Wednesday, November 19, 2014

2014 High School Football Playoffs: Central vs. Bowie, Bidistrict

Oh...My...God.

There is a time in everyone's life when you witness something so incredible, so exciting, so unimaginable that you have to take a few moments and ask "I'm I awake right now or am I just dreaming?" Friday's Class 6A Division II bi-district game between Central High School and Arlington Bowie was one such occasion for me. Now, I know some of you are saying, "But Patrick, it's just high school football. High school isn't the end-all, be-all of life." And to that I say, "Welcome to Texas, where football is king." It doesn't matter if it's professional, college, high school or some pickup game of two-below in an open field, a true Texan's heart skips a beat anytime the game of football is played. And with all the action going on at San Angelo Stadium Friday night, I needed someone following me around with a portable defibrillator.

Heart attack moment #1:

On the opening play of the game, Central's Donavyn Jackson and Connor Frank stopped Bowie's Jalin Badger in the backfield for a loss to the thunderous approval of the Central fans. Honestly, I don't know if I've ever heard San Angelo Stadium that loud before. But on the very next play the stands fell silent as Bowie ran the ball 86 yards for a touchdown and the first score of the game. It was apparent that Bowie's speed was going to be a major hurdle for Central to overcome.

The next three quarters were a bit hard to watch as Bowie went on a scoring blitz. Bowie scored twice more making the score 28-7 at the end of the first quarter. Missed tackles on defense and dropped passes on offense plagued Central for most of the game as they headed into the locker room trailing 35-14 at the half. To be perfectly honest, and I'm a little ashamed to admit this, but I thought the Bobcats were in a hole that they wouldn't be able to get out of. It seemed that the dreaded curse of losing to DFW teams was still very much in effect even though Central had won against Byron Nelson earlier in the season. And the third quarter didn't didn't offer any relief as the Bobcats were still trailing by three touchdowns, 42-21.

Heart attack moments #2-#(honestly, I lost count):

And then begins the fourth quarter, a quarter that will go down as one of the best quarters ever played in Central High School football history. As if it was ordained by the football gods, something in Central's offense and defense turned on. Call it heart, determination, telepathic drive emanating from the crowd (probably all three) but Central decided to make a game of it. Central trailed 42-21 heading into the fourth quarter until quarterback Braden Hucks hit Landon Sawyer from 4 yards out with 11:00 left in regulation. Then Hucks ran in another touchdown making it 42-35 with 6:28 to play. You could start to feel the level of excitement beginning to build in the stadium. Something was happening, fans were beginning to stand up, clap their hands and cheer a little bit louder.

Central would get the ball back after a huge defensive stand as Donavyn Jackson brought down Bowie quarterback Tony James - a Texas Christian University commit - in the backfield for a 6-yard loss on third down.  But Central was unable to move the ball on the next series and so now Central head coach Brent Davis had to make a decision: punt the ball away to Bowie or go for it on fourth-and-eight near midfield. "We were going to fake it, which is why we took the delay of game," Davis said when asked about the situation by sports writer Quinton Martinez. "We called it off when they didn't line up in a punt return formation. We punted to them and then our defense came up huge. They gave us the ball back. We didn't have any timeouts, but that is something we work on every single day. Two minutes. No timeouts."

Okay, so here's the scenario: There's 1:47 left on the clock, Central is down 42-35 with no timeouts left and they have 67 yards to the end zone. Braden Hucks threw to Landon Sawyer, Will Grindstaff and Nick Lambert in succession to get to the 19-yardline. Hucks then scrambled the rest of the way himself for the touchdown to make the score 42-41 with just the point-after-attempt for the tie. Central's place kicker Gage Bonaventure jogged out onto the field as cool and collected as he always does to line up for the goal. You could have cut the tension in the air with a knife. The snap goes back, ball goes up and as I'm looking through the viewfinder of my camera I see the Bowie sideline jumping and screaming as if the ball has sailed wide of the goalposts and they've won the game. I look up from the camera to see if there are any reaction photos I can get from the Central players but as I look up I noticed that the game officials had not yet made a decision as to whether the kick was good. After a few agonizing seconds which seemed to last an eternity, the kick was called good and the place went nuts. Bonaventure had tied the game 42-42 with seven seconds left on the clock.

The game is going into overtime, baby! The Central sideline was going crazy, fans were shouting until they went hoarse, I was busy trying to find an outlet to recharge my defibrillator... it was nuts. I've never seen a comeback like that before when it mattered so much. Now that Central had all the momentum, it was time to seal the deal in overtime.

Central got the ball first on the 25-yardline and only needed two plays, both Braden Hucks keepers, to go ahead 49-42. Bowie got the ball and managed to get a pass interference call in their favor which put them on the 10-yardline and then ran it in to even the score to go into a second overtime. Bowie had the ball first but was stuffed by the Central defense and had to settle for a 41-yard field goal. Central would have to get a field goal to go into a third overtime period or a touchdown to win outright. Central managed to get the ball to the 3-yardline where Braden Hucks ran it in for the win.

You could physically feel the ground shake as the Central fans went berserk. Students jumped the railing to get onto the field as the Bobcats piled on top of each other to celebrate the win. High-fives, hugs and probably a few tears were shed as the Bobcats received their bi-district trophy. "It was all about momentum," Central linebacker Davis Martin said. "When you have a packed house like that behind you there is nothing that can stop you. Even when they scored we kept our heads up and were ready to hit somebody. I'll remember this game for the rest of my life."

Me too, Davis, me too.

Friday, November 14, 2014

2014 High School Football Playoffs: Wall vs. Ponder, Bidistrict

So for the first night of the high school playoff season I made the nearly three-hour drive east to Stephenville to cover a Class 3A Division I bi-district game between Wall High School and Ponder High School. Wall was the state runner-up last year and I have to say, they still have their form. Wall, one of our core schools we cover in our coverage area, boasted a season record of 9-1, with their only loss to the current No. 1-ranked school Cisco. Ponder, traditionally a basketball-oriented school, was going to have to find something special to stay competitive as they were only in their sixth year of fielding a varsity football team and this was their first year of postseason play.

The result of the game was predictable. Wall, the No. 2-ranked team in the state, beat Ponder, the No. 4 team in its district, 30-7 at Memorial Stadium on the campus of Tarleton State University. The only real adversary last night was the bitter cold. Temperatures hovered in the upper 20s but thankfully there was no wind.

Something that caught me a little off guard was the fact that Wall, despite their offensive dominance, lost four turnovers and they missed on all five of their point-after attempts. Not something I expected from the No. 2-ranked team in the state. "If we want to continue on playing week after week in the playoffs, we must cut out the turnovers," Wall head couch Houston Guy said. "We should be used to playing in the cold because we've done it enough the last few years. But it does wear on you a little bit."

But, when it was all said and done, Wall still looked good on offense and their defense shutout the Ponder offense all game. The only score for Ponder came on a Wall fumble which Ponder returned for a touchdown with just over nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. Wall is a fun and exciting team to watch, Though they can sometimes start a bit sluggish, once they get that one big play the rest of their game comes around. The Hawks will play Brownfield next week in the area round, though a time and place are still to be determined. I just hope I get to continue to follow their run through the playoffs.