By Pat Turner
Harlan, Brennan and Brandeis will be hard at work Thanksgiving Week.
But for the coaches and players involved, being busy is a good thing. After all, that means they’re still in the football playoffs.
All three NISD teams advanced to the area round by taking care of business in last week’s bi-district matches.
Harlan claimed a 33-14 win over Sam Houston in Class 5A Division I. Brennan scored in the final minute for a 33-28 6A Division II victory over Johnson. Brandeis prevailed in its Division II matchup by winning a 49-38 shootout against Churchill.
Now, its on to round two. Harlan plays Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial at 1 p.m. Friday at Buccaneer Stadium in Corpus Christi. Brennan plays Austin Westlake at 4 p.m. in the Alamodome, while Brandeis follows against Steele at 8 p.m.
Although being part of the Thanksgiving football festivities is exciting to all involved, it may be extra special for Harlan.
This is Harlan’s first varsity football season and the Hawks (8-3) are making it memorable.
“It’s been a great year,” Harlan coach Eddie Salas said. “This is the first time for our kids to play varsity football, even our (13) seniors. This is the first time for them to be in the playoffs. It’s been great to see how these players have improved.
“We’ve always talked about staying within ourselves and family. Our kids don’t worry about records or history of other teams. They just worry about getting better every day. They’re still getting better.”
The Hawks gained command quickly. An interception by Jacob Garcia broke the ice as the pick set up Aubrey McDade’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Kannon Williams hit Ethan Esparza on touchdown down passes of 19 and 12 yards. In between, McDade had a 2-yard touchdown scamper for a 27-0 halftime lead.
Sam Houston scored in the third period, but Harlan padded its lead with two field goals (26, 23 yards) by Alejandro Garcia.
The Hurricanes added a TD in the fourth quarter.
Now, the Hawks look to continue their history-making season.
“Our kids are having fun,” Salas said. “We’re telling them to play at the top of their ability and everything will take care of itself. We’ll take it one play at a time.”
Brennan 33, Johnson 28
The Bears made things exciting in their playoff opener by rallying from a late deficit.
Brennan scratched out a 20-14 halftime lead following two field goals from Jonathan Swisher, along with Jordan Flores’ 23-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Smith and 4-yard run.
Darryon Tolefree upped Brennan’s lead to 27-14 in the third quarter with a 55-yard gallop. The Jaguars got things going with their big plays to rally for a 28-27 disadvantage.
Just when it seemed Johnson had a lock on things, Brennan got another burst of energy as Flores guided a late touchdown drive, capped by the quarterback’s 1-yard plunge with 1:02 remaining.
Brandeis 49, Churchill 38
Brandeis churned up 509 yards offense behind the guidance of quarterback Jordan Battles to get the upper hand over the Chargers.
Battles passed for 197 yards and a touchdown and scrambled for 169 yards and three TDs.
Churchill was also effective offensively, thanks to a potent running game. That enabled the Chargers to carve out a 24-14 lead in the first half. Battles pulled the Broncos within three points at the end of the second period with his 19-yard scramble.
More big plays followed in the second half. Brandeis (9-2) moved in front at the beginning of a see-saw third quarter on Cristian Medina’s 3-yard run. Though Churchill regained the advantage (31-28) on Cody Liles’ 52-yard scoring burst, the Broncos fired back.
Battles’ 5-yard touchdown run gave Brandeis a 35-31 lead with 3:18 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Nine seconds later, the Broncos were looking at another deficit after Derek Perez zipped past the Brandeis defense for a 61-yard scoring sprint.
Battles followed with a big play for Brandeis, tossing an 88-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Pake for a 42-38 lead in the final seconds of the third quarter.
- Nova Rangel increased Brandeis’ lead to 49-38 at the beginning of the fourth quarter with a 6-yard run. From that point, the fireworks show ceased as the Broncos’ defense shut down the Chargers the rest of the way.
Reagan 30, O’Connor 7
O’Connor (10-1) had relied on big plays and clutch work during its ride to a third straight District 28-6A title.
However, the magic ran out against Reagan. The killer came in the second quarter as the Rattlers broke a 0-0 tie with 24 points. Reagan’ defense kept O’Connor’s offense off-balance the entire contest by applying constant pressure.
Following a Reagan field goal, the Panthers tried to catch the Rattlers by surprise with two fake punt attempts.
Reagan was not fooled. The Rattlers stopped the Panthers and tacked on two more touchdowns, before booting two field goals in the second half for a 30-0 lead.
O’Connor had a fourth-down gamble work in the final period when David Dodd escaped two oncoming defenders and hurled a 29-yard touchdown pass to Chase Locke.
That was all the excitement the Panthers could muster.
“We didn’t make the plays,” O’Connor coach David Malesky said. “A lot of it had to do with that team (Reagan) over there. When you get into the playoffs, you can’t afford to miss opportunities. You have to be able to capitalize. We didn’t, they did.”
Although the playoffs ended sooner than O’Connor wanted, Malesky still considers it a successful year. After all, the Panthers went into the season with several questions after being hit heavily by graduation.
The Panthers matured quickly.
“Too many good things happened this year to hang our heads,” Malesky said. “We had a great year.”
Madison 35, Warren 7
District 27-6A champion Madison set the tone early by vaulting to a 21-0 halftime lead.
In addition to offensive efficiency, the Mavericks’ defense provided support by keeping the Warriors’ attack silent.