By Travis M. Smith | Ellis County Sports Sports
Two first-half turnovers and a pair of missed scoring opportunities spelled disaster for the No. 7 (11-2) Red Oak Hawks against No. 1 (12-1) Aledo on Saturday night in the 5A Division II Region II regional semifinals at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Aledo scored 14 of its 21 second-quarter points courtesy of a fumbled snap on a punt and an interception en route to the 34-14 victory.
The Bearcats ultimately outgained the Hawks 387 total yards to 291, though gained just two more first downs (19-17).
The Hawks have still yet to reach the fourth round of the football postseason. This season marked the third time for the program to reach the regional semifinals and the 11 wins are the most in program history.
The Red Oak offense looked as though it couldn’t and wouldn’t be stopped on the opening drive, marching 54 yards to the Aledo 20-yard line only to miss a 37-yard field goal attempt.
Red Oak had a first-and-goal opportunity from the 1-yard line before ultimately losing 13 yards on a pair of sacks and another 5 yards thanks to an offensive penalty.
The Hawk defense then bowed its neck to force a turnover on downs and the offense once again marched down the field — this time needing nine plays to move to the Aledo 28-yard line. Red Oak ultimately turned the football over on downs on the 10th snap of the drive and facing a fourth-and-16 situation from the Bearcats’ 25-yard line.
Four plays later, all-everything running back Jase McClellan (20-178) promptly broke the scoreless tie with a 62-yard rushing touchdown with 8:45 to play in the second quarter. The future University of Oklahoma Sooner found a hole in the middle of the line and then outran the Hawk defensive backs to the right pylon for a 7-0 Aledo lead.
With momentum in their corner, the Bearcat defense then forced a quick three-and-out — highlighted by a sack of Joshua Ervin — and then capitalized when a poor snap led to a fumble and easy 7-yard scoop-and-score for Bryan Allen.
In just over two minutes of game time, the Hawks quickly found themselves in a 14-0 hole after a scoreless start.
The Red Oak offense then found itself in a crucial fourth-and-2 situation at its 38-yard line with 5:56 to play in the second quarter. Following an Aledo timeout, CJ Palmer (16-106) bulldozed his way forward for four yards and a first down to continue the drive.
The first down also kept hope alive for the Hawks. Unfortunately, the feeling was short-lived.
Aledo defensive back Nathen Fingar caught a lucky bounce off of a deflected pass to put the football back in the hands of the Bearcat offense. An illegal blindside block forced Aledo to start from its 13-yard line following the second Red Oak turnover of the young ball game.
The Bearcats used five consecutive running plays to move near midfield and followed with a play-action pass to a wide-open Cade Jones (1-32) that moved the Aledo offense to the Red Oak 23-yard line. The chunk play forced the Hawks to call a timeout with 2:00 showing on the first-half clock.
At that point in the game, even holding Aledo to a field goal would’ve proved huge for the Red Oak defense and the team’s psyche before breaking for the halftime locker room.
Facing third-and-6, Chris Sanchez nearly intercepted a screen pass intended for McClellan — and had he have pulled down the ill-advised pass that grazed eight of his 10 fingers, there was nothing but turf ahead of him.
It still appeared that the Hawk defense had done their job to prevent a touchdown, as the Bearcat special teams unit took the field for a potential 41-yard field goal. Head coach Tim Buchanan then decided to try his luck on fourth-and-11 following a 5-yard false start…and it worked in the Bearcats’ favor.
Jake Bishop (7-17, 108 yards) found Jo Jo Earle (5-59) in double coverage for a 23-yard completion in the middle of the field to set up the Aledo offense with a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. McClellan carried the ensuing snap 1-yard for the touchdown and 21-0 Aledo lead with six seconds showing on the second-quarter clock.
Red Oak entered the halftime locker room with 104 total yards of offense, six first downs and in search of a miracle second-half comeback, while Aledo had amassed 226 total yards and 11 first downs. The Bearcats scored 14 points off of two Red Oak turnovers.
Both leading rushers fared well in the opening half, with McClellan pacing the Bearcat offense with 10 carries for 100 yards and Palmer leading Red Oak with nine rushes for 82 yards.
Aledo received the second-half kickoff and both teams ultimately turned the football over on downs, though Red Oak’s 11-play, 57-yard drive impressively moved the ball from the Hawk’s 6-inch line across midfield.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, the Bearcats would not be denied a chance to add to their lead on the second possession of the half.
Aledo needed four plays for Bishop to find Earle for a 6-yard touchdown and 28-0 Bearcat lead. Bishop began the drive with a 34-yard quarterback keeper.
The Red Oak offense sputtered on its ensuing possession and was forced to punt the football back to the Bearcats, who had no intention of letting off of the gas.
Aledo promptly marched inside the Red Oak 30-yard line behind a 35-yard run by McClellan as the third quarter closed.
Facing a fourth-and-15 from the 26-yard line, Bishop nearly connected with Earle in the end zone on the first snap of the fourth quarter. Thankfully the ball hit the turf and was turned over the Hawks with 11:52 to play in the game.
The Hawk offense once again proved it was more than capable of moving the football on its ensuing drive, needing just five plays to move inside the Aledo 35-yard line.
Three plays later on fourth-and-8, Red Oak quarterback Joshua Ervin (23-30, 227 yards) rolled to his right and found Zach Sanders for a 12-yard gain and first down with just over eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
Two plays and one Aledo personal foul later, Ervin found Cavil (11-111) for a 14-yard touchdown with 7:47 to play. The extra-point kick was partially blocked, leaving Red Oak down 28-6.
The onside kick attempt was recovered by Aledo, which allowed for the Bearcats to put the game away with a methodical 10-play, 53-yard drive capped by an 18-yard touchdown run by Jeremiah James. The extra-point kick was missed and held the Aledo advantage at 34-6 with 2:49 to play in the fourth quarter.
Red Oak did not go away quietly, though. Ervin completed four consecutive passes — two each to Cavil and Raymond Gay II (6-67) — to move the offense to the Aledo 7-yard line.
Palmer rushed across the goal line two snaps later for his 22nd rushing touchdown of the season and Cavil converted on the two-point attempt with a rushing score to pull Red Oak within three scores, 34-14, with 1:06 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The onside kick attempt was once again recovered by Aledo and allowed the Bearcats to run out the clock for the 5A Division II Region II semifinal championship.
Aledo faces (12-1) Ennis at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the 5A Division II Region II championship inside The Ford Center at The Star in Frisco.
All photos by Kirk Holt/Ellis County Sports Sports
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith