BELTON — Tasked with protecting what was left of an 18-point, second-half lead, Salado’s defense welcomed the opportunity that presented itself with 1:27 remaining in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s Class 4A Division II area-round playoff.
“Defense was excited,” Eagles senior Wrook Brown said. “Everyone wanted to be out there and make the plays.”
That’s what Salado did.
Needing a touchdown and backed up to their 11-yard line after a penalty, the Brahmas managed one first down and a 7-yard pick-up, before Kofi Stoglin batted away a pass, Lucas Morvant halted Bellville quarterback Jake Lischka for a 1-yard gain while keeping the signal-caller in bounds and Ryan Poe hit Lischka to force another incompletion on fourth down as time expired in the Eagles’ nail-biting 28-23 victory at Mary Hardin-Baylor’s Crusader Stadium.
“That drive was pretty much our season and none of us seniors want to go out, so we made it happen,” Stoglin said.
Because the Eagles (11-1) did, the District 9-4A-II champs advanced to the third round and will face Carthage in the Region III semifinals at 5:30 p.m. next Friday night at New Caney ISD’s Randall Reed Stadium. Bellville, which reached the postseason for the 10th straight season under head coach Grady Rowe, finished 9-2.
“I thought it was two great football teams battling. We each made mistakes that cost us but you have to forget about those and move to the next play. We’re going to enjoy (the win). I’m proud of our kids, our community, and our parents for letting them be a part of our program,” Salado head coach Alan Haire said. “Any time you practice during Thanksgiving, that’s a wonderful time. Not that I don’t like being around my family, but I love these kids, too. So, we’re going to balance that. But, practicing during Thanksgiving — not a lot of teams get to do that.”
The fourth playoff meeting between two tough-minded Slot-T aficionados since 2015 but first since a classic overtime thriller inside the Alamodome won by Salado in 2017 looked like it wouldn’t be that close again after Brown’s 6-yard touchdown run put the Eagles up 28-10 with 4:09 left in the third quarter.
But Bellville — which dedicated its season to linebacker Zach Hood, who died in a car accident during the summer — got Lischka touchdown passes of 33 yards to Kyle Peschel late in the third and 26 yards to Trevon Green at 5:49 of the fourth to get within five.
Then, after Salado’s Reid Vincent had a would-be game-clinching TD run negated because of a penalty, the Eagles punted it back to the Brahmas with 1:27 remaining.
The defensive stop ensued.
“When you have some of the weapons that we have and a little time on the clock, even though we didn’t have any timeouts, we felt good about it. We had the ball back and that was the goal but we made a couple mistakes and didn’t get it done,” Rowe said. “First thing our told our guys was how proud I am of them. Yeah, we want to win games but we’ve been through bigger adversity than losing tonight. The fact that we got to play in the playoffs, just so proud of our kids. We played hard all year.”
Noah Mescher paced Salado — which led 14-10 at halftime — with 148 yards rushing, and his 5-yard TD in the first quarter lifted the Eagles ahead 7-0. Brown tallied 93 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and Reid Vincent added 94 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown that gave Salado a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.
Bellville’s Richard Reese finished with a team-high 144 yards rushing, and Robert Briggs added a 31-yard scoring run.
“This team showed something that we’ve known all season — we have a lot of heart, and I thought that showed in some of the more trying times tonight,” Brown said.
SALADO 28, BELLVILLE 23
Salado 7 7 14 0 — 28
Bellville 7 3 7 6 — 23
Sal — Noah Mescher 5 run (Wrook Brown kick)
Bel — Robert Briggs 31 run (Benito Florencio kick)
Sal — Reid Vincent 56 run (Brown kick)
Bel — Florencio 25 field goal
Sal — Brown 10 run (Brown kick)
Sal — Brown 6 run (Brown kick)
Bel — Kyle Peschel 33 pass from Jake Lischka (Florencio kick)
Bel — Trevon Green 26 pass from Lischka (pass failed)
First downs 14 14
Rushes-yards 52-349 38-226
Passing yards 1 113
Comp.-Att.-Int. 1-2-0 7-14-0
Punts-average 3-22.3 2-28.5
Fumbles-lost 0 1-1
Penalties-yards 9-70 3-30
RUSHING — Salado: Mescher 24-148, Vincent 8-94, Brown 16-93, Hutton Haire 4-14; Bellville: Reese 22-144, Briggs 7-43, Lischka 6-22, Peschel 3-11.
PASSING — Salado: Haire 1-2-0-1; Bellville: Lischka 7-14-113.
RECEIVING — Salado: Brown 1-1; Bellville: Peschel 3-45, Brandt Okonski 2-14, Briggs 1-28, Green 1-26.