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By Tony Eierdam
In a game that was not nearly as close as the final score indicated, the Aledo Bearcats began the contest with 34 unanswered points on their way to a convincing 34-22 victory over the Everman Bulldogs Saturday afternoon in a Class 4A state quarterfinal matchup at Elk Stadium in Burleson.
The win advances the Bearcats (13-1) to the Class 4A, Division II state semifinals where they will play Denison at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at Collins Stadium in Denton.
Check this site later tonight or tomorrow for the Bearcats opponent and game location.
Aledo led 27-0 at the half and had outgained Everman 253-21 in total yards. Aledo sophomore running back Johnathan Gray had 152 yards and two touchdowns in the opening half, and sophomore quarterback Matthew Bishop threw for 129 yards by completing eight of nine passes and a pair of scores as Aledo dominated both sides of the ball.
Gray finished the game with 171 yards on 29 carries with a pair of touchdowns as he seemingly wore down the Bulldogs defense in the second half. Bishop finished the afternoon by completing 13 of 15 passes for 187 yards.
"We were basically doing about anything we wanted on offense in the first half," Aledo head coach Tim Buchanan said. "We ran inside, we ran outside and we threw the football well. We did a lot of good things in the first half. Our offensive line got after them pretty good. We were hitting on all cylinders."
The Bearcats received the opening kickoff and scored on their first possession. Gray put Aledo in position to score with a 36-yard run off right tackle, and three plays later he beat Everman down the left sideline for an 11-yard touchdown run that gave the Bearcats a quick 6-0 lead. The extra-point attempt was blocked.
The Bearcats found the end zone again early in the second quarter. From midfield, Bishop completed a 15-yard pass to sophomore receiver Michael Mann on second-and 14. On the next play, Gray outran four Everman defenders down the right sideline for a 35-yard score. Senior kicker Andrew Kocurek booted the extra point to give Aledo a 13-0 lead with 11:33 remaining in the opening half.
After forcing Everman to punt after three plays netted minus-four yards, Aledo moved to the Everman 12 on eight plays. Gray did most of the damage, carrying the ball five times for 39 yards. However, the Bulldogs' defense stiffened, and Bishop faced a third and nine from the Everman 12.
Staying calm and collected in the pocket as Everman came with a hard pass rush, Bishop fired a bullet to senior receiver Stetson Stockard, who caught the pass on the right side for a 12-yard touchdown with 6:08 left in the half. Kocurek added the extra point as Aledo's cushion grew to 20-0.
The Bulldogs recorded their first first down of the contest on their ensuing possession. However, Everman was forced to punt again when its three following plays netted minus-eight yards.
It took the Bearcats just four plays to score. After Gray carried for three yards, Everman was flagged for a personal foul to add 15 yards to the play. Bishop hit Stockard on a slant for 14 yards on the next play to move the ball to the Bulldogs' 27.
Two plays later, Bishop hit a streaking Mann in the middle of the field where he made a juggling catch between a pair of defenders, kept his balance and waltzed into the end zone for a back-breaking touchdown with 2:21 left in the half. Kocurek's PAT extended the Bearcats' lead to 27-0.
Receiving the second-half kickoff, Everman recorded its second first down of the contest - but again - was forced to punt after gaining just six yards on its next three plays. The Bulldogs' punt into a 25 miles-per-hour wind reached no further than midfield.
On first down, Gray carried for 15 yards, and Bishop followed by completing a 26-yard pass to Mann to set up a first-and-goal situation from the Everman nine. However, Everman's defense clamped down and forced a field goal attempt from 30 yards out.
With everything going the Bearcats way, Everman appeared to finally catch a break when Stockard mishandled the snap. But the quick-thinking Stockard recovered the ball, rolled out to his right and tossed a pass to Danny Heiss, who caught the ball at the five-yard line and rambled into the end zone for a touchdown.
With 7:43 left in the third quarter, Kocurek's kick increased the Aledo advantage to 34-0.
"The snap was a little high and it got away from Stetson," Buchanan said. "But he picked it up and did exactly what we have practiced. He yelled 'fire' (a call to alert Heiss and other eligible receivers to look for a pass) and threw it to Heiss. We practice this about three times a week."
Everman finally got on the board with 8:12 remaining in the contest when James Bailey scored on a three-yard run. The big play in the drive was a 34-yard gain by quarterback Barry Browning. Browning ran in the two-point conversion to cut the Bearcats' lead to 34-8.
The Bulldogs recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Aledo 35. On first down, Bailey outran the Bearcat defenders down the right sideline for a 35-yard touchdown with 8:03 left in the game. Jared Busby booted the extra point to cut the AHS lead to 34-15.
Aledo recovered Everman's onside kick, but the Bulldogs' defense held and forced a punt into the stiff wind, where it landed at the Everman 45. The Bulldogs converted two fourth-down plays to keep the drive alive - the first on an 11-yard run by Cory Franklin, and the second on a 15-yard Browning scramble on fourth and 10.
Two plays later - on first and goal - Ruben Fletcher took a pitch and raced six yards to the end zone for a touchdown, and with 2:25 remaining in the game Busby's PAT cut the Aledo lead to 34-22.
However, Everman's remote hopes of a comeback were dashed when Dane Davis recovered the onside kick and the Bearcats ran out the clock to preserve the victory and advance to the state semifinals for the third time in four years.
For the complete story, and for more comments from Coach Buchanan and the Bearcats, please see the Dec. 11 issue of The Community News.