Bearcats' all-state running back scores four touchdowns as the Brenham Cubs fall, 35-21
AUSTIN - For just a moment, it looked as though the Brenham Cubs had Aledo Bearcats running back Johnathan Gray wrapped up.
On third-and-9, with the Cubs trailing by just a touchdown and the ball deep in the Bearcats' territory, Brenham linebacker Michael Walker swept in and met Gray at the line of scrimmage, getting a hand on the all-state running back's ankle for just a moment even as his teammates swarmed.
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But Gray somehow escaped, springing 89 yards for the final touchdown in Aledo's 35-21 victory here Saturday in the Class 4A Division II state championship game at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium.
It was the death knell for a Cub football team that had come from behind to win its last three playoff contests, erasing second-half deficits of 21-0 and 17-0. But this time, even though the Cubs were able to score back-to-back touchdowns in the first quarter to erase an early 14-0 Aledo lead, Gray and the Bearcats proved too much.
After the game, Brenham (13-3) coach Glen West said he was certain the Cubs would pull the game out in the fourth quarter.
"I thought absolutely for sure it was going to be our way. I thought there was no doubt that we were fixing to take it," West said.
The Bearcats (15-1) took control of the game in the opening plays of the fourth quarter as senior quarterback Trey Ozee, who was in the game only because sophomore Matthew Bishop was injured the week before, scored on a 26-yard run through the heart of Brenham's defense.
But as they had done so many times before, the Cubs came back. Ty Schlottmann connected with Derek Edwards on a 42-yard pass over the top of the Bearcat secondary, and led Brenham to Aledo's 32-yard line before he limped off the field with a leg injury. For the second time in the playoffs, senior backup quarterback Michael Buro stepped onto the field and threw a touchdown in his only pass of the game, this one a 33-yard strike to Edwards in the end zone.
"That's why I love this team so much and that's why I thought we were going to win because that's the kind of stuff we do over and over," West said. "It was a wonderful job by him."
After Rodney Hubert knocked down a third-down pass attempt by Ozee, the Bearcats were forced to punt and the Cubs again threatened, reaching Aledo's 10-yard line before needing a couple yards on fourth-and-2. West said the Cubs had already decided that if they reached the end zone they would go for the two-point conversion and the win.
Brenham's veteran coach, who led the team to its only other state finals appearance in 2002, was certain the Cubs were on the cusp of yet another playoff comeback.
"I was already thinking about making sure we stopped them at the end to hold on to the victory, but hey, it didn't happen," West said. "You can't take anything away from them. They did a great job."
On fourth down, the Cubs handed the ball to sophomore running back Troy Green, who would finish the game with 119 yards. But he would gain just one yard on the play, giving Aledo the ball back with less than three minutes remaining.
"Up in the box they thought we had made it at first," West said. "We thought we had it but we didn't."
Said Buchanan, "When we sit down and start picking our offensive and defensive players, we pick our best running back or quarterback and put him in there, and then the next 11 guys are the best defensive football players we can put on the field, and that's what we do."
Gray would run the ball twice on Aledo's ensuing possession, gaining one yard each time before finally breaking free for an 89-yard scamper that sealed the state championship for the Bearcats. It was the same play the Bearcats used for the first of Gray's three first-half touchdowns.
"We weren't anticipating a touchdown but we were anticipating a first down," Aledo (15-1) coach Tim Buchanan said.
Gray finished with 252 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries.
"The thing about Johnathan is he knows how to run behind a good offensive line," Buchanan said. "He picked and chose when he needed to break one and he picked and chose when he needed to lower his shoulder and try and get a first down. He's a very smart football player."
Said West, "He's real fast and he made some long runs. He's a great back, going to be a really good back, but I can't say he's an overpowering back. He's a very good runner and he found his creases and he did well. For a young kid he's amazing."
Gray ran for 125 yards in the first half, sparking the Bearcats to a 21-14 halftime lead, but he was largely silent through the third quarter while Ozee provided the Bearcats with their biggest chunks of yardage, breaking free for 34- and 26-yard runs. Ozee started the season as Aledo's starting quarterback, but after an ankle injury forced him to miss five weeks of the season, he found that Bishop had established himself as the team's signal caller, and he was moved to wide receiver.
Until Saturday's game, that is.
"I can't say enough about Trey Ozee," Buchanan said. "He is a very unselfish football player. … Never once did that young man show a selfish attitude. Whatever was best for our football team was what he did.
"Part of this win, I guarantee you, is those football players wanting to win the football game for Trey Ozee as our starting quarterback."
The Cubs had more than a few stars of their own. Green's 119-yard performance was his fourth 100-yard game of the postseason, while Schlottmann threw for 195 yards and ran for another 68. Walker led the Cub defense with eight tackles, including 1.5 for a loss.
Senior Terrell Reese, an Associated Press Sports Editors all-state selection, pulled down a spectacular 30-yard touchdown pass over two defensive backs for the Cubs' first touchdown of the game, and Edwards grabbed six passes for a career-high 141 yards.
"Derek's been doing that the last few weeks," West said. "He's been playing very well and I'm very proud of him. I'm glad we have him for another year and I'm glad we have a lot of them coming back."
Schlottmann found Emon Smith for a 4-yard touchdown that tied the game 14-14 with 43 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
West said after the game he planned to tell his players, "How proud I am of them. Our players played like they did all year long. They represented our town and represented us well, and they're one of the best groups I've ever been around. I'm sorry they fell short of what they wanted."
Brenham graduates 14 seniors from a fairly young roster, including Jeremy Hall, Russell Sinegal, Brandon Felder, Buro, Walker, Christian Jernigan, C.J. Anderson, Ken-neth Allen, Chase Coghlan, Joey Burns, Mason Hartnett, Arthur Morgan, Reese and Thomas Newman.
"They are winners and they're selfless and that's why we've been so successful," West said. "They'll be champions in whatever they do in life."
Brenham lost to Denton Ryan 38-8 in its only previous state championship game in 2002.
It was Brenham's second second-place finish in the past month, as the Brenham volleyball finished second in the state volleyball tournament in November. In the last calendar year, Brenham has advanced to state in football, volleyball, baseball, boys soccer and won the Class 4A Region III championship in track.
"These guys are winners," West said before leaving the field to speak to his players in the locker room. "They are true winners, and that's what they were again today. They were winners."