Cedar Park eliminated the upset-minded Canyon Cougars 27-16 during a Christmas Eve showdown Thursday afternoon in New Braunfels.
Canyon’s defense knocked the high-octane Timberwolves (12-0) out of rhythm at times, but Cedar Park managed to put together enough big strikes to survive the Class 5A Division I regional matchup. Three of the T-Wolves’ four touchdowns came from 27 or more yards away.
Cedar Park’s defense also came up huge when it absolutely had to. Josh Bretz picked off a pass late in the fourth quarter to erase a Canyon takeaway that came moments earlier, and defensive end Hunter Hewitt later sacked quarterback Dallas Gomez to force a turnover on downs that clinched the win.
The Timberwolves’ lead ballooned to 27-10 — their largest of the game — after halftime when Ryder Hernandez hit Josh Cameron for a 27-yard TD strike.
The Cougars (11-2) answered when Micah Williford took a short pass and shed several tacklers en route to an 85-yard TD pass late in the third quarter. From there, however, Cedar Park’s “Black Rain” defense held Canyon at bay.
The Timberwolves found themselves deadlocked in a 6-6 tie midway through the second quarter but ended the first half with a flurry. Hernandez fired a 40-yard TD strike to Jack Hestera, and following a three-and-out by the Cougars, Hernandez directed a seven-play march that was capped with his 10-yard scoring toss to Gunnar Abseck that came with 27 seconds remaining.
Hernandez’s first scoring toss of the game came on a quick shovel pass to Cameron in the first quarter that the receiver grabbed before getting to the outside and into the end zone.
Canyon answered with an 8-yard TD throw from Gomez to Kyle Endsley that came after the Cougars rolled the dice and picked up a big fourth-down conversion with a 30-yard pass play.
The Cougars slowed Cedar Park’s air raid offense with their own methodical, run-oriented style, but Canyon was taken out of its comfort zone down the stretch due to its two-score deficit and was forced to throw more often than it would have liked. Gomez completed just six of his 19 throws as the Cougars struggled to get anything going on offense consistently.
Hernandez had no such difficulties, finishing 32 for 47 passing for 422 yards, four scores and one pick. His top targets were Cameron and Abseck, who combined to haul in 20 throws for 266 yards and three total scores.
Hestera added 87 yards and a TD on three receptions, while Preston Scott made six grabs for 56 yards.
Cedar Park now advances to face Manvel in the Class 5A Division I Region IV final on New Year’s Day. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. at Bryan ISD’s Merrill Green Stadium.