By Nolan Ruth
The Community News
For the fifth straight year, the Aledo Bearcats football team is going to play for a state championship. Despite an even matchup in the first half, the Bearcats stormed out big in the second to run away with a 55-28 win over Wichita Falls Rider on Friday night at Apogee Stadium in Denton.
“[Rider] made a couple of mistakes and our kids capitalized on them,” head coach Tim Buchanan said about the game. “We created most of those mistakes on their part.
“Our kids played well. That’s all you can say, they played well on offense, played well on defense and I just try not to mess it up.”
Aledo (12-1) got the ball to start the game and drove downfield to set up a 23-yard touchdown run by running back Demarco Roberts (26 carries, 154 yards, 4 TDs). The Raiders (11-3) responded on their next drive with an 8-yard scoring run by Virginia commit Jacob Rodriguez to make it a 7-7 first-quarter score.
The second quarter started just like the first, but this time it was Jo Jo Earle’s turn. Earle (2 carries, 52 yards, 1 TD, 2 receptions, 28 yards) took the direct snap and went 45 yards to the house to reclaim the Bearcat lead.
On the next drive, the Bearcats forced a punt that was bobbled on the snap and blocked. Cap Mooney jumped on the ball at the 10-yard line, and Roberts scored on the next play.
The next Rider drive took the remaining 10 minutes off the clock, but the Raiders walked away empty-handed after missing a field goal. Halftime saw the Bearcats head to the locker room with a 21-7 lead.
“The first half showed us that we were going to have to man up,” Roberts said after the game. “We couldn’t make many mistakes, we couldn’t come up empty-handed, we should not have to punt, any of that. We knew we would just have to keep the ball moving.”
The third quarter was much the same as the first two. Rider went on a long drive that was capped off with another Rodriguez keeper. But the Bearcats responded with yet another Roberts touchdown run.
Aledo then made two consecutive big defensive plays. A pass attempt that was tipped by Chris Wright and ruled a backward pass rolled into the end zone for Keenan Hess to jump on it and extend the Bearcat lead to 35-14.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Sammy Steffe came up with a diving interception to give the ball back to Aledo.
The fourth quarter saw the most scoring. After the interception, Roberts went airborne at the goal line and recorded his fourth touchdown of the game. Rider scored on the ensuing drive to keep their hopes alive.
The kickoff that followed the Rider touchdown saw arguably the best kick return of the year. Jason Llewellyn received the onside kick off the bounce and raced 50 yards to the end zone, beating the Raiders to the pylon.
A big defensive stop led by two sacks by Caden Anderson (6 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks), gave the ball back to the Bearcats. With starters beginning to get pulled, it was a long pass from Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi to Llewellyn that set up a touchdown by Jeremiah James.
Rider scored one more time on a deep 75-yard pass, but it was too late and the deficit was too much.
The Bearcats ran away with a 55-28 win to punch their ticket to the twelfth state title appearance in school history.
“Coming into the locker room it was 21-7 and you never know what the other team is capable of,” Anderson spoke about the halftime adjustments. “We just had to go out and play Bearcat football and it worked out for us.”
The Bearcats will face the Crosby Cougars at 1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington with a chance to win a record tenth state title.