Just one week removed from capping off their district championship season with a 52-28 win over Athens, the Crandall Pirates returned to Bruce Field as the number one seed in 4A District 9 to take on the fourth seed of District 10, the Kilgore Bulldogs. Although Kilgore finished the night with more offensive yards, Crandall took the night thanks to one vital strategy: holding onto the ball.
Crandall finished the night with no less than five different turnovers including two interceptions and three fumbles, all of which were recovered by the Pirates. And though a stellar Kilgore defense made it difficult for the Pirates to make the most of their scoring opportunities, several key mistakes from the Bulldogs coupled with a strong night for the Crandall defense resulted in the Pirates’ bi-district championship win and their advancement to the area round of competition against Little Cypress-Mauriceville on Friday.
Kilgore started the game with the first possession and the lengthiest sustaining drive from either team. Carrying the ball from their own 30 to the Crandall 10 in 14 plays, the 5-5 East Texas team looked strong, boasting two third down conversions and another on fourth. But as they started their 14th play on first and goal, a blitz from the Pirates forced a fumble which was recovered by Calob Davis, dashing the Bulldogs’ chances of an early score and beginning a recurring trend of critical turnovers.
The Pirates started off their ensuing drive with a bang as quarterback Holt Reese connected with Billy Myers for an 18-yard bomb. But the drive stalled following two incomplete passes and the Pirates kicked it away to give the Bulldogs another shot at the board.
This time, the Crandall defense was ready, forcing a turnover on downs off a fourth and seven capped by a major league tackle from Crandall’s Carl Johnson. Though Crandall began their ensuing drive with promise, putting together two third down conversions, Kilgore answered Crandall’s defense from the previous drive with a sack on fourth and long, setting themselves up with decent field position on their own 42. But six plays into this drive, the Bulldogs made another critical error when quarterback Dalton Mcelyea pitched an interception to Crandall’s Luke Spitzer. Three plays later, Crandall freshman Sammy Omosigho broke through for a 61-yard dash to the end zone to put the Pirates on the board 7-0 with 2:32 remaining in the half.
The misery wasn’t over for the Bullogs yet as four plays into their next drive, Mcelyea pitched another interception, this one caught by Mason Daugherty. They held onto the ball for a quarter-straddling drive into Kilgore territory, but were forced to punt it away after 11 plays into the Kilgore red zone. Here, the Bulldogs made another critical mistake following a strong stand from the Crandall defense that forced a punt in three plays. On fourth and two from the Kilgore 17, an errant snap sailed over the Kilgore punter’s head, giving the Pirates plenty of time to swarm him and force a turnover on down inside the Kilgore 10. It was academic at that point as Omosigho made a quick sprint to the end zone to put the Pirates up 14-0, which would ultimately be the game’s final score.
With 5:18 on the clock in the third quarter and another full quarter to go in a rapidly decreasing temperature, the Pirates goal at this point of the game transitioned to running out the clock on offense and holding the line on defense. Both teams put up drives to nowhere to close out the third quarter and an early fourth quarter drive from Kilgore ended abruptly with yet another fumble from Mcelyea recovered by David Omosigho. Though the Pirates were unable to convert that new possession into points, it did force the Bulldogs to start over yet again, this time from their own 25. Two monstrous pass completions amidst 13 yard drive from the Bulldogs put them at first and goal at the Pirates’ 2, giving them by far their best chance to score with the clock counting down from three. But the Crandall defense stepped up for the final time of the evening, pushing the Bulldogs back and ultimately forcing a final fumble that was recovered by Omosigho to clench the shut-out.
Omosigho had the night of his career with 59 rushing yards and two touchdowns off of just six carries on offense, plus the game-clenching fumble recovery on defense. Reese had a strong night as well with a 66.7 pass completion percentage and 122 passing yards, many of which were picked up on the other end by Billy Myers who finished the night with five receptions and 61 receiving yards for an average of 12.2 yards per catch.
Crandall head coach Joe Cary was particularly complimentary of him team’s defense in the game and was pleased by Omosigho’s performance on both sides of the ball.
“It was a lot of fun,” Cary said. “We knew that Kilgore were going to be a huge challenge and they were. Once again our defense was really the story of the game. Any time you hold somebody to zero, you’re going to have a pretty good chance to win. We were able to make a couple of big plays. Sammy Omosigho our freshman, we kind of brought him in as a short-range wildcat-type quarterback. We don’t coach him a lot on it; we just let him be an athlete and he proved us right.”
On Friday at Area, the Pirates will match up with the Little Cypress-Mauriceville Bears, coming off of their 48-21 bi-district round win over Stafford. The Bears capped their district season in third place with a 3-2 record following a 20-14 overtime loss to second seed Lumberton, who have also advanced to the area round against the undefeated Carthage Bulldogs. Crandall and Mauriceville will both have a long journey ahead of them as they meet at Nacogdoches High School at 7 p.m. on Friday. It will be a long bus ride for both teams.
Should the Pirates come up with a win over Mauriceville, they will face the winner of the Lumberton/Carthage game at Regionals. But Coach Cary, who grew up in southeast Texas and has known the Mauriceville coach Randy Crouch for over a decade, is not taking the Bears lightly.
“They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Cary said. “They broke a 22-year streak so they’re feeling pretty good about things down there right now. They’re athletic, hard-nosed kids. Southeast Texas, actually where I come from, has got a bunch of blue collar-type kids that are going to play hard and get after it. Their quarterback Ethan McCollum is their focal point. He’s a dynamic athlete, so we’re going to have to know where he is and what he’s doing. Hopefully our defense can rise to the occasion again.”