Before the season, fourth-year The Woodlands College Park coach Lonnie Madison expected his Cavaliers would do something they hadn’t done on his watch: make the playoffs.
By the time Friday’s regular season finale rolled around, College Park had already punched its playoff ticket. Against rival The Woodlands, College Park made school history.
Dylon DeAngelo’s 14-yard touchdown run capped a fourth-quarter comeback, and Dylan Hazen and Perry Irchirl sacked Highlanders quarterback Connor Dechiro on back-to-back plays to ice an historic 35-31 win that gave the Cavaliers the District 13-6A title – their first district title since they started playing football in 2006.
The win also marked just the school’s second ever over rival The Woodlands. The other win came back in 2007.
“It felt good to do that and to do it playing a rival school,” Madison said. “It’s a great feeling. Our kids have been finding different ways to win every week and this was nothing new.
“This has been a year with injuries and obstacles, but new kids just kept finding ways for us. Some weeks it’s the defense. Some weeks it’s special teams. Our offense stepped up this week and found a way for us to win the game.”
Quarterback Hank Hudson passed for more than 300 yards and three scores. Holden Rook, Cody Mladenka and Alex Brigman made play after play in the passing game, including key grabs that set up the winning touchdown, which capped a trying week for DeAngelo. Madison said the running back’s father passed away Monday but DeAngelo wanted to play.
“That hit our entire football family very hard,” Madison said. “For him to score the game-winning touchdown and clinch the district title…it was a very special deal for him to do that and win the game for us.”
The win marks College Park’s seventh straight following a week two loss to Arlington Martin. Though only two wins – Nov. 14 against Conroe (28-24) and Friday against The Woodlands – have been one-possession games, Madison said his team’s found ways to overcome challenges each week.
“After our first district game against Grand Oaks, we played without seven starters,” Madison said. “The kids and coaches rallied, and we had new kids make plays and do enough to win the game.”
They gutted out a 24-7 win over Willis, then turned to special teams for a spark against Conroe. Trailing 17-7, the Cavaliers (8-1, 4-0) blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown on the last play of the first half, then rode that momentum to a key win.
Linebacker Hazen and defensive back Curt Evangelister have led the way week-in and week-out for a defense that’s held six of its nine opponents to 16 points or less.
“Each week our staff has done a great job scheming new players involved,” Madison said. “Defense has been something we’ve been able to hang our hat on all year, especially while we’ve had some key offensive guys out.”
Hudson’s seen his playing time increase following an injury to starting quarterback Ty Buckmon. DeAngelo, Mladenka, Brigman and key offensive linemen have also missed time.
The Cavaliers won’t begin what they hope will be a playoff run for another week. Madison said the bye week, arranged like many districts did to allow games to be made up and not forfeited, comes at the perfect time.
“Having the week off is big,” he said. “Against The Woodlands, we were probably the healthiest we’ve been in a while. Now we get to regroup and recharge both physically and emotionally. When the playoff game arrives, we will be as healthy as we’ve been since the season started.”
The week off also gives the team some extra time to soak in the feeling of a district championship. But not too much time. Spring Westfield awaits when the Bi-District playoffs arrive next week.
“For this group to be able to say that they are district champions means a lot,” Madison said. “This is my first group of four-year seniors and it has been very special. Now we’re looking forward to another opportunity to play…in the playoffs.”
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