Holding the powerful Graham Steers to 34 points isn’t easy to do.
Glen Rose (6-6) was able to accomplish the feat Saturday in Mineral Wells for the area playoff contest between the two teams, but the problem was that the Graham defense played lights-out. The No. 3 Steers (12-0) tallied 32 first downs to just three for Glen Rose in a 34-0 victory.
It was the lowest point total for Glen Rose this season and the second-lowest total for Graham. The Steers, which beat Burkburnett 32-0 to conclude the regular season, have pitched three shutouts in a row.
“We had a pretty good first drive, but shot ourselves in the foot a few times,” said coach Tommy Dunn. “I wasn’t very good (Saturday) calling plays and their defensive line was so good – we had a hard time with them.”
For the second year in a row, Glen Rose had to face the Steers without arguably its best player. Hayden Holder gave the Tigers a first down on the game’s second offensive play, but he was injured at the end of Graham’s first drive and left the game for good. Cody Burtscher, who holds or shares 11 school records, missed the entire matchup in 2012 due to injury.
“When you throw in Hayden not being able to play after the first couple of series, it was a long (day) for us offensively,” Dunn said. “Injuries play a part in every game. We’ve had our share and overcome a lot of them.
“It’s a tough situation and you want to be at your best when you play the No. 3 team in the state. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Glen Rose ended up averaging 1.5 yards on 19 carries, as four Graham sacks brought significant negative yardage into the equation. Chasen Monk (4-55) and Holder (2-5) finished as the top rushers.
Graham was also stingy against the pass, as Colten Lane averaged 2.7 yards per attempt in completing seven of 15 passes for 41 yards and two interceptions. The Steers had seven interceptions in a regular season win over Abilene Wylie.
Top Tiger receivers were Jayton Dillard (1-23), Monk (4-11) and Holder (1-10).
“Everybody played as hard as they could and the defense hung with (Graham), but we didn’t give our defense much help,” Dunn said.
Graham was productive mainly because it ran 82 offensive plays, not because it was explosive. In fact, Glen Rose had the only two offensive plays of more than 20 yards. The Tigers limited Graham to 4.5 yards per carry – a below average performance for the Steers – and just 7.9 yards per pass attempt.
“We got off the field a number of times early in the game,” said coach Todd Swearengin. “I felt like we had a good game plan going in and the kids believed in it.”
Steer quarterback Ben Davis completed 16 of 21 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown. Top Steer rushers were Dillon Gonzales (25-116, 3 TD), Davis (16-79) and Justin Escalon (16-70, TD). Davis completed passes to nine different receivers, as the top Steers were Bryce Reeves (5-42), Derek Sides (2-28) and Connor Smith (2-22).
Two of the three Tiger first downs came in the game’s first five offensive plays. After a 10-yard Holder reception, Lane attacked downfield and Dillard made a leaping grab for 23 yards.
“I thought Jayton did a good job going up and getting the ball,” Dunn said. “Dillard has been a solid player for us all year.”
After Graham scored the winning points in the first quarter on a one-yard Gonzales run, Alex Cocita broke up the conversion pass (0-6).
“Cocita got a lot better this season,” Swearengin said. “Alex gained confidence throughout the year and had some big pass breakups.”
Hayden Swearengin recovered a fumble at the Tiger 24 later in the first. Glen Rose lost the turnover battle 3-2.
“Hayden has gotten better and he’s grown up, too,” Coach Swearengin said. “I think he’s gotten a feel for the game and his role on the team.”
While the Tiger offense was having its difficulties, the defense was putting up a fight with Weston Clifton making a fourth-down tackle at the Tiger 16 late in the first.
“Weston stepped up with senior leadership and continued to make plays in a big year,” Swearengin said. “The last several weeks he really improved. His phenomenal effort showed.”
Graham increased its lead midway through the second quarter with a safety (0-8) when Lane was ruled to be inside the tackle box while throwing a pass from the end zone with no receiver in the area.
Graham then drove the field and scored on a four-yard Gonzales run. His conversion run attempt failed due to a Trey Yocham tackle (0-14).
“We knew they liked to come out and go for two,” Swearengin said. “We were ready for it.”
The Steers intercepted Lane at the Glen Rose 41 with 1:13 left in the half. With just two seconds left from the Tiger 6, Davis hit Mikey Freeze and he narrowly crossed the goal line (0-21, Freeze kick).
“We played well at times and had some chances on fourth down,” Swearengin said. “When they scored with two seconds left, it was frustrating, but our effort was phenomenal the whole time.”
During a marathon, 15-play Steer drive to open the second half, Braxton Barrios and Swearengin combined on a sack. A Glen Rose penalty on fourth down kept the Steers moving, and it would be Gonzales to strike again with a five-yard touchdown run (0-27, kick fail).
Graham was in the midst of another long drive in the fourth quarter when Miguel Barraza recovered a fumble at the Tiger 40 that was forced by Yocham.
“It looked like Miguel was the only one on the field who saw that ball come out and it was good for him to stop their momentum,” Swearengin said. “We got worn down in the second half because we were on the field a lot of snaps, but the guys still battled.”
The Tigers had their best scoring opportunity of the game after a 47-yard Monk run to the Steer 13, but Graham made a stand on fourth down to tackle Monk on a reception at the Steer 8.
Tigers with double-digit tackles in the win included Senovio Delagarza (22), Kevin Uehlein (18), Sam Strother (13), R.J. Darch (11), Swearengin (11) and Yocham (10).
Both coaches praised their departing seniors.
“I told the seniors in the locker room I thought they overcame a lot of adversity this year with injuries and negative things,” Dunn said. “They held solid and ended up making a good run they should be proud of. I’m proud of them.”
“These seniors have done a phenomenal job leading, playing through injuries and pain,” Swearengin added. “There’s not one of them who hasn’t been hurt this year. They helped the young kids come along.
“I think for (Delagarza) to return with his ACL injury and come up big the last two games is huge. (Uehlein) battled through his own injury troubles and was an outstanding leader in the secondary, along with Nathan Smith.”
As Dunn pointed out, with their bi-district win over Llano the 2013 Tigers became the eighth team in program history to win a playoff game. Three of those teams have come in the last three seasons.
“When you consider that, these guys are in an elite group,” Dunn said. “They need to be very proud of that.”
Certainly the 2014 Tigers will try to make it four years in a row for the program with a playoff win.
“Looking ahead, we just have to do a good job preparing for next year and try to get to another level,” Dunn said.