Victoria Cobra scored 27 unanswered points in the second half to win the TAIAO 6-man Division II state championship game over the BVCHEA Mustangs 46-24 at Baker Field on Saturday.
Similar to its 45-6 win over Victoria (9-2) in September, BVCHEA (4-9) played well in the first half, answering each of Victoria’s three touchdowns for a 24-19 halftime lead. But with two interceptions that turned into Cobra touchdowns in the second half, the Mustangs struggled to keep up with Victoria down the stretch.
“I still can’t put my finger on it,” BVCHEA head coach Josh Ray said. “We had key players making mistakes. It wasn’t my peripheral players, which is where it usually comes from. It was more of my core that made mistakes today, and we have a hard time bouncing back from that. The interceptions ... we made crucial mistakes during crucial moments and that’s really not us. We’ve gotten to where we’re at by making smart plays and outlasting teams with our conditioning.”
Senior Christian Atherton got the scoring started for Victoria in the second half with a 6-yard TD run with 5:34 left in the third quarter. Isaac Sauceda intercepted a BVCHEA pass on first-and-15 and ran it back 11 yards to set up the score.
Things remained quiet the rest of the third, but Kelson Schoomover scored on a 5-yard run, and Atherton added a 47-yard touchdown run to give Victoria a 39-24 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Collin Riggs helped seal Victoria’s win with an interception that led to a 57-yard TD run by Schoomover three plays later.
“Victoria is a tough football team,” Ray said. “They have a lot of fight in them, and we knew that coming into this game. Our boys, they came back and fought hard in that second half. Victoria made some adjustments in the second half that we couldn’t quite stop.”
Atherton opened the scoring with a 45-yard TD run and added the conversion run with 9:49 left in the first quarter. On the third play of BVCHEA’s opening drive, Dominic LeJeune, who was out for seven weeks with an ankle injury before returning late in the regular season, scored on a 7-yard run with Owen Davis kicking the extra points for an 8-7 Mustang lead.
The Cobras fumbled away the ball on their next possession, but they stopped the Mustangs from scoring on the fumble recovery, held on defense and almost four minutes later scored another TD when Schoomover ran it in from 5 yards. BVCHEA came up with a big stop on Victoria’s extra-point try and did it again in the second quarter after Schoomover caught a 26-yard TD pass from Atherton with 5:17 left for a 19-8 lead.
BVCHEA’s power duo, Cody and Owen Davis, then dominated the second quarter. Cody connected with Owen for a 1-yard TD pass with 7:50 left and a 5-yard TD pass with 19 seconds left in the period. Owen’s two conversion kicks gave BVCHEA the five-point lead going into halftime.
Although the Mustangs didn’t win the title, Ray said reaching the state championship game under a new head coach was its own accomplishment.
“It says a lot about the character of the team,” Ray said. “I think I was a change from the type of coaching they were accustomed to. I think of myself as a guy who is going to battle and never give up and that’s what I try to instill in the players. I think the fact that they got to this game despite the season that we had says they got the message, and we’ll continue that into next year.”
For four BVCHEA seniors — Ben Brandon, Cody Davis, LeJeune and Josh Tipton — Saturday marked their last time in red and black. Ray said even though they won’t be on the team next year, the bond they’ve built will last beyond high school.
“I love them,” Ray said. “You build a bond with these boys because we put in a lot of hours with them. I care about football ... I love football, but I definitely care more about who they are becoming as men, and that doesn’t stop their senior year in high school. They need strong men that are in their lives from here on out, just like I have strong men in my life. I told them, ‘You got my number. I’m here day or night. Anywhere you’re at, call me, and I’ll always be there for you.’”