In a November night fight, the No. 4 Wildcats (10-2) held off No. 7 Eastland (8-4) to win the area championship, 34-20.
A quick start by the reigning state champions put the Mavericks on their heels and the underdogs never completely regained their footing.
Eastland appeared to have the Wildcats all figured out, holding the Air Canada offense to just 3 yards on the opening two plays, but quarterback Corbin Douthitt (14-21, 263 yd, 4 TD) threaded the needle to connect with Cameron Copley (8 rec, 125 yd, TD) for 24 yards to keep the first drive alive. After being sidelined with another leg injury in the Dimmitt game, senior receiver Manny Ramsey (2 rec, 58 yd, TD) made a triumphant return two plays later as Douthitt hit No. 5 on a well-blocked screen. Five Wildcat blockers picked up three Eastland defenders, and Ramsey raced past the last two for 50 yards and 6 points.
On the next possession, Douthitt pump faked the now-susceptible Eastland secondary, then gave a perfect 35-yard fade to Holton Hufstedler (4 rec, 105 yd, TD).
On the third possession, Eastland loaded the box and, predictably, got burned for a third time as Copley zipped by all 11 defenders on a post, undefended, and Douthitt once again hit his man on a beautiful 53-yard pass.
“We really wanted to establish a run game,” said junior receiver Matthew Lynch. “We did a pretty good job of it. The corners played really soft—about 10 yards—and we just really took advantage of it with screens, slants and short passes. We were able to turn those into big plays.”
Eastland, understandably, looked shocked at the 21-0 first-quarter score.
Finally, the Mavericks were able to stem the slaughter, getting a stop to begin the second quarter, but Douthitt, being a versatile weapon, booted a beautiful 49-yard punt that rolled its way to the 1-inch line. The Cats appeared to have a safety on the ensuing sweep, but the running back was ruled down at the line of scrimmage.
The Mavericks then took advantage.
Out of the Wildcat formation, Chris Martinez took a direct snap and, after Wildcat defenders bit on the run, lobbed a pass to Junior Fullen who ran the entire length of the field to bring the Mavericks within two possessions.
“Earlier in the game, they sorta did the same thing,” said Lynch, “so I thought they were just faking me out. I didn’t see how deep the running back was and that he was probably going to throw it. It was just too late when I turned around.”
The Cats marched back downfield with a 21-yard run from Copley, then a 16-yard pass to the Field General, then a 30-yard catch by Hufstedler, and finally a 5-yard scoring connection to Throgmorton.
Eastland answered with a 13-play scoring drive to end the half, then opened the third quarter with an impressive 24-yard dart from Mason Wright to David Vasquez, just out of reach of Canadian defenders.
“We overcome those momentum shifts by talking to each other on the sideline and say everything’s alright,” said Long. “We still have two quarters left. Nothing’s over yet. Go back out. Do our thing. One play at a time. You mess up on a play, you move to the next one.”
The game was back to a single possession at 27-20, but Canadian grinded out a 15-play touchdown drive, spurred on by a leaping 30-yard Hufstedler catch and punched in from 1-yard out by Chris Jones (19 car, 72 yd, TD).
From there, both teams held each other to a stalemate as the Wildcats defense smothered any hope left on the Eastland sidelines.
The Blackade disrupted the Maverick backfield endlessly with 13 Cats tallying up 28 tackles for loss led by Levi Long and Hufstedler’s five. Long also led the Cats 11 sacks with three of his own.
“At the start of the game, we had it in our mind that we were gonna stop them,” said Long, “and we had it in our hearts and the effort we laid out on the field was astronomical. Towards the end of the half, they gained the momentum back, but we came in at halftime and reassessed ourselves. We did what we had to do. We got the job done.”
And then some. Eastland mustered only a measly 43 yards rushing against the Cats front seven.
“The last four or five games haven’t been a challenge, so they haven’t been as fun,” said Long. “But this here, this was great. Eastland’s a smashmouth football team, run it down your throat, and we stopped them at the line and made them throw, and they still couldn’t get many yards on us, so we feel accomplished.”
For the second week in a row, Matthew Lynch helped seal the deal in the secondary by coming down with two interceptions, both in the second half. After a big return by Eastland to the Wildcat 32-yard line had the Mavericks within striking distance, Lynch picked off the very next play, reading the comeback beautifully and snatching the ball right from the receivers open hands. On the Mavericks final desperation hail mary, No. 7 came down with Eastland’s last hope just a few yards out of the end zone—enough for the Cats to take a knee via victory formation and celebrate their 34-20 victory, the 13th in a row, setting Canadian’s as the current longest in the state.
“All the credit goes to the defensive line and linebackers, because man, they shut down the run,” said Lynch. “[Martinez] is a really good running back, and they shut him down.”
Next up in the regional championship is No. 13 Coleman (9-3) after the Bluecats edged out Idalou 22-14. Kickoff is scheduled for Friday at 2 pm, in Iowa Park.
Photos by Peyton Aufill
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