Stepp's Top 10 Games of 2018: No. 3 — San Saba vs. Celeste

Photo by Paul Roberts

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November 30, 2018

San Saba 62, Celeste 56 2OT

Going into their third round playoff matchup against Celeste, the unbeaten San Saba Armadillos had not been tested all season. SSHS was 12-0 and hadn’t had any opponent stay within 27 points all season long. Not only would Jerod Fikac’s squad have to deal with a speedy 11-1 Celeste squad, but they’d also have to contend with a lengthy weather delay that pushed kickoff back nearly two hours.

Once the game kicked off the fireworks began in a hurry as the underdog Blue Devils showed no fear from the outset. Despite losing their leading rusher to a knee injury on the first play from scrimmage, Celeste—  behind QB Jalen Rector — was able to open the scoring with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Truitt Murphy, capping a drive where Celeste converted three fourth downs to take a 7-0 lead. San Saba was quick to answer behind the incredible effort of Eli Sainas, who accounted for over 300 yards of offense and eight touchdowns on the night. Salinas got his first score of the game, answering the Celeste opening salvo with a four-yard run to tie the game at seven.

After forcing a Celeste three-and-out, San Saba took the lead as QB Sean O’Keefe found Salinas on a screen pass for a 16-yard touchdown, putting the ‘Dillos up 14-7 with just under nine minutes left in the first half. Celeste would answer midway through the second quarter as Rector hooked up with Jace Givens for a 15-yard touchdown pass tying the game at 14. San Saba would move methodically into Celeste territory, but the Armadillos scoring chances were thumped as Celeste came up with a key 4th-and-1 stop at their own 26 to keep the game tied at 14 heading to the locker room.

A tidal wave of errors in the second half nearly cost San Saba their season and it started on the opening kickoff when the San Saba return man thought a bouncing kickoff was going to roll out of bounds, but instead the ball took a crazy hop and the Blue Devils pounced on the live ball at the one-yard line. Celeste would need just one play to punch the ball in and take a 21-14 edge on Rector’s one yard run.

San Saba would answer on the next drive as Salinas scored on a seven-yard run, trucking a Celeste DB in the process to tie the game up at 21 with 7:55 left in the third quarter. San Saba’s defense would force a three-and-out, but the offense would make a huge mistake on the ensuing series as Jace Givens picked off an O’Keefe pass and returned it for a touchdown putting the Blue Devils back up 28-21 with 4:23 left in the third quarter.

The back and forth would continue as San Saba would need less than two minutes to tie things up on a 58-yard run from Salinas. Celeste would then appear to take total charge of the game with back to back scores. Rector and Givens hooked up for a 58-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter to make it 35-28. After getting a defensive stop to open the fourth quarter, Rector put Celeste up two scores with a sensational 72-yard punt return for a touchdown giving the Blue Devils a 41-28 edge with 7:45 remaining.

San Saba after the tough third quarter settled down and cut the game to a one possession lead as O’Keefe broke loose for a 52-yard run to make it 41-35 with 6:41 remaining. Momentum was squarely with the purple and gold as on the next series Erik Argote picked off a Rector pass setting up another Salinas touchdown run, this one from 29-yards out to put San Saba back on top 42-41 with 5:23 left.

Celeste would have an answer. After a long pass from Rector to Murphy, Damon Crook would score from thee yards and after the two point conversion, Celeste led 49-42 with 3:15 left in the game. San Saba would march 72 yards using a nice mix of pass and run and benefitting from a pass interference penalty early on in the drive, as well. Salinas would punch it in from five yards out to make it 49-48 and then Salinas would drill the PAT as well to tie things up at 49 with under a minute left.

Celeste went three-and-out and punted the ball to San Saba, who had used their timeouts in hopes of something crazy happening, and it nearly did. The Armadillos got the ball on their own 19 with 14 seconds left and QB Sean O’Keefe NEARLY made the play of the year, ripping off an 80-yard run as time as expired, weaving through the Celeste defense and picking some incredible downfield blocks. Celeste finally caught up with O’Keefe and knocked him out of bounds at the one-yard line on a very close call to send the game to overtime.

In overtime, Rector and Salinas traded punches for their teams tying the game at 56, when San Saba had their chance to get the ball first in the second overtime. Salinas would score on a one yard run to make it 62-56, but after making eight straight PATs, he missed his kick in overtime setting up a tense final series for Celeste. The San Saba defense, finding a second wind after getting shredded by the Celeste offense most of the second half, got the pressure on Rector they needed and were able to knock down a desperation fourth-and-long play to seal the wild 62-56 win.

For Celeste and QB Jalen Rector, the disappointment was evident but despite several players going down with injuries during the game the senior signal caller was heroic, accounting for two rushing touchdowns, three passing touchdowns and returning the punt for a touchdown. San Saba kept their magical run going before being eliminated in the state semifinals by New Deal, but it was a sweet win for the community and head coach Jerod Fikac who was named the ICoach Inspirational Coach of the Year by DCTF at the conclusion of the season. SSHS was 1-9 in 2016 and 3-7 in Fikac’s first year at the helm in 2017, before rattling off a school record 14-1 campaign in 2018.

Previous Games:

Stepp's Top 10 Games of 2018: No. 10 — Eastland at Breckenridge

Stepp's Top 10 Games of 2018: No. 9 — San Antonio Brandeis vs. Brownsville Hanna

Stepp's Top 10 Games of 2018: No. 8 — Cuero vs. Texarkana Pleasant Grove

Stepp's Top 10 Games of 2018: No. 7 — Lubbock Coronado vs. Azle

Stepp's Top 10 Games of 2018: No. 6 — Malakoff vs. Brock

Stepp's Top 10 Games of 2018: No. 5 — Iowa Park vs. Glen Rose

Stepp's Top 10 Games of 2018: No. 4 — Mission Veterans Memorial vs Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial

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