COLLEGE STATION — Of the 64 Division II teams that strolled confidently into the Adidas 7-on-7 State Championship, only two had the chance to call themselves champions Saturday at Veteran's Park and Athletic Complex.
One was an offensive 6A powerhouse and the other was a growing ball-hawking gem from the UIL 5A ranks that used interceptions to flip the script and turn what usually is an offensive spectacle into Masters degree-level schooling in a first-class defense.
Despite falling in the title game after a failed late-game two-point conversion careened off the fingertips of Tevin Wofford, the loss may not show the true nature of the Indians journey to the top. It may also not detail the Indian brotherhood's three-game rage against the machine, where it dominated every team in Pool M, or gutsy comebacks against Cedar Park and Lake Travis High School.
"That's what we do. That's what we're about," said Caleb High, an incoming senior and Waxahachie High School's starting middle linebacker. "No one does this alone and we move and win as a unit. We're more underrated than most people think but when the season starts, that will change. It's kind of hard to tell which will be better — our offense or defense."
While starting quarterback Bryse Salik went 151 for 200 and threw 30 touchdowns and shredded defensive schemes with terrifying accuracy and Wofford, Jeff Alexander, Kevin Green and the Indian wrecked opposing teams' plans for victory, the defense not so quietly made a statement to the teams of District 10-5A.
Both in its resiliency and versatility.
From fans perspective perched on the sidelines, you could hear High changing plays the same way as salty New England Patriot veteran Tom Brady calls an audible.
"Brady, Brady," High yelled during the first half of the Indians 44-25 dismantling on Arlington Lamar High School, evidence of the defense's ability to adapt on a dime.
The wins en route to the championship, however, would have been nothing without the play of Jarreth Sterns and the defensive backfield. Waxahachie tallied 24 total interceptions during the nine-game state tournament.
Eleven belonged to Jarreth and another four belonged to his younger brother Josh. His coup de grace, though, may have been the interceptions he grabbed during a 47-41 victory against Cedar Park High School.
"It's really not as much me as it's us trusting our technique and that the coaching will put us in the right position to be successful," Jarreth said. "That's what helped us beat Cedar Park and what almost gave us a win against Lake Travis. Now is when the grind begins, where there are no days off to improve on and build off of what we did against some of the best offensive talent in the state."
The 5-foot-9 Waxahachie transfer also caught 51 balls and 11 touchdowns — including a last-second, clutch game-winning grab against Cedar Park's Timberwolves — from the H position. Kevin Pointer, the head 7-on-7 football coach at Waxahachie High School, said that position, unlike other positions in 7-on-7 football, has one of two options, one as a primary receiver and the other as a pass catcher out of the backfield.
The Indians bolted past Bush and Clear Brook High Schools after breaking up a last-second Hail Mary and earning a 42-35 victory and stifling a late offensive charge to win 46-26, respectively. During the Bush match up, Wofford caught his seventh touchdown during the day. Though Bush tried to keep pace with speedy Waxahachie, it wasn't enough to keep them away from their destiny — the state championship game.
Though Lake Travis took an early lead, Salik and Waxahachie erased the deficit with efficient passes and blue-chip determination. Pointer said that there was something to being the last teams in the state, as well as the last Ellis County team, fighting for a tournament title.
"It's a testament to the hard work and dedication these guys put into summer football. It's no cake walk. They go to performance course and transition right into 7-on-7," Pointer said. "The fact that they pushed 6A Lake Travis to their limit is big time, too. If I'm not mistaken, those guys either came close to winning [the state championship] or won it last year. Even when they were down in points, they weren't down on themselves. They knew they had done it before and that they could do it again."
The Indians nearly made a second comeback in the same 24-hour span against a Cavalier team that reached the beat The Woodlands High School 41-6 in the 2016 UIL 6A state championship game. Twenty-five members of that team were returning juniors and another six were sophomores.
Almost half of their championship roster.
As the Cavaliers' lead shrunk, though, Waxahachie's confidence — and opportunity to bring a piece of history and an adidas 7-on-7 championship belt — grew.
So much so that a familiar school chant broke out across the Indians' sideline. Some came after a key pass breakup and others came after another flash of brilliance from Wofford, one of the tournament's most dominant players.
Perhaps no other player — outside of Jarreth — used the state tournament to cement his name in the conversation of the upcoming season's much-watch athletes. To him during the tournament stretch, though, it was less about the boy Tevin and more about the ones to his left and right.
"I had something to play for and I realized I was better than I thought I was after I started playing for my brothers," Wofford said plainly, staring at Lake Travis laugh, cavort and take photos with the 7-on-7 title. "We all came out here to win a state 7-on-7 championship but the whole time, I wasn't playing for the that. I was playing for them. It's us against the world, together and 100."
That included erasing a seven-point halftime deficit to Lake Travis High School, despite the game's finale and a decision to go for the win with a two-point conversion rather than the safer on-point play. He said though they could have tread the traditional route, abstract is how he and his "brothers" live, strive and survive.
"We go for the win. It's as simple as that," Wofford continued. "Could we have taken the easy point and sent it into overtime? Yeah, we could have. But that's not how winners operate. That's not how we operate. It's all or nothing with us. That's who we are and what keeps the heartbeat going."
Marcus S. Marion, @MarcusMarionWNI