KILLEEN -- Even though it was something heíd worked for since July, when the reality began setting in that the St. Paul Cardinals had won the state championship head coach Jake Wachsmuth had a catch in his voice.
Shiner St. Paul players raise the state championship trophy. St. Paul beat Colleyville Covenant 48-41, remaining undefeated for their season. photos by Gonzales Cannon
"I just couldnít believe it," Wachsmuth said after the Cardinals capitalized on four Covenant Christian turnovers to win a scoring duel with the Cougars 48-41 Saturday to claim the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools Division IV state championship at Killeenís Buckley Stadium.
"You work hard, but you just donít know itís gonna happen until the very end," Wachsmuth said after his team capped a perfect season 14-0. "It says a lot about the heart of this team."
The Cardinals pulled it out with a ground game that controlled most of the second half despite the absence of leading rusher Adam Hollenbach, who suffered a possible broken arm on the second play of the third quarter.
Martin Kennedy moved from fullback to tailback and the Cardinals continued grinding virtually without a hitch, finishing with 99 of his 148 rushing yards in the second half.
Even so, Stewart kept the Cougars in the game, throwing for four touchdowns and running for two more, and it wasnít until the Cardinalsí Dakota Kresta recovered an onside kick attempt with 16 seconds remaining that Wachsmuth and St. Paul fans could breathe easy.
The game began looking almost like a textbook Cardinal blowout -- St. Paul rarely trailed in games during its 14-0 run to the title, and Wachsmuth was usually emptying his bench by halftime. But Stewart and the Cougars had other ideas.
On Covenantís first play from scrimmage, Brandon Sciba jumped in front of intended receiver Jordan Cross and intercepted for the Cardinals, setting St. Paul up at the Covenant 20-yard line just 14 seconds into the contest.
Three plays later, Martin Kennedy plowed over left guard and covered the 10 yards to the end zone for a quick 7-0 St. Paul lead less than two minutes into the game.
Another turnover put the Cardinals in position again just moments later, and they were again more than happy to cash it in. Brandon Metcalfe pounced on a fumble at the Covenant 47-yard line.
The Cardinals traveled the distance in seven plays. A 9-yard run by Hollenbach and a 19-yard burst from Kennedy got the ball tot he red zone, and another 9-yard gain by Hollenbach got it to the 10. Two plays later, quarterback Devin Pesek rolled out and found Sciba at the goal line with an 8-yard scoring pass for a quick 14-0 lead with barely five minutes gone in the game.
But the Cougars didnít reach the state finals by rolling over. Following an exchange of punts, Stewart shrugged off the early pick and moved them downfield quickly on a 66-yard scoring march, nailing Jacob Taunton for a 49-yard gain and covering the final 17 yards by rifling a shot to Austin Barr over the middle for a score that cut the St. Paul lead to 14-7.
St. Paul was forced to punt again on its next series --the third and final punt of the game for either team--and Stewart showed his other talents on the first play of the second half. Taking over at his own 20, Stewart optioned to the right and found a seam around right end, shooting through it and out-running the defense for an 80-yard touchdown.
The Cardinals bounced back. Sciba nearly broke it the distance on a kick return, finally getting tripped up at the Covenant 43. St. Paul used up 10 plays to cover the distance, with Hollenbach carrying most of the load and finishing the drive with a 1-yard scoring plunge. Cole Hybnerís PAT kick was off, but St. Paul had a 20-14 lead.
Stewart brought the Cougars right back, engineering a 64-yard march capped by a 30-yard bomb to Jordan Cross with 4:06 left in the half.
The Cardinals pushed to the Covenant 37 on their next drive, but Jake Quattrochi picked off a pass from Pesek on a fourth-and-3 play from there and Pesek returned the favor when he intercepted a Stewart pass in the final seconds of the half.
The Cardinals got the ball to start the second half but disaster struck on the second play after Hollenbach, who set a single-season TAPPS rushing TD record this year, came down hard on an 8-yard gain and was helped off the field.
Kennedy, like Hollenbach just a sophomore, stepped in and the Cardinal offense kept right on ticking. Kennedy carried on seven of the next 11 plays and the Cardinals managed to overcome three illegal-procedure penalties, converting twice on fourth-down situations with passes from Pesek to Sciba. The first was good for a 4-yard pickup on fourth and 4, while the second game on a fourth-and-8 at the Covenant 35 and Sciba ducked a tackle to turn it into a 35-yard scoring play.
Covenant came right back, however, to regain the lead. A Stewart pass to Adam Maxie started off as a simple swing pass, but Maxie shrugged off two tacklers and nearly went the distance before Sciba hauled him down after a 78-yard gain. Three plays later, Stewart dialed his own number to score and make it a 27-26 game.
St. Paul charged right back to regain the lead. A 43-yard burst from Kennedy launched the drive, and Pesek made a fine option fake before keeping it himself to cover the final 13 yards on the opening play of the final period. He then passed to a backpedaling Justin Natal for a 2-point conversion that put the Cardinals on top 34-27.
The Cougars responded quickly. This time Stewart and Cross hooked up on a 45-yard bomb, then Stewart looped another toss to Cross in the corner of the end zone for a 15-yard scoring strike to tie the game at 34.
The Cardinals took the next kickoff with 9:26 left in the game, and again engineered a long, patient scoring drive to regain the lead -- this time for good. The Cardinals covered 80 yards in 11 plays, with Pesek nailing Sciba with a 22-yard pass on a third-and-14 to keep the drive alive, and Kennedy ran it in from the 10.
Cole Hybnerís PAT kick gave St. Paul a 41-34 lead with 3:19 remaining.
The big break for the Cardinals came on the ensuing kickoff, when Cross and Maxie miscommunicated on a fake reverse on a kickoff and the ball came loose. Sciba -- voted the Cardinals game MVP by the media covering the contest -- pouned on the ball at the Covenant 15, and four plays later Pesek converted a fourth-and-2 into a 7-yard scoring run that made it 48-34 with just 53 seconds left on the clock.
But 53 seconds for the Cougars turned out to be plenty of time to mount a comeback. Stewart picked up one first down with a 28-yard completion to Trey Jackson, then a defensive holding call moved the ball to the St. Paul 8-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Stewart looped another strike into the end zone and Cross pulled it away from defender Natal for the score.
Kresta smothered the onside kick with 16 seconds left, however, and the Cardinals were finally able to celebrate.
GAME STATISTICS:CC StP First Downs 15 23 Rushes-Yards 18-164 54-319 Passing Yards 299 83 Passes 10-18-2 6-12-1 Punts-Avg 1-38 2-42.5 Penalties-Yards 3-35 15-105 Fumbles-Lost 3-2 1-0 SCORING SUMMARY: 1 2 3 4 -- Final Covenant Christian 7 14 6 14 -- 41 Shiner St. Paul 14 6 14 14 -- 48 SCORING DETAILS: First Quarter StP -- Martin Kennedy 13 run (Cole Hybner kick), 10:36 StP -- Brandon Sciba 8 pass from Devin Pesek (C.Hybner kick), 7:01 CC -- Austin Barr 17 pass from Chase Stewart (Brooks Friedman kick), 2:33 Second Quarter CC -- Stewart 80 run (Friedman kick), 11:48 StP -- Adam Hollenbach 1 run (kick failed), 7:23 CC -- Jordan Cross 30 pass from Stewart (Friedman kick), 4:06 Third Quarter StP -- Sciba 35 pass from Pesek (pass failed), 3:40 CC -- Stewart 1 run (pass failed), 1:19 Fourth Quarter StP -- Pesek 13 run (Justin Natal pass from Pesek), 11:54 CC -- Cross 15 pass from Stewart (Friedman kick), 9:26 StP -- Kennedy 10 run (C.Hybner kick), 3:19 StP -- Pesek 7 run (C.Hybner kick), 0:53 CC -- Cross 8 pass from Stewart (Friedman kick), 0:16 INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS: Rushing Covenant, Chase Stewart 11-125, Micah Lutz 4-20, Adam Maxie 1-15, Kade Thomas 1-2, Austin Welch 1-2. StPaul, Martin Kennedy 21-148, Adam Hollenbach 17-93, Devin Pesek 12-65, Brandon Sciba 2-10, Brandon Metcalfe 2-3. Passing Covenant, Stewart 10-18-2-299. St. Paul, Pesek 6-12-1-83. Receiving Covenant, Jordan Cross 5-102, Jacob Taunton 2-72, Adam Maxie 1-78, Trey Jackson 1-28, Micah Lutz 1-6. St. Paul, Brandon Sciba 4-69, Brett Hodges 1-8, Martin Kennedy 1-6.