WACO — The 5A Division 1 Area Championship was on the line Friday night at the Waco ISD Stadium. The Ennis Lions, representing 17-5A, were the underdogs coming into the match-up against the high-powered Cedar Park Timberwolves, the No. 15 ranked 5A team in Texas.
The Timberwolves had set their sights on another victory, as they hoped to further extend their march into the playoffs.
And the did so with a come-from-behind win over the Lions, 17-14.
The Timberwolves finally got their offense consistently moving in the third quarter via the arm of quarterback Ryan Fiala. After a long, sustained drive, he completed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Payden Sawicki, and the point-after kick was good by Lucas Bardshar. Next, Cedar Park used a halfback pass (43-yarder) to receiver Carlos Woolery to knot the contest at 14-14.
The game-decider became a successful fourth quarter 24-yard field goal. Cedar Park’s kicker Bardshar split the uprights with 5:05 left on the clock in the fourth quarter and sealed the game for Cedar Park.
The Timberwolves are no strangers to the state championship brackets. In fact, this game was somewhat of a pay-back owed to the Lions, as Ennis had snatched-away the Class 5A Division II title back in 2014 on a 36-yard touchdown pass with 21 seconds to play. Ennis rallied for a 38-35 victory. Since that time, Cedar Park has won two state championships.
The Lions, by winning the opening coin toss, had deferred to take the ball at the start of the second half. The kickoff had landed the Timberwolves on their 20-yard line to start the game. They were 3 and out, had to punt, and Ennis found themselves in good field position at their own 41-yard line, as they began their first offensive possession. Ennis seemed to be on track, as they drove 59 yards in 7 plays for the first score of the match-up. Quarterback Kademon Graff had thrown an 11-yard strike to running back James Harris for the game’s first touchdown. Lion kicker Trevor Oakland then booted the point-after through for a 7-0 early lead.
Cedar Park began a long, time-consuming drive from their own 23-yard line. They looked impressive as they moved the ball all the way down to Ennis’ 3-yard line. However, the Timberwolves quarterback Ryan Fiala came up empty-handed, as his third “fourth and goal pass” attempt was incomplete, and the Lions took over on downs (3-yard line of Ennis). The Ennis defense had remained strong and held their opponents to zero points.
The following Ennis possession was a quick, 97-yard drive that culminated in a 50-yard romp by running back Tycen Thompson. The Oakley point-after was true, and early in the second quarter, the Lions looked invincible, as they led 14-0.
Everything seemed to be going their way, as Ennis had completely dominated Cedar Park during the first half. Even the Timberwolves Bardshar had missed a 35-yard field goal in the middle of the second stanza. Both teams then took a rest at intermission time, and the score remained 14-0.
Call it fate, or an explosion of determination, or some very effective adjustments on their offensive and defensive teams, but Cedar Park came out with a vengeance to take-over the game in the second half.
The Lions received the kickoff and were quickly forced to punt because of a fourth and 5 situation. Cedar Park took over on their own 32 from there.
The turning point of the match very well might have been their decision to go for a first down on a fourth and 6 play, mid-way in their touchdown march. The Timberwolves faked a punt, then a long run placed them on Ennis’ 13-yard line. Four plays later, on a fourth and 1, Fiala got his team on the board with a pass and catch in the end zone by Payden Sawicki. Kicker Bardshar made the following point-after to make the new score 14-7.
Ennis’ woes were just beginning, as their fourth and 12 punt (Oakley) attempt was blocked by a fired-up Cedar Park defense. Starting a new drive on the Ennis 49-yard line, it only took the Timberwolves a 6-yard run and a 43-yard trick play (Fiala to HB Eric Shine to Woolery) to tie-up the game 14-14. After the equalizing score, the clock showed 2:57 left in the third quarter.
Cedar Park’s defense started some definite dominance themselves, as they stifled the Lions rushing game and made numerous tackles resulting in loss of yardage from scrimmage, on both rushing and passing plays.
The lone miscue of the game came about in the early stages of the fourth quarter, as the Timberwolves had put the ball on the carpet, and it was scooped up by the Lions at their own 43-yard line. On the ensuing set of downs, Ennis went for a fourth and 1 at Cedar Park’s 48. Graff had launched a long pass seemingly into the outstretched hands of tight end Jarius Jones, but a questionable “non-call” of pass interference left the Lions scratching their heads. Instead, the Timberwolves took over again on offense.
Just minutes before that Ennis disappointment, running back Thompson had scampered some 50+ yards down field to the Cedar Park 13-yard line, for an apparent first down. Several seconds after the long rushing play had ended, there appeared a late yellow flag by one of the game officials. A holding penalty, way back at the original line of scrimmage, had negated, yet again, a long gain and squashed a promising Lion advance.
Another Ennis opportunity had been thwarted by way of an unusual stoppage of play in the first half. Ennis had faked a punt on a fourth down, the ball was snapped to the up-back Thompson, who then threw to wide receiver Dylan Santos, who had nothing in front of him but open field. The referees then intervened in the game again, this time by a whistle after the play had commenced, their reasoning being the Lions hadn’t given Cedar Park proper time to line-up for the fourth down play.
After continuing to keep the pressure on Ennis’ offensive and defensive units in the fourth quarter, the game was finally decided by a successful 24-yard field goal by Bardshar.
The Timberwolves used-up the remainder of the clock, and they came away with a victory that lands them in the playoff picture again. They are set to take on their nemesis, Manvel High School, next Friday evening. Cedar Park’s overall record stands at 11-1 (with an 8-0 district record).
Ennis ends their season as Bi-District Champions and closes another winning year, but sadly without their sixth State title.