Photo via Alfredo Vazquez, TexasHSFootball.com
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS – For the first time in 11 years, Phil Danaher and his Calallen Wildcats are heading to the State Championship after defeating College Station High School, 31-30 at the Alamodome Friday night.
The win, highlighted by multiple lead changes, was won in exciting fashion by Calallen, sending their tenured head coach to the summit of Texas High School 5A football for only the second time in his career.
“Well I’ll tell you what, we’ll take a win any way we can get it but that was a rough one there,” A relieved Head Coach Phil Danaher said. “They’re (College Station) very talented and our defense stopped them when we needed to stop them.”
The Calallen icon, who is the winningest coach in Texas High School football history, said despite some mistakes that hurt his team, he could not fault their effort, which was apparent from the start of the game.
Despite kicking off to start the contest, Calallen gained the early momentum after the opening kick was muffed by the Cougars and recovered by Colton Duff to give the Wildcats the first offensive possession. However, after four plays, College Station atoned for their error and caused a turnover on downs to regain possession.
Marquez Perez led his offense down the field, with the help of a catch and run of 25 yards from Harrison Wellman to put the Cougars in Wildcat territory. Marquez converted on a 3rd down to keep the drive alive, then scored three plays later on a 4-yard QB keeper to give College Station the early 7-0 lead.
Wildcat QB Gaige Lamb was not to be outdone as he reeled off a long 54-yard TD run for Calallen’s first score of the day. After two consecutive false start penalties, the Wildcats would take the extra point attempt from 30 yard line, but it was blocked by College Station’s Jaelin Campbell to keep the Cougars in the lead, 7-6. Campbell would continue making big plays on the ensuing series, keeping the drive with a huge pitch and catch with Marquez. The Cougars were only able to muster up a field goal after three stops from the Wildcat defense as Ryan Bowersox drilled a 40-yard field goal to extend the Cougar lead to 10-6.
Just as they did on their second series, Phil Danaher’s Wildcats marched down the field. The drive was highlighted by a 46-yard reception from John Gaddis to put Calallen in scoring position. With the ball on the 2-yard line, the Wildcats faced a 4th down, and RB Alec Brown answered the call, taking the ball into the end zone for the score. Controversy ensued when the two-point conversion, which was believed to be converted as Lamb took the QB keeper inside the pylon, was ruled no good to keep the score at 12-10 with 1:31 seconds left in the half.
Running an effective two-minute offense, Marquez and his troops marched down the field with a combination of effective clock management to set up a back-corner fade to WR Eric Peterson, who barely got his feet in to score. The Cougars went for two and failed to leave the score going into the half with a 16-12.
To start the second half, the Wildcats were stalled on what seemed to be a three-and-out, but Lamb, who lined up as the punter, seemed to take an unintentional fake punt seven yards for a first down. The momentum shifted the way of Calallen as they marched down the field for two more first downs before facing yet another 4th down in Cougar territory. Lamb took the reins once again, this time out of the shotgun formation, and not only gained the first down, but went into the end zone for a 40-yard score, his second of the night. Grant Gonzales converted the point after to give Calallen the 19-16 lead.
“Gaige (Lamb) makes big plays,” said Danaher of his playcaller’s big game. “Our offensive line just gives him a bit of a seam and they are through. If you go three yards, four times, that’s a first down and that’s always been our game plan.”
After a short three and out from the Cougars, the Wildcats dictated the tempo taking the ball down the field. With ball inside the 10 yard line, the Wildcats were unable to take the ball into the end zone and settled for a Grant Gonzales field goal from 27 yards to extend the Calallen lead to 22-16 heading into the final quarter of play.
Immediately after, Perez would take the first play of the 4th quarter for a 72-yard TD run for his second score of the night. Ryan Bowersox’s PAT was blocked by a plethora of Wildcat defenders and scooped up by Calallen’s Phillip Lively, who took it all the way to the house for a two-point conversion, taking the score to 24-22 in Calallen’s favor.
The Wildcats failed to capitalize on the following possession and punted away. Eric Peterson took the Wildcat punt, and after eluding a multitude of defenders, found his way to end zone for a 42-yard touchdown. The Cougars would go for two and Perez would scamper in for the conversion, giving College Station the lead, 30-24.
The seesaw affair swung the way of Calallen on the ensuing possession as Lamb once again took the ball from under center and went 58 yards inside the College Station 5-yard line. He would punch it in for his third running score of the contest and Grant Gonzales would tack on the PAT to give Calallen the narrow 31-30 advantage. After halting the Cougars on 4th and short on a Marquez QB keeper, Calallen took over with 3:21 left in the game. College Station would hold Wildcats to a 3rd and 5 after using all three timeouts. The Wildcats would fumble the snap and College Station’s Anthony Flores recovered the loose ball to give the Cougars life. After yet another QB keeper for a Cougar first down from Perez, Steve Huff’s side faced 4th and 2 on the Calallen 45-yard line to keep their state dreams alive. This time, Marquez was unsuccessful on the keeper, and College Station would turn the ball over on downs.
College Station (14-1) suffered their first loss of the season, but Head Coach still was optimistic about his team’s performance.
“This is a great bonded group and they’ve just turned into men right in front of us,” Huff said. “To win fourteen straight ball games, to me, is just nothing short of fantastic. They played their tails off tonight.”
The victory formation assembled and the Calallen Wildcats were headed to Arlington for a chance at the 5A Division II State Championship.
Danaher said it was fitting to be heading to the title game for the first time in 11 years due to the fact that his high school football number and his lucky number happen to be eleven.
“Two good friends came up to me this week and said “look we found a dime and a penny, it’s destiny’ and gave me both of them,” Danaher said. “I said good things are going to happen and they did tonight.”
“Well I know they (The Wildcats) will be excited and so will I be,” Danaher said. “It’s going to be a matchup (vs. Aledo), but it’s going to be an honor to be there.”
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