I have written this article many times over this past weekend…all in my head…but only to try harder the next time.
After the first quarter Friday night in Alamo Stadium in San Antonio, I actually was thinking the first sentence would be something like this: “After one of the most disastrous first quarters in Llano High School football history, the Yellowjackets rebounded to win their Bi-District game against Hondo in San Antonio and now advance in the State Playoffs to play….”
Yes, I really thought…that after the Jackets first play, down goes Mr. Playmaker sophomore Case Kuykendall with a terrible arm and shoulder injury after an 8 yard sweep run to the right. After a 15 minute delay Case was carted off the field to a San Antonio hospital to have his elbow set and had surgery the next day on his arm. How much affect did the injury have on the Jackets? One can only wonder. After that initial play, senior quarterback Cade Fly threw to junior Justin Yocum for a first down. But three plays later, Llano was forced to punt.
The Jacket defense came onto the field, and forced the first of seven punts by Hondo. Relentless play by seniors Kaleb Dodson, Mason Brooks , Drew Cooper, and juniors Quentin Franklin and Ryan Warner controlled the game. But an error changed that. The Jackets were forced to punt after a 5 play drive. The ball snapped to punter Dodson over his head ended up on the Jacket one yard line. One play later and Llano was down 7-0.
Ok…we can overcome this. So again…the Jacket offense had the ball. 19 yards by sophomore Donaven Arellano with blocks coming from seniors Tyler Lindell and Ethan Eastwood. Cade threw to Kendall Downey for a first down and 10 yards. Then a catch by senior Brooks Keele for 15 more down to the 25 yard line of the Owls. End of drive, as Cade misfired and Hondo had intercepted and stopped the promising drive.
Ok, we can overcome this. But a very determined and very good running attack by the Owls were not to be denied. 4 yards, a 16 yard pass completion. 10 more. 5 more. 7 more. And then a lapse by the Jackets. 40 yards down the sidelines and Hondo lead 14-0.
Ok, we can overcome this. But on the Jackets first play after the kickoff, Cade was intercepted again. But think goodness, the first quarter of one of the worst quarters ever…was over. Two turnovers, a bad snap, a 40 yard run, and Case was not part of the game plan. It can only get better from here. I did know that.
The Jackets forced a punt, to negate the interception. Strong play by Presley Lynch and Christian Kirby coming up to help make tackles from the secondary. Linebackers Mason Baker and Logan Duggar hardened their play.
The Jackets finally got back to a place they felt comfortable. 7 yards by Mason. A 23 yard completion from Cade to senior Ethan Tisdale up to the 34 yard line. Another completion to junior Justin Yocum for 12 more. But Hondo played tough, and the Jacket drive died, and Dodson punted.
Now, here was the test. Llano was down 14-0. Hondo runs the football so effectively. The Owls put together a 12 play drive. From their own 35 yard line, down to the Jacket 44…only a net of 21 yards, but three first downs. The Owls killed themselves with 4 penalties for 25 yards. Strong play by Aiden Cuthbertson, and Downey kept Hondo at bay. The Jackets had an opportunity to maybe score before the half. A Fly pass to Tisdale got 29 yards. Junior Quincy Prince ran an end-around for a first down and 16 yards. But, no more…Llano punted and after s few more plays…the half was over. The Jackets had 130 yards total. Hondo had 152. But something stood out to me at halftime. Take out the 40 yard TD romp, Hondo was averaging about 3.5 yards per carry. I still knew we could overcome this. Our defense would keep us close. This I believed. But more important, The Jackets believed.
Hondo got the second half kickoff and drove 5 plays, one first down and forced to punt. Drew Cooper was out of his mind in pursuit…never let up. Close behind were Downey, sophomore Guillermo Davila and junior Jacob Cruz. The Jackets’ Tisdale caught a punt so Llano had something, rather than starting out from inside the 10 yard line. But the offense went dead. Three plays and out. Hondo began again. One first down, but Justin, Cruz and Davilla forced a punt. I glanced at the clock….holly cow, six minutes left in the 3rd quarter. The Jackets decided to try something else.
Donaven for 4 yards. A pass completion to Ethan for 18 more. Then Cade ran three straight times for 10 yards and a first down. Next he handed the ball four straight carries to senior Mason Brooks. 5 yards. 4 yards. One yard for the first down. And from three yards out, Mason scored with :14 seconds left in the quarter. Score 14-7.
Again, the Jacket defense held and forced a punt. The ball rolled to the 8 yard line. Cade went to work. 5 yard pass to Ethan. 2 more to Ethan. and 5 more to Ethan, catching 6 for the night. Brooks caught one for 8 more. Donaven had a 3 yard catch. But it was not enough. Facing 4 and 11 with about 6 minutes left in the game. A few Jacket fans around me wondered if maybe Llano should go for it on fourth down. Reminding everyone, Llano might not get the ball back. These Owls were stingy. So, one of the defining moments in this game. Do you punt, knowing Hondo was very capable of running 6-8 plays and taking up all of the clock? Can the Jacket defense do it again? Llano punted.
Hondo ran five plays in a row, gaining 26 yards and making two first downs. But, on second and third downs, Hondo went away from what they do best. They threw two incomplete passes. Yocum, Baker, Cooper, Cruz, and Duggar put the pressure on. And facing 4th and 13 yards, Hondo punted with 2:35 left in the game. And the ball, not caught, rolled to the 9 yard line. 2:05 on the clock.
Back in 2002, Llano had one of the best passing attacks, ever. All time leading Jacket record holder, Michael White was fast. Jason Smith was quarterback. Playing in a forgotten game against Burnet, Smith hit the lighting fast White for a 90 yard TD. In a blink of an eye, Michael was in the end zone. School record.
Friday night in Alamo Stadium, quarterback Fly dropped back and threw deep to the fastest player in the Stadium. Quincy Prince was 5 yards behind the nearest defensive back of the Owls. Pass was perfect, and no one was catching Quincy. 91 yards. School record.
Now we had to either kick the extra point to tie, or go for two to win. This was a no brainer. Mr. Dependable and also school record holder, sophomore Diego Miguel came in and calmly kicked for the tie. 14-14 . His 31 of 32 extra points this season is now being taken for granted. But it may be the hardest play of the game.
If you thought this was over and going to over time, you were wrong. With less than two minutes to play, here comes Hondo. First play. 23 yards. Then on a fourth down, they run for 7 more and another first down. Hondo is at mid field. Now they go to their passing game. Four incomplete passes. Kirby, Lynch, Yocum, Franklin, and pressure from the front four sealed the tie, and go to over time. Oh my. ( Llano last played in a over time game in the play offs in 1998. Llano lost to Industrial 19-16.)
Llano got the ball first on the 25. An incomplete pass, then runs by Cade of 4, 15, and 6 for the score. Llano ahead for the first time, 21-14. First down, Llano defense stops for a loss. Next Hondo runs for 11. And on the fourth play, a pass, and Mr. Justin Yocum steps in front of the tipped ball, and intercepts. Llano wins. The 7-4 Jackets advance in the State Play Offs.
Since 1922, Llano has had 17 teams to win 8 games or more in one season. 6 of those teams did not make the play offs. Twice, in 1973, and 2007 did Llano win two play off games in one season. The 1973 team lost to eventual State Champion Friendswood in the quarterfinals and ended up with a 9-3-1 record. The 2007 team lost to Palacios, and ended up 9-4. Getting to 8 wins is in pretty good company.
The Jackets go back to familiar territory. Going back to Alamo Stadium Friday afternoon. And playing the number one team out of District 15-4A, DII, Corpus Christie West Oso. Their 7-4 record looks familiar. They too won a tough and close game against Port Isabel. West Oso will throw the football a lot.
As I said last week, I expect our defense to play great. Because it is outstanding ( Allowing 17.9 Points per game). Llano has players that are not ready to call it a season. These seniors have played their hearts out. All Jackets should be so proud. But juniors and sophomores never understand that moment, when it may be your last play. Llano is very capable of going into an elite class by winning this second game in the play offs. Being only one of three teams in history is exciting, and should be humbling. For some strange reason, I have had a feeling since August about this team. I had that feeling at the end of the first quarter against Hondo. I never thought Llano would lose. And I feel strongly, the Jackets will beat West Oso. 8-4 would look nice. Elite.