If Amarillo High’s season were a movie, no one would have possibly thought that Friday night’s happy ending would be plausible considering how depressing the first act was.
But the story arc has been curving precipitously upward, with the heroes riding out of Dick Bivins Stadium with a gold ball as the credits rolled.
Hosting unbeaten Abilene Cooper in a showdown for the outright District 2-5A Division I championship, everything fell into place for the Sandies, who never trailed. Despite being outgained by Cooper’s powerful offense, Amarillo High still made the big plays when it most counted and came away with a 49-35 victory.
In his second year at Amarillo High and eighth year as a head coach, it was hard for Chad Dunnam to overstate the importance of the win.
“First of all we won a district championship so that’s special,” Dunnam said. “We played really well offensively and really well defensively against a great offensive team. What I take most from this game is these seniors are district champs and that’s something no one can take away.”
It’s something that didn’t seem likely when the Sandies (8-2, 6-0 in district) opened the season with a 31-0 loss to Frenship, casting doubt on their ability to compete in district play. But that game served as motivation for the rest of the season, as the improvement they showed each week culminated with Friday night’s smashing regular season finale.
While it was a time to celebrate Friday night, there’s more ahead for the Sandies, who will host a playoff game next week. Beating Cooper (9-1, 5-1) was just another step on the journey.
“We’ve got the gold ball but there’s more to come,” said senior running back BLake Bedwell, who ran for 88 yards and three touchdowns, including a 4-yarder with less than two minutes left to wrap up the win. “Why not do it your senior year?”
There were plenty of big plays and emotion, not to mention some good fortune for Amarillo High, especially in the first half. That’s when the Sandies scored 21 unanswered points thanks to some huge plays on third down and took a 28-14 halftime lead.
Bedwell scored his first touchdown on an 11-yard run for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Cooper answered late in the first quarter on Noah Garcia’s 17-yard scoring run to tie it 7-7. It was the first of Garcia’s two scoring runs, as he ran for a game-high 226 yards on 26 carries.
After that, though, it was mostly Amarillo High, as the Sandies scored on their next three possessions. The first half turned 47 seconds into the second quarter when they faced a third-and-12 from their own 47.
Will Maynard got out of the pocket to escape a pass rush threw a deep ball that looked intended for Davin Lemmons. It was tipped by a Cooper defender, but ended up un the hands of Amarillo High receiver Cayden Phillips, who took it to the end zone for a 53-yard scoring play to make it 14-7.
“We talked about having a little bit of luck in a game like this,” Dunnam said. “But you make your own luck and it starts with hustle.”
That began a harbinger of good fortune for the Sandies on third-and-long plays. Amarillo High forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession and got the ball back at midfield.
On third-and-10, Maynard threw for Davin Lemmons and it was incomplete, but well after the play ended, Cooper’s Isaiah Boutte hit Lemmons late, drawing a flag. Not only did that incur a 15-yard penalty and a first down for the Sandies, it got Boutte (also Cooper’s punter) ejected from the game.
Four plays later, Taevon Hood scored the first of his two touchdowns on a 14-yard run to make it 21-7.
The Sandies forced another three-and-out. They eventually faced a third-and-11 at Cooper’s 43 and Maynard was forced to take off from the pocket, but he turned it into a 28-yard gain.
Bedwell scored his second touchdown two plays later for a 28-7 lead, and the Sandies never relinquished momentum.
“We knew we were going to have to play four quarters but we’ve been playing four quarters all year long,” Dunnam said.
Cooper got to within seven points twice in the second half, as Aidan Thompson threw three touchdown passes to keep the Cougars in it. They actually outgained the Sandies by a 520-346 margin.
It was 35-28 midway through the fourth quarter when the Sandies faced a third-and-11 at the Cooper 48. Maynard was again forced out of the pocket and was on the verge of being sacked, but again he converted, flipping a short pass to Hood, who took it for a 26-yard gain to break Cooper’s back.
“Plays just break down but when they do it really forces you to see the field well,” Maynard said. “I like moving back there a little bit when it breaks down. No one thought we were gong to be here with a chance to win the district, but here we are.”
Maynard threw a 10-yard scoring pass to Lemmons to make it 42-28. The Cougars responded with a 9-yard scoring pass from Thompson to Dylon Davis with 3:10 left to cut it to 42-35.
Cooper tried an onside kick, and not only did Amarillo High’s Trey Thomas field it, but he ran it back 30 yards to the Cooper 19. That set up Bedwell’s third score to ice the win.
Amarillo High 49, Abilene Cooper 35
Cooper 7 7 7 14 — 35
Amarillo High 7 21 7 14 — 49
AHS—Blake Bedwell 11 run (A.J. Villar kick), 8:45
C—Noah Garcia 17 run (Richie Aleman kick), 1:07
AHS—Cayden Phillips 53 pass from Will Maynard (Villar kick), 11:13
AHS—Taevon Hood 15 run (Villar kick), 8:36
AHS—Bedwell 10 run (Villar kick), 1:44
C—Garcia 20 run (Aleman kick), 1:19
AHS—Hood 28 run (Villar kick), 3:57
C—Izaiah Clark 29 pass from Aidan Thompson (Aleman kick), 1:35
C—Marcus Gomez 19 pass from Thompson (Aleman kick), 7:31
AHS—Davin Lemmons 10 pass from Maynard (Villar kick), 4:31
C—Dylon Davis 9 pass from Thompson (Aleman kick), 3:10
AHS—Bedwell 4 run (Villar kick), 1:57
Cooper Amarillo High
First downs 24 19
Rushing 299 210
Passing 221 136
Total yards 520 346
C-A-I 19-34-1 11-23-0
Punts-Avg. 4-24.3 5-40.0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 12-112 5-60
RUSHING—Cooper: Garcia 26-226, Jessus Menjivar 9-54, Daelin Campos 2-4, Aeneas Favors 1-4, Thompson 2-11. Amarillo High: Bedwell 17-88, Maynard 11-64, Hood 9-58.
PASSING—Cooper: Thompson 19-34-1-221. Amarillo High: Maynard 11-23-0-136
RECEIVING—Cooper: Campos 5-39, Gomez 2-22, Braiden Hill 2-23, Menjivar 1-12, Garcia 3-9, Davis 4-72, Izaiah Clark 2-44. Amarillo High: Hood 2-28, Lemmons 6-37, Phillips 1-53, Bryson Slaughter 1-8, Caden Mincey 1-10.