Winning their sixth state title in the last eight years and seventh in school history, the No. 1 Aledo Bearcats used a late, long touchdown drive that proved to be the game winner as the Bearcats defeated the Corpus Christi Calallen Wildcats, 24-16, Friday night in the Class 5A, Division II state championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“This is so emotional and it hasn’t all soaked in,” Bearcats head coach Steve Wood said. “Those Calallen guys battled their tails off, but I tell you what our defense played their rears off, too. Our guys fought and fought despite losing some guys (to injury) in the second half.
“But they just kept battling, kept battling. (On the Bearcats last touchdown drive) we needed to run the clock and keep the ball out of Calallen’s hands. Our offensive line took charge. It wasn’t easy to get it into the end zone, but (junior tailback) Donnie (Evans) got it in there.
“This is the ultimate, and I am happy for our entire team, but especially for our seniors.”
Freshman tailback Jase McClellan finished with a game-high 98 yards rushing and was named the Offensive Player of the Game. Aledo junior defensive tackle James “Big Game” Williams was selected the Defensive Player of the Game.
With just over 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Bearcats began the drive that would seal their third state championship in four years at the Calallen 29. Aledo had gotten great field position after Carson Hyles recovered a Wildcats’ fumbled punt.
McClellan carried three consecutive times for 16 yards as Aledo, which was also helped by a Calallen holding penalty, moved the ball deep into Wildcats’ territory.
With the ball at the Wildcats’ 13, quarterback Dillon Davis sent a pass to the end zone for receiver Preston Jefferis. The ball landed incomplete, but Calallen was called for pass interference, and the Bearcats were awarded the ball at the Calallen 2.
Two carries by Evans netted zero yards, but on third and goal Evans’ number was called again. This time the junior leaped over the goal line from two yards for a big touchdown with 5:43 left to play.
Quinn Davis added the PAT to increase the Aledo advantage to 24-10.
Calallen, however, refused to give up and followed with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a one-yard blast off left tackle by running back Alec Brown to cut the Bearcats’ lead to 24-16. But the extra point attempt sailed wide, leaving the Bearcats ahead by eight points.
The Wildcats were running out of time with 1:34 left to play. Calallen followed with an onside kick, but senior Preston Jefferis fielded the kick to seal the game and another state championship for Aledo High School.
“I have won three state championships in four years,” senior defensive tackle Wes Harris said, “but doing it in my senior year is so special. But honestly, it has been special every time. We battled against a good quarterback and offense, and we put some licks on (Calallen quarterback Gaige Lamb).
“That guy (Lamb) can go, and he was one of the best offensive players we have seen this year. We got the stops we needed in the second half.”
In the opening period, after each team traded punts, the Bearcats, on their second possession, had the ball in great field positon at the Calallen 35. On first down quarterback Dillon Davis threw deep, but the ball was intercepted by safety John Gaddis. But on the return Gaddis fumbled, and Aledo guard Seth Strickland was on the spot to recover the loose football at the Wildcats’ 35.
Evans then went to work, carrying the ball on four straight plays to bring the pigskin to the Calallen 5. On the next play, with Calallen properly focused on Evans, Davis instead handed the ball to Rhett Harris, who raced untouched down the right side for five yards into the end zone.
Quinn Davis booted the extra point, and with 4:09 left in the first quarter the Bearcats enjoyed a 7-0 advantage.
The Wildcats, however, were not unruffled by Aledo’s early success. Calallen followed with a 15-play drive that ended with a Bearcats’ defensive stand near the goal line. Calallen had the ball at the AHS 4 on first down, but three running plays netted two yards, and the Wildcats had to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Grant Gonzalez that cut Aledo’s lead to 7-3 with 8:55 remaining in the first half.
The Bearcats matched the Wildcats’ effort the next time Aledo possessed the ball. Starting at the AHS 26, McClellan carried for three yards, but two plays later the ‘Cats were facing a third and seven from their own 29.
Davis sent a long pass down the right side for Logan “Big Play” Bridges, and indeed the senior produced a big play. Easily beating single coverage, Bridges hauled in Davis’ perfect spiral and raced 56 yards to the Calallen 15.
“They had been double covering me all night,” Bridges said. “Dillon saw I had single coverage so he threw it deep to me. It was a perfect pass.”
But the drive bogged down from that point. After McClellan lost three yards on a first-down run, Davis threw consecutive incomplete passes and Aledo had to settle for a 35-yard field goal by Quinn Davis that extended the Bearcats’ lead to 10-3.
The Bearcats’ defense snuffed out the last two Calallen drives of the half, with the Wildcats running eight plays for minus seven yards. The Bearcat Black Shirts limited Calallen to 76 total yards in the first half.
On the Bearcats’ final drive of the half, Davis completed two passes – a 12-yarder to Jefferis and a six-yard completion to Logan Peterson which moved the chains – but the Wildcats’ persistent pass rush forced three consecutive incomplete passes as Aledo was forced to punt.
The Bearcats, which into the break with a 10-3 lead, recorded 118 total yards in the first half. Evans was the leading rusher with 29 yards on four carries, and Davis completed three of 12 passes for 74 yards. Bridges led the Aledo receivers with one catch for 56 yards.
In the third quarter, the Bearcats stretched their lead to two touchdowns. After forcing Calallen to punt on its first series of the second half the Bearcats began a drive at their own 40. On second and nine, McClellan, for the first time in the game, got free.
Taking a handoff, the freshman found a hole up the middle, and once into the secondary quickly cut toward the right sideline. With three defenders cutting off the angle, McClellan made a spin move at the 10 to eliminate one defender, then dragged two Calallen defensive backs from the five-yard line into the end zone for a touchdown.
Feisty Calallen got back into the game with its first TD drive of the contest. Lamb led the Wildcats on a five-play, 8-yard drive that ended on a 32-yard touchdown run by Lamb. On the play, Lamb faked a handoff, and behind perfect blocking raced 32 yards down the right sideline for the score.
Gonzalez booted the extra point, and with 5:44 left in the third period the Wildcats cut the Bearcats’ lead to 17-10.