ARLINGTON — Aledo entered its matchup against Calallen as an overwhelming favorite.

But the Wildcats and legendary coach Phil Danaher battled until the bitter end in a 24-16 loss to Aledo.

The Bearcats claimed their seventh state championship in school history – and sixth since 2009 – after doing just enough down the stretch to pull away from Calallen.

“These kids are unbelievable,” Aledo coach Steve Wood said. “Look at our fans – it’s a neat place to be. It’s as good as it gets.”

After forcing a punt on Aledo’s opening possession, the Wildcats came up with a big interception early in the first quarter. But in the process of the return, Calallen fumbled the ball deep in its own territory to set up the eventual icebreaker for Aledo on a 5-yard touchdown run by Rhett Harris.

The Wildcats’ offense promptly responded with a classic Danaher drive, marching down the field on 15 plays and taking 7:14 off the clock before settling for a field goal to bring the game within 7-3 in the second quarter.

Aledo added another field goal late in the second half as the Calallen defense continued to step up and hold the explosive offense in check, but the Bearcats’ dynamic freshman Jase McClellan finally got going in the third quarter.

McClellan busted off a 59-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 17-3, and the freshman finished with a game-high 98-yards on the ground.

“I think it made a big difference to come out after halftime with a big play,” McClellan said. “We went into halftime we told ourselves we had to pound them, and that’s what we did. We got on the board, and got up quick.”

Even after the McClellan touchdown appeared to put the game out of reach, Calallen bounced right back behind the physical leadership of quarterback Gaige Lamb. Lamb’s 32-yard touchdown run made it 17-10 in the third, and the Wildcats forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff to set up a real opportunity to tie the game.

However, the Aledo defense – led by a monster performance from the interior defensive line – forced a punt.

The Bearcats were able to close the game out from there in the fourth quarter to escape in what turned into a much closer game than most expected.

“Those boys came to play,” Wood said of Calallen. “Those boys came to play over there. They are the real deal. We are very fortunate to have won this football game.”

In his first appearance on the biggest stage, McClellan took home offensive MVP honors for his performance. The freshman finished the season with 1,528 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns.

“This award means everything,” McClellan said. “Coming out here as a freshman and receiving the offensive player of the game award feels amazing.”