
Strawn – Hodgkins 50-yard run (Kick failed)
2nd Qtr. 8:32
Balmorhea – Garcia 28-yard run (Kick failed)
2nd Qtr. 4:28
Strawn – Hodgkins 49-yard run (Nava kick)
2nd Qtr. 1:32
Balmorhea – Garcia 3-yard run (Mendoza kick)
2nd Qtr. 1:32
Strawn – Gavin Duncan 30-yard pass from Villanueva (Nava kick)
3rd Qtr. 9:30
Strawn – Villanueva 38-yard run (Nava kick)
3rd Qtr. 6:34
Balmorhea – Mendoza 16-yard pass from Marco Martinez (Kick failed)
3rd Qtr. 4:20
Strawn – Hodgkins 37-yard pass from Villanueva (Nava kick)
3rd Qtr. 0:25
Strawn – Julian Fraga 40-yard run (Nava kick)
4th Qtr. 9:21
Balmorhea – Garcia 5-yard run (Kick failed)
4th Qtr. 7:15
Strawn – Zavion Winegeart 20-yard pass from Junior Cervantes (Nava kick)
4th Qtr. 5:16
Balmorhea – Garcia 34-yard run (Gary Abraham kick)
4th Qtr. 5:08
Strawn – Villanueva 46-yard kickoff return (Nava kick)
|Punts – Avg.||0||0|
|Penalties – Yards||6-38||2-25|
|Fumbles – Lost||1-0||1-0|
Strawn Individual Leaders
Rushing – Tanner Hodgkins 9-127, Carlos Villanueva 8-104, Julian Fraga 6-63, Ivan Ruiz 1-4.
Passing – Carlos Villanueva 3-3-0-76, Junior Cervantes 1-1-20.
Receiving – Tanner Hodgkins 2-46, Gavin Duncan 1-30, Zavion Winegeart 1-20.
Balmorhea Individual Leaders
Rushing – Kyle Garcia 29-276, Marcos Mendoza 9-28, Aaron Mendoza 3-5, Josiah Garcia 3-(-7), Marco Martinez 2-(-8).
Passing – Marco Martinez 7-14-0-119, Kyle Garcia 3-4-0-55, Josiah Garcia 2-2-0-20.
Receiving – Avery Mendoza 73-72, Marco Mendoza 3-65, Danny Vasquez 2-16, Matthew Carrasco 2-4, Marco Ramos 1-28, Lucas Martinez 1-9.
Leman Saunders' Breakdown
The Balmorhea Bears are back in the state title game after advancing to the state game last season for the first time and losing to Richland Springs, 96-50. This year, the Bears get to face off with the Strawn Greyhounds who are looking for their third state title, having won titles in 2003 and 2008.
Balmorhea, behind head coach Vance Jones, enters the contest 13-0 averaging 67 points per game and allowing just under 15 points per game. The backfield duo of Kyle Garcia and Marcos Mendoza are a seemingly unstoppable tandem, with Mendoza being the thunder to Garcia’s lightning.
Head coach Dewaine Lee’s Greyhounds are 14-0 and rolled through their schedule winning every game by the 45-point mercy rule except for last week’s 102-71 win over Milford. During the semifinals win, Strawn had a huge second half, scoring 50 unanswered points at one point, to rally ahead and win comfortably. The Greyhounds are averaging 64 points per game and are giving up just under 11 points per game. Tanner Hodgkins, Carlos Villanueva and Julian Fraga share the bulk of the offensive touches. Hodgkins and J.W. Montgomery are two key defensive players.
This will be an exciting game. The last time these two head coaches squared off in a title game was in the 2009 DI game and 210 points were scored as Jones’ Garden City Bearkats beat Lee’s Strawn Greyhounds, 122-88. Both teams feature multiple running backs with a variety of skills and all of them have breakaway speed and can score at any given time. Defensively, both teams have great front lines and linebackers that are hard hitters. Balmorhea is the more veteran of the two teams and after falling short last season, will be playing with a chip on its shoulder. In their two closest game this season, including last week’s win over Valley, the Bears shifted into high gear when the game got close late in the second half to pull way ahead and win comfortably. That extra gear and experience from playing in the title game last season will be the difference in this game, I think.
Leman Saunders' Players to Watch
Balmorhea RB/LB Kyle Garcia
The fast, shifty back, who has rushed for 1,894 yards and 38 touchdowns on just 115 carries, is coming off a 302-yard three-touchdown performance last week against Valley. Expect big yardage again this week.
Strawn RB/LB Tanner Hodgkins
Key lead blocker and power runner on offense and the hard-hitter on defense. He scored seven touchdowns last week against Milford.
Balmorhea FB/LB Marcos Mendoza
Quick and hard hitting, Mendoza scored seven touchdowns last week, but is also the Bears’ big man on defense and leads the team with 114 tackles. He also has 10 forced fumbles, recovering six of them, five interceptions and has scored five defensive touchdowns on the season.
Strawn SB Carlos Villanueva
Fast and can throw the ball well providing a dual threat out of the backfield for the Greyhounds. He had 245 yards of total offense in last week’s game.
Balmorhea QB Marco Martinez
Has completed 75.8 percent of his passes this season with 940 yards and 20 touchdowns with just three interceptions. With focus on the running game, Martinez could have a career game throwing the ball.
Strawn K Lani Nava
A consistent PAT kicker for the Greyhounds all season, including a season-best 10-for-10 against rival Gordon, Nava will become the first woman to play in a Texas high school football state championship game. In a game expected to be close, her kicking will be very important.
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