ARLINGTON - Death by a thousand blows.
That was China Spring's offense Friday night in its 31-7 win over Gilmer in the 4A DII State Championship.
Like a highly touted prize fight, the 4A DII title game started slow. Both teams flashed their talents without revealing too much that wasn’t known before.
The contest was one of the most highly anticipated quarterback battles of the weekend. Gilmer’s Brandon Tennison, signed to UTSA, was looking for his state championship swan song redemption while China Spring’s Major Bowden, signed to Lamar, was arguably the hottest player in Texas after helping his team knock off both Carthage and West Orange-Stark.
Both teams exchanged jabs early on in a scoreless first quarter. Gilmer’s methodical use of screens and precision short passing from Tennsion stalemated with China Spring’s power spread rushing attack with Bowden.
There wasn’t a knockdown blow for either team until China Spring’s momentous blocked kick returned for a touchdown as the first half expired. After that, it was Bowden’s show.
The senior quarterback was a buzzsaw against the Buckeye defense in the second half finishing with 34 carries for 203 yards on the ground.
“I just take it one play at a time and just kept going,” Bowden said.
He was sacked once on the first drive of the game and was only tackled behind the line of scrimmage one more time during the game often lowering his head and breaking several tackles via QB power or inside zone.
“He’s pretty dang good I will give him that,” Gilmer defensive tackle Matthew Burton said of Bowden. “He’s just so dynamic with how he runs the offense. Even when he’s not getting the ball, he makes it look like he is. He pulls defenders with that and that’s a tough offense to stop when you have a guy like that there.”
After the big shift just before halftime, the Cougars threw body blows the entire second half with Bowden tallying 20 carries and over 5.6 yards per pop. China Spring head coach Brian Bell joked that the senior likely weighs 175 pounds soaking wet but was fully capable of his required workload Friday night.
“He’s tough as nails. He’s been that way ever since I met him,” Bell said. “Tough, tough, tough but he also works extremely hard in the weight room.
“That’s a tall task to carry the ball (34) times in the state championship but there’s other person we’d rather have carrying the ball.”
Bowden’s creativity in the read game kept Gilmer’s defense off balance to where they couldn’t key in without sacrificing the rest of the field to running back Isaiah Williams. Then when the Buckeye defense got used to the power or inside zone, China Spring hit them with the speed option on the outside. They didn’t have an answer for either.
“We had multiple plans because they understand if it’s as simple as putting a spy like he was scrambling, that would be one thing,” Gilmer head coach Alan Metzel said. “But when you’re running read plays, that’s a little more complex. I thought we were doing a good job of that then they started hurting us with the option.”
With Bowden piloting the offense, China Spring’s defense pinned its ears back and attacked a normally potent Gilmer offense holding it to just a single touchdown, its lowest since September 24 against Carthage.
“It was very frustrating because we just didn’t make as many plays as they did,” Tennison said. The senior finished with 136 yards through the air. China Spring knew they had to take away Tennison’s options and doubling Rohan Fluellen was key to that. The Buckeyes’ top guy was doubled and bracketed all day finishing with just 44 yards on six catches.
“We had to kind of shut him down and made the offense work to get other people the ball so they had to beat us with other players,” China Spring linebacker Brayden Faulkner said.
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