For the 2018 Aledo Bearcats, it is not only a chance to add the program’s eighth state football championship and cement their legacy at the school, but also a chance to remove the bitter tastes from their mouths from last year’s one-point defeat in the 5A title game.
The state-ranked No. 1 Bearcats (15-0) will face the No. 4 Fort Bend Marshall Buffalos (15-0) in the Class 5A, Division II state championship game, which is set to kickoff at 7 p.m. Friday (Dec. 21) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Last year, the Bearcats – who will be making their eighth state championship game appearance in the last 10 years – fell 20-19 to College Station. It was a bitter pill to swallow, and coaches admitted that the offseason workouts leading into this season were “more intense than in the past” and the players offered that the title game loss from last year has motivated them to get back to the state championship game this season.
“The goal, the plan, was to get here, and now we get to go play it,” Bearcats head coach Steve Wood said. “We have done what we are supposed to do, and we are here. The ball is in our court, now.”
While the Bearcats are using last year’s title game as motivation, the Buffalos come into the game seeking the school’s first state championship in football.
The Buffalos also come into the contest with heavy hearts, having lost a teammate – Drew Conley – who was allegedly shot to death by his uncle four days before the Bufs’ 19-17 state semifinal win over Corpus Christi Calallen.
The Buffalos have worn Conley’s “No. 3” on stickers placed on helmets to honor their slain teammate. Teammate Korey King told the Houston Chronicle, “It’s an honor to just come out here and compete for our brother. To just conquer the goal. It’s a blessing, man. We know if he was here, he’d be excited with us,” he said.
The Buffalos are loaded on offense, with two running backs each having gained more than 1,000 yards rushing this season. The quarterback has gained 800 yards on the ground despite missing the first four games. Marshall is also talented and fast at the wide receiver positions.
When asked to describe the Fort Bend Marshall offense, Wood had this interesting comment: “They are the fastest (high school) team in America,” he said. “Last year they won the state track championship with the same guys at the skill positions (on the football team) this year.
“They won the sprint relay (4×100), got second in the 4×200 and won the mile relay (4×400), and all those guys play football. Their 100-meter sprinter and their top hurdler play skill positions.”
Wood said the Buffalos’ offense is fueled by the play of quarterback Malik Hornsby, who has rushed for nearly 800 yards this season despite playing in just 11 games. Running back Devon Achane – who rushed for 181 yards and scored three times last week in the state semifinal game, including an 80-yard touchdown run – leads the team on the ground with 1,246 yards on 114 carries (10.9 yards per carry) and 29 TDs.
But Achane is not the Buffalos’ lone 1,000-plus-yards rusher. Jerry Davis has rushed for 1,174 yards (8 yards per carry) and has found the end zone 16 times.
“They have a great quarterback,” Wood said. “He is a move in and did not play in the first few games of the year because he wasn’t eligible. He is fast – like, lightning fast. They run a spread offense and will use the quarterback in zone reads along with the other fast guys.
“But the quarterback is the key, and we cannot let him roam through the secondary. Their offensive line is big, but the thing that stands out is the effectiveness of their skill kids. Achane is probably as dynamic of a football player as I have ever seen.
“He does it all: he plays running back, receiver, and he returns punts and kickoffs – and he returns them for touchdowns. A coach at A&M Consolidated told me that Achane can score ‘any time he wants to.’ And all of their wide receivers are deep threats. They are track guys and extremely fast.”
Wood said the Buffalos sport sophisticated schemes on offense.
“They will line up with three wide outs stacked behind each other, and sometimes four wide outs on one side,” Wood said. “They like to run the bubble screen, and we have to be prepared for all of that. You can tell they are very well coached.”
Defensively, the Buffalos run primarily a 4-2-5 look. FB Marshall is led by linebackers Jaylon Wilson and Norman Baker (leading tackler) along with defensive end Warren Robinson.
“Their defensive ends are very athletic,” Wood said. “They rush the passer well – they cause problems – and we can’t hang back there in the (passing) pocket for too long. Their secondary is extremely fast, so when we throw the ball the windows will be smaller. There is a reason they are 15-0.”
In the Bearcats’ two toughest playoff wins – 28-14 over South Oak Cliff and 26-16 over Frisco Reedy – Aledo used its rushing attack to wear down the Bears and the Lions, respectively, often scoring on drives of 12, 13 or 14 plays on mainly running plays.
This strategy not only takes advantage of Aledo’s overpowering offensive line, but also takes valuable time off the clock and limits the time its opponent has the ball on offense.
Wood hopes to continue that strategy against the Buffalos.
“If our opponents’ offense is on the sidelines it can’t be scoring points,” Wood said. “Our running game has been a boost, and it demoralized (SOC and Reedy) because they couldn’t get on the field as often as they like.
“If we continue to control the line of scrimmage and run the football well we feel we can be successful. Fort Bend Marshall haa done a good job of stopping the run this year, but I am not sure they have played anyone like us.
“We expect them to put a safety up on the line – they will put eight men in the box – but what it gets down to is us blocking them, and it is not rocket science. This game will come down to, can we block them? But I like our guys.”
Wood is hoping that the championship game experience the Bearcats bring into the contest – most any Aledo player who will play in this year’s title game has played in at least one state championship game and many have played in two – will be a factor for his squad. Fort Bend ISD’s last state championship football team came in 1982 (Willowridge).
“We are hoping that our state-championship-game experience and the fact that we have played at that stadium often is an advantage for us,” he said. “But having the experience of playing in a state championship game is huge. When you play in that game there is pressure that you can’t simulate in practice.
“You take teenagers and ask them to play at a high level before 30,000, 40,000 people, and sometimes the weight of the world is on their shoulders. These players are representing their teammates, schools and communities, and it can be overwhelming.
“But our guys are experienced, mature, and know they have to play a football game. They have played at a high level all season, and the key to this game is to go out and play relaxed. I don’t want them to play tight, and I think that was a problem – my problem – last year. We played tight and did not play well.
“Our guys cannot wait to play this game. Needless to say they are very excited. They will be ready.”
Path to state championship game
Santa Fe 53-13
A&M Consolidated 49-31
Port Neches-Groves 53-14
CC Calallen 19-17
South Oak Cliff 28-14
Frisco Reedy 26-16
WF Rider 63-7