The Glen Rose Tigers weren’t at full strength on Friday in Springtown for their area playoff matchup against the Graham Steers, and the adversity proved to be too much to overcome.
Graham (11-1) compiled 28 of its 30 first downs in the first three quarters to build a three-touchdown lead and hold on for a 42-28 win over Glen Rose (10-2).
“Give Graham a lot of credit,” said coach Tommy Dunn. “They did a good job with their front five blocking our (defensive line). They were able to single block us, get up on our linebackers and they just did a good job.”
Among other issues, star running back Cody Burtscher was very limited due to a pinched nerve in his back. He touched the ball twice, rushing for four yards and a touchdown.
“I thought we did a good job throughout the week of overcoming adversity,” Dunn said. “We put our best foot out there and (Graham was) the better team. We had a couple of linemen battling illness, and for those guys to tough it out and do their best – it shows the character of this team.”
Seven other Tigers also carried the ball, and overall Glen Rose mustered just 66 yards on 24 carries. The top rushers were quarterback Colton Bretton (7-23, TD) and Hayden Holder (7-18). Through the air, Bretton completed 17 of 32 passes for 216 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
“We had to go for it on fourth down several times,” Dunn said. “When you lose your top running threat (Burtscher) and that guy is such a good receiver, the whole offense suffers. Under the circumstances, Colton played a good game.”
Bretton was hampered by numerous drops from his receiving corps.
“We had some young guys in there and they got a little taste of what it’s like on Friday night,” Dunn said. “It’s a different level, so I think that will be good experience for them in the future.”
Just like the Brownwood game, Glen Rose’s offensive star was receiver Justin Weatherley. The senior caught eight balls for 163 yards. He had long receptions to set up all three of the Tiger offensive touchdowns.
“Justin has tremendous hands and he just wills his way into making good plays,” Dunn said. “He has been a great player for our team this year. I can’t say enough about him.”
Of the seven Tigers who caught a pass, Austin Gibson (3-15, TD) was the other one with multiple grabs. He left the game early in the third quarter with a potentially serious leg injury.
“Austin stayed on the field both offensively and defensively most of the year, so you’re almost losing two players when he goes down,” Dunn said. “I feel bad for him and I hope it’s not a severe injury.”
On defense, Logan Douglas had a tackle for loss and he shared a second one with Curry Mapes. Holder also notched a tackle for loss.
“Logan has been one of our steady seniors all year long,” Dunn said. “He plays with a high level of intensity and has been a part of that front four that’s been good for us all season.”
The lone Tiger points of the second half came late in the fourth quarter. After the ball was punted into a Steer offensive lineman and ricocheted into the end zone, Jared Thames pounced on the pigskin for a touchdown.
“We tried to block that and get good field position, but however it happened Jared is going to play hard until the end and he was able to make a good play there,” Dunn said.
The Steers sported a very balanced offense, as quarterback Ben Davis completed 20 of 23 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns. Only six of his completions went for double-digit gains, but Davis was extremely effective with his short passes.
“They just found holes in the zone and they have very good depth with eight receivers that had over 200 yards coming in,” Dunn said. “It’s hard to defend because they have people all over the field that can catch the ball; they did a good job with their scheme.”
The Steers scored every time they had the ball in the first three quarters other than a possession that began with 25 seconds left in the first half.
The Graham ground game was outstanding with 250 yards on 46 carries. Davis was a solid dual threat with 44 yards on six carries, but the clear workhorse was diminutive rusher Dillon Gonzales (33-182, 4 TD).
“They have good depth at that position and (Gonzales) in particular was able to be very effective,” Dunn said. “It goes back to how well their offensive front played.”
The top Graham pass catcher was Bryce Reeves (6-90), and six Steers ended up with multiple receptions.
Graduation will hit Tiger football hard with so many prominent seniors on the squad this year.
“Our seniors left a very good legacy for the younger guys behind them,” Dunn said. “They’re good athletes, but also good students who work hard. I’m very proud of them.”
Other Glen Rose teams may have gone deeper in the playoffs, but in terms of talent this crew may be elite in program history.
“Plenty of people who’ve been here longer than me will have their own opinion on where this team stands in school history,” Dunn said. “I do know we won as many games as any Glen Rose team ever has. I felt like if we were healthy, we definitely would be in that game with a chance to win. (Friday) Graham was the better team.”
After the Tigers turned the ball over on downs on their initial possession, Graham produced a lengthy drive – converting a fourth down along the way – and scored with a three-yard Gonzales run (0-7, Fidel Herrera kick).
On the heels of a Tiger punt, Graham put another quality drive together and hit paydirt via a six-yard Davis pass to Braden Lang (0-14, Herrera kick).
Needing points in a hurry, the Tigers delivered a seven-play, 75-yard drive. The key play was a 50-yard Weatherley reception down the middle and the touchdown came on a five-yard pass from Bretton to Gibson (7-14, Martin De Los Santos kick).
Graham came right back and drove the field, scoring on a 16-yard Gonzales run (7-21, Herrera kick).
The Tigers picked up where they left off on the previous possession with another seven-play scoring drive for 64 yards. This time Weatherley caught a screen pass and sped downfield for a 34-yard gain. The touchdown came on a three-yard Bretton keeper (14-21, De Los Santos kick).
The Steer offense continued to be razor-sharp, as it marched 83 yards to score on a one-yard Gonzales run (14-28, Herrera kick).
With 1:57 left in the half, the Tigers drove 61 yards to score. This time, Weatherley made a spectacular juggling 47-yard catch in double coverage down to the Graham 3. Two plays later, Burtscher scored on a one-yard run (21-28, De Los Santos kick). It was his only touch of the half.
“Cody pretty much ran on the field and put himself in,” Dunn said of the score.
The Tigers needed a stop to open the second half, but Graham had other ideas with a lengthy 70-yard drive. The touchdown came on a six-yard Gonzales run (21-35, Herrera kick).
On the first play of the next Tiger possession, Gibson was knocked out of the game due to injury on a three-yard reception. When the Tigers faced a fourth down, Weatherley made a six-yard grab to move the chains. Another fourth down came up, however, and a deep Bretton pass landed just beyond the reach of a diving Holder.
“I think Hayden lost that in the lights; I couldn’t tell how far it was overthrown,” Dunn said. “We took a shot and the play was there; we just didn’t get it done.”
Late in the quarter, Graham drove 62 yards and put the game out of reach for all intents and purposes with a five-yard Davis touchdown pass to Janson Graham (21-42, Herrera kick).
Beginning at their own 43, the Tigers drove the field and converted a fourth-and-eight with a 10-yard Bretton run. On the next play, Burtscher got his only touch of the second half for a three-yard run. On the following play, Bretton was on the move and was intercepted on the sideline at the Graham 2 by Jerrod Mahan for his seventh pick of the season and the 23rd for Graham’s defense.
“Colton was flushed out of the pocket and I think he was just trying to make a play,” Dunn said.
Each team punted on its next possession, and then Graham was set to punt again when the ball was booted into the offensive lineman’s back and Thames delivered his special teams touchdown to finalize the score with 2:16 remaining (28-42, De Los Santos kick).