HOUSTON, TX – The debut of the Texas UIL Football State Championships in Houston’s NRG Stadium brought a number of story lines packaged in team buses from all around the Great Lone Star State. One story highlighted by the media was the 600 mile one-way trek one team would travel from the Northeast Panhandle in order to defend it’s 2014 Championship in Class 2A DI.
The Canadian Wildcat coaching staff not only faced a short week of game preparation due to a schedule that demands 10 Championships that must be played in 3 days, but had to put in extra hours planning the logistics it would take to deliver a high school football team the farthest of any program represented in the Championship Finals.
The team travel itinerary began at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, taking 30 minutes just to get 7 miles south of Canadian on US Highway 60/83 due to an elaborate community send-off which not only included a mounted rider in a Santa suit waving the Canadian Wildcat flag, but also a light single engine aircraft flying slow enough alongside the team buses so that the “GO WILDCATS” sign pasted in its window could be read.
Once the cruise down Highway 83 had been established, one stop for a meal and another for trash disposal and restroom break, the team arrived on schedule to have a 4:00 p.m. practice at the indoor facility located on the campus of Springtown High School. The team left the practice with just enough time left in the day to make a stop for dinner and arrive at a DFW area hotel for lights out at 11:00 p.m. This same routine would be repeated on Wednesday with another borrowed indoor facility at Cleburne and on to downtown Houston for dinner and a hotel. The schedule would get even tighter as the Wildcats had to be prepared for the “early game” at 10:00 a.m. Friday, December 17th.
This Championship, like others on the schedule, matched two teams familiar with State Final playoff games. Refugio has appeared 3 times in the Finals in the last 5 years, taking home a Championship in 2011. Canadian has reached the Final game 5 times since 2007, winning 4 of those Championships.
The pre-game hype was typical with the exception of an unusually high 23 point prediction line published by Harris rankings favoring Canadian. There have been more ways used to prepare for Canadian than has been seen from other teams in years and confidence to take on the defending State Champions have been a part of it. The coach from Anson who Canadian met in the regional round used the Mike Tyson quote: “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.” to keep his players fired up.
The anticipation was generally considered to be that Canadian would face the toughest opponent of the season, having dominated the class along with wins against 3A and 4A teams for the last 30 games. That’s not a typo; Canadian brought a 30-0 win streak with them to NRG. Finishing the season 16-0, made the consecutive win streak of 31-0 tying the record held by Wheeler for all Panhandle teams. The streak is even sweeter for one young man, team Quarterback Tanner Schafer. 31-0 represents every game he has played for the Wildcats since becoming the starting QB.
The first quarter opened with the Refugio Bobcats forcing the first of 3 three-and-outs against the fast-to-line-up-quick-snapping Canadian NASCAR offense, but met disaster in their first offensive series when Canadian LB Cade Throgmorton (the game’s Defensive MVP) jumped a pass route of a quick screen and took the INT 35 yards for the pick-6. Benigno Heredia (7-for-7 PATs, 4 FGs) was good on the PAT and Canadian was on the board with 8:46 left in the first quarter.
When Canadian QB Tanner Schafer (14-for-24, 243 yards, 3 TDs passing, 9-for-26 yards rushing, 1 TD rushing, Championship game Offensive MVP) was forced to punt from his own end zone, Refugio RB Omri Oliver set up a short field for the Bobcats to work with a 14 yard return to the Wildcat 22 yard line. Canadian’s defense held for 8 plays until Refugio RB Isaiah Perez took the direct snap and pushed into a scrum for the TD. The PAT by K Marcus Arredondo tied the score at 7-7 with 11:24 left in the second quarter.
The first quarter would prove to be the last remnant of anything that resembled a close game, with Canadian’s scoring floodgates opening to produce 24 points in the second period, while the Wildcat defense continued to frustrate Refugio’s offense and allowed the Wildcats to go in at halftime with a 31-7 lead.
Schafer hit RB Chance Cook (17 carries for 100 yards, 2 TDs) with a fast ball that flew 30 yards downfield from the 36 yard line for the second Wildcat TD with 9:13 left in the half, then with 3:10 left, Schafer took in a keeper for a TD. After a Canadian defensive stop the punt by Refugio QB Jaylon Mascorro (13-for-34, 183 yards, 4 INTs) was deflected by the back of Kobie Herring due to the pressure given by DB Manny Ramsey and gave Canadian the ball on the Refugio 27 yard line. Five plays later, WR Cameron Copley took a reverse and lowered his shoulder and ran through CB Les Rhodes on the 2 yard line for the score and Canadian led 28-7 with 14 seconds left in the half.
The ensuing kickoff was fumbled by Bobcat receiver Austin Moya and the Wildcats recovered on the Refugio 8 yard line with 5 of the 14 seconds left in the half, time enough for K Benigno Heredia to kick a 25 yard FG as time ran out, giving Canadian a 31-7 lead going in at the break.
The second half opened with Refugio receiving the kickoff and driving down to the Canadian 33 in 6 plays. The 7th play Mascorro was attempting to hit WR Les Rhodes in the end zone for a score when it was intercepted by DB Cameron Copley, bringing the ball out to the 20 yard line to begin Canadian’s next possession and a 5 play, 80 yard drive, featuring a 44 yard pass from Schafer to WR Manny Ramsey and capped by an 11 yard strike to WR Cameron Copley for the score, extending Canadian’s lead to 38-7.
The next Refugio offensive series ended in a 3-and-out and the Wildcats took over on the Bobcats 35 yard line and went 3-and-out as well, but advanced the ball to the Refugio 29 yard line. Kicker Benigno Heredia went to work on 4th and 4 to make his longest FG of the season from 46 yards out, thrilling Canadian fans with 3 more points to increase their lead to 41-7 with 6:41 left in the third quarter.
Refugio returned the next kickoff to their own 21 yard line and put together a drive consisting of 7 plays and 71 yards that ended with Mascorro throwing a 30 yard TD pass to WR Daidrin Dukes. The PAT by K Marcus Arredondo was blocked by Chance Cook, just a reminder that Canadian was still going full speed despite the 28 point deficit with 4:30 left in the 3rd quarter. Bobcats were on the board again, down 41-13.
Refugio executed a successful on-side kick with WR Les Rhodes recovering the ball that couldn’t be handled by C Logan Godino. The resulting drive for the Bobcats ended in 7 plays with an INT by FS Chance Cook. Cook’s number was called on the very next offensive play by Canadian for a 27 yard TD rush around the weak side. Cook not only had the speed to hit the edge, but used a burst going down the sideline that ruined every angle the Bobcat DBs had to push him out of bounds before going into the end zone. Heredia’s PAT was good and a stunned and weakened Refugio team trailed 48-13 with 3:30 left in the third.
After Canadian’s Semi-Final win over Crawford, Greg Tepper, writer and on air personality for Dave Campbell’s Texas Football created a hashtag that described the Championship game at this point. Refugio was matched with #TheCanadianMachine.
Chance Cook went on to intercept another Mascorro pass from his Free Safety position on the next series which setup the efficient Canadian offense on their 44 yard line. One of the most exciting and physical plays of the game came with the next snap as Schafer hit WR Sawyer Cook. Cook fired up the Canadian crowd and was honored by Fox Sports Southwest tagging the play as one of the top 10 of the week when he rambled approximately 35 yards-after-catch when 3 Bobcat defenders couldn’t stop Cook, continuing to drag one defender over 20 yards until 2 other Refugio defenders could finally help bring him down. Wildcat WR Manny Ramsey was assisting Cook all along the way and a face mask penalty placed the ball on the Refugio 8 yard line. Schafer’s 8 yard TD pass to WR Cameron Copley ended the drive on the next play, adding to the scoring already getting comfortable for Canadian to 55-13.
Going into the fourth quarter, the Refugio turnovers, penalties (11 for 115 yards compared to 3 for 25 on Canadian) along with the stiff and unforgiving Canadian defense had done significant damage making a comeback rally impossible. The next Wildcat offensive series took advantage of 3 different penalties assessed on the Bobcats, but finally held on a 4th and 12 on the Refugio 14 yard line where K Benigno Heredia came out to line up yet another FG that was good from 31 yards out with 9:21 left in the game. Heredia was not able to get any rest yet, however, as Schafer and Co. moved the ball into position for Heredia’s final FG from 35 yards out making the score 61-13 with 6:11 left in the game. This drive would be the last of Schafer’s stellar high school career as reserve QB Corbin Douthitt and other reserves would take the reins for the last 2 Canadian possessions.
Refugio would go on to score late with a punt return by Omri Oliver of 53 yards with 1:11 left in the contest. Canadian QB Douthitt would take care of the final possession and run the clock out to begin the celebration of Canadian’s fourth State Championship.
The 2015 Wildcats have finished one of the most dominate seasons played by a 2A team in history, lining up and winning over 16 teams, at least 6 times pulling key starters after the first half. Canadian scored 820 points this season giving up 131 points. An average of 51.25 points scored per game and 8.19 points given up by defense per game for the season. Van Harris of the Harris Rating system, said the closest team he has ever rated next to the 2015 Wildcats was the 2012 Munday team at 231. This year, Harris, who only ranks through the regular season, ranked Canadian at 245. The highest ranking for a 2A/1A 11-man team since Harris’ father John started the system in 1963.
Key players, such as QB Tanner Schafer, ended his season with 4,053 yards passing with 292 completions on 377 attempts (a 77% completion rate), 49 TDs, and incredibly only 2 INTs. RB Chance Cook finished the season with 223 carries for 2,110 yards (9.5 YPC), and 32 TDs. WR Cameron Copley totaled 1,409 yards on 85 catches and 23 TDs, plus 6 defensive INTs.
Refugio’s QB Jaylon Mascorro finishes the season with 4,238 yards passing. He had 80 yards rushing and 183 yards passing in the Championship game, but was sacked by Canadian’s defense 8 times and had 4 INTs.
There is no doubt that the stats, which validates the dominance of the entire schedule which included 3A and 4A teams as with the other teams in Class 2A will cause research and debate for years to come as the 2015 Canadian Wildcats will be compared with the very best teams that ever played Texas High School Football… not just Class 2A.
By Jerry Brunson, Class 2A and Canadian Wildcat Correspondent
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