The Aledo Bearcats showed true grit and the heart of a champion while staging a come-from-behind victory to win a state quarter-finals playoff match against Lovejoy tonight at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
The game was no David vs. Goliath story.
It was more like Goliath vs. Godzilla.
Aledo Head Coach Tim Buchanan and the Bearcats are the bull of the 5A pasture, obsessed with defending their state title and winning a record 10th trophy.
Lovejoy entered the game at 13-0 and appearing invincible. A week earlier, the Leopards had played at this same Globe Life Park, where QB Ralph Rucker threw eight touchdown passes.
Tonight’s game was scheduled originally for Thursday but was postponed for a day due to rain and cold weather. The cold remained this evening – mid-30s at the 7:30 p.m. kickoff – but the rain had dissipated.
Lovejoy won the coin toss and chose to kick off to Aledo. The Leopards would need to stop Aledo running back DeMarco Roberts, who had scored 10 touchdowns in the previous three playoff games. He opened the game with an eight-yard run and then gained another four for a first down. The Bearcats have scored most every time the offense has taken the field this season but not this time. The Leopards defense forced a punt.
The Bearcats defense returned the favor, forcing a punt that Earle ran back to the 27-yard line.
Roberts scored two plays later.
Lovejoy responded with a field goal to cut Aledo’s lead to 7-3 midway through the first quarter.
Aledo’s offense wasted no time finding pay dirt again. A couple of strong runs by Roberts set up a screen pass to Earle, who bolted 50 yards for a TD.
The Leopards fought their way to the end zone eight plays and 69 yards later, cutting the Bearcat lead to 14-10 with two minutes left in the opening quarter.
Aledo’s momentum dissipated.
Its offense stalled and punted, and its defense allowed Lovejoy to move 55 yards in five plays to find the paint and take the lead 14-17 early in the second quarter.
Aledo’s offense went three-and-out on its next series, giving Lovejoy first and 10 with the lead and momentum. The game could have gone south in a hurry, but Aledo’s defense stiffened and shut down Lovejoy, forcing a punt. Eight plays later, Roberts put the Bearcats back on top with a sidelines-hugging 37-yard romp to make it 21-17.
Lovejoy roared back with another Rucker TD toss to take the lead, 21-24.
Aledo wanted to eat up time, score another TD and take the lead into the locker room at halftime. Instead, the offense stalled, punted and gave Lovejoy’s high-flying offense the ball with three minutes left on the clock. They moved the length of the field, devoured the clock and scored another TD.
The Bearcats, who had been leading 14-3 early in the game and feeling in control, found themselves heading into halftime down 10 points and having to kick off to Lovejoy to start the second half. In previous playoff games, Aledo had capitalized on turnovers. Against Lovejoy, the Bearcats appeared to be snake-bitten. On three different occasions, Lovejoy fumbled, but the Bearcats couldn’t recover any of the loose balls.
Buchanan is a master at halftime adjustments. Would he be able to say the right things and tinker with the game plan enough to shut down the Leopards?
Aledo’s defense opened the second half by stopping Lovejoy and forcing a punt, giving the offense a chance to cut into the Lovejoy lead. Roberts opened the drive with a couple of long runs. Center Brady Wood and the offensive line busted open holes for Roberts and JoJo Earle to run through, and the score was soon 28-31.
Aledo’s defense would need to figure out a way to shut down Lovejoy for another quarter and a half to give the Bearcats a chance to re-take the lead. Aledo’s pass rush, however, wasn’t pressuring Lovejoy’s QB enough to deter his aerial attack. Lovejoy pushed the lead back to 10 points by the end of the third quarter, 28-38.
Entering the fourth quarter in a deficit against an undefeated team couldn’t have been a comfy feeling for the Bearcats. The offense needed to score but was soon facing third-and 11. Earle made a gutsy run to move the chains and keep the drive alive with first and 10 at its own 26. He dropped a pass two plays later, however, and instead of a sure TD, the Bearcats settled for a field goal, cutting Lovejoy’s lead to seven.
Aledo’s defense was weary from spending so much time on the field but would be needed to stop the Leopards onslaught. The Big D came through, forcing Lovejoy into a fourth-and-eight situation and blocking the punt. Defensive end Caden Anderson grabbed the pigskin on a hop and ran 50 yards to tie score with eight-and-a-half minutes remaining.
Lovejoy scored a field goal on its next possession, but Roberts returned the ensuing kickoff 87 yards to put the Bearcats back on top, 45-41.
Aledo’s defense continued to create trouble for Lovejoy, forcing another punt. The Bearcats saw an opportunity to put away the game. If they scored a TD, they would go up by 10 points and leave little time for Lovejoy to claw its way back.
Roberts took it to the paint again to make it 52-41. Lovejoy roared back with a touchdown of its own, but it was too little too late.
Final score: Aledo 52, Lovejoy 48.
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