There is always that one goal at the beginning of every sports season. From golf to volleyball, teams and individuals strive for that coveted trophy. That piece of hardware that will sit in a school trophy case for ever.
In the case of high school football, teams battle through blood, sweat and tears to get what they want. While some roads are easier than others, some teams find themselves in dog fights every week. For the 2012 Glen Rose Beavers and Harding Academy Wildcats, this season has been one to remember.
After holding the No. 1 ranking in 3A all season, the Beavers won a last dance with the 13-0 Wildcats in the state title game at War Memorial Stadium on Saturday. With touchdowns coming with ease for both teams, the Beavers looked to have their second title in school history in the bag, up by three with a 1:11 left. But Harding was far from finished as Will Francis and company drove 73 yards on seven plays for the gamewinning score, giving the Wildcats a thrilling victory and fifth state title.
"It's not about championships," Harding Head Coach Roddy Mote said. "It's about being a champion and those kids are champions."
Harding began the game with the ball on its own 20-yard line. Fueled by tremendous pass completions from Francis, the Wildcats made it look simple as they traveled 80 yards on just eight plays for the game’s first score to move ahead 7-0 early in the first quarter.
Staring at a touchdown deficit already, Beaver running back Carlos Burton watched the ensuing kickoff reach his arms before sprinting past defenders, going 73 yards untouched for the game-tying touchdown.
Knotted at 7-7 still in the opening minutes of the first quarter, Francis took his high-powered offense back on to the field. Starting at their own 29-yard line this time, the Wildcats continued to pick apart the Beavers secondary, completing five passes on the drive. With the ball on the Beavers' 1-yard line, running back Trey Davis took the handoff and powered across the goal line for Harding's second score on as many drives to take a 14-7 lead before the midway point of the first quarter.
But Glen Rose did not budge one bit. Sticking to what got them to the title game, the Beavers kept the ball on the ground for most of their first offensive drive, rushing the ball for 48 yards on seven attempts. Quarterback Collin Hunter capped the drive with a 3-yard TD run to tie the game at 14-14 with 4:08 left on the clock in the opening quarter.
Thanks to a little bit of defense, the Beavers got off the field without any damage, forcing the Wildcats to punt after losing 9 yards thanks to a big sack by Clay Holicer.
With the ball now on the Wildcats' 47, the Beavers were back on the offensive side and looking for their first lead of the game. Mixing in a few more throwing plays, the Beavers easily moved the ball on Harding. After back-to-back false starts on the Beavers that moved them back to the Harding 30, Hunter found wide receiver Hunter Bredensteiner in the end zone after completing a beautiful over-the-shoulder pass to take a 21-14 lead still in the first.
With just seconds left on the first-quarter clock, Glen Rose took the lead and large amount of momentum into the second quarter with a seven-point lead.
Looking at second down and long on the Wildcats' next drive, Francis connected with receiver Kohl Blickenstaff for a 34-yard gain and another first down. Now with the ball on the Beavers' 30, the Wildcats were back in business and looking for a game-tying score.
After an 18-yard pass from Francis to Hunter Gentry and a rush from Trey Davis and Francis, the Wildcats were 3 feet away from the end zone. Francis took the snap and quickly handed the ball to Davis for the Wildcat touchdown, tying the game at 21-21 with 10:17 left in the first half.
After forcing Glen Rose to punt for the first time in the game, Harding began its next drive from its own 42-yard line. After getting to the Beavers 32, the Wildcats ran into a brick wall and were stuffed on fourth-and-short, turning the ball over on downs.
With a long field ahead, the Beavers marched to the Wildcats 2-yard line. With a fourth-and- goal, the Beavers committed another penalty, this one a delay of game, backing them up to the Wildcats' 7-yard line. Instead of going for the touchdown, Head Coach Mark Kehner elected for the easy points and sent the field goal team to the field.
After a good snap and kick, kicker Dakota Harris gave Glen Rose the 24-21 advantage after converting from 24 yards out.
But much like the entire first half, the Wildcats flew down the field, going 71 yards on eight plays for their fourth touchdown of the game. Aided by five complete passes from Francis, the Wildcats took a 28-24 lead into halftime.
Francis completed 20 of 27 passes for 273 yards and touchdown in the first half. He also rushed for a touchdown.
For Glen Rose, the running game was king as the Beavers ran the ball 19 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Burton led the Beavers on the ground with 79 yards on 9 carries. Hunter completed 5 of 6 attempts for 62 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
With plenty of scoring already done, both teams continued to give up big plays and points in the second. Right out of the gate, the Beavers stole back the lead with another touchdown by Hunter on the ground from a yard out to lead 31-28.
On the game’s next two drives, both teams turned the ball over. After an interception thrown by Francis, nabbed by Tyler Lewis, the Beavers coughed up the ball on a Kyle Petersen fumble. Luckily, the Beavers held the Wildcats to minus-7yards and a punt. Continuing to draw the game out, Glen Rose took its largest lead of the game on its next drive, going 94 yards on just eight snaps to lead 38-28. Hunter snuck into the end zone once again from a yard out to cap the scoring drive.
But just when things looked to be in the Beavers' favor, Harding stole the show once again with another touchdown, this one from a yard out on a completed pass by Francis to Gentry to cut the score to 38-35 with 9:38 left to play in the game.
Needing a score in the worst way to keep the pressure on, the Beavers were forced to punt, giving the Wildcats the ball on their own 33 with 6:46 left on the clock.
After gaining just 2 yards on two snaps, the Wildcats were faced with a third-and-8 and staring a title game loss dead in the eyes. But Francis was not going to quietly. With receivers flying down the field in every direction, Francis found Gentry for a 14-yard strike for the first down. Francis found Davis for 26 yards on the next play, moving the ball to the Beavers' 12-yard line. Needing a score, Francis hit Blickenstaff near the sideline for a 12-yard score, giving Harding the 42-38 lead with 5:11 left on the clock.
In a do-or-die situation, the Beavers held their ground. WIth thousands of screaming fans on the both sides of the stadium, Glen Rose embarked on what could be their final drive of the game and of the year. Moving the ball well through the air and on the ground, the Beavers took the ball to the Wildcats' 31-yard line where they met fourth-and-6. Needing a completion for at least 6 yards, Hunter hit Lewis for a 9-yard completion. Following a pass interference call on the same play, the Beavers were back in business with a first down and the ball on the Harding 16.
After a 4-yard run from Hunter, he found Petersen in the end zone for the go-ahead score, 45-42, putting Glen Rose back on top with 1:11 left to tick away in the game.
Still with time left on the clock, Harding began the game's final drive at the Glen Rose 27-yard line.
Needing a touchdown for the win or a field goal for the tie, the Wildcats offense moved the ball exceptionally well, going 73 yards on seven plays for the game-winning touchdown. Francis hit receiver Caleb Spears for the sealer.
A last second effort by the Beavers on the kickoff stopped well short as the Wildcats claimed the 2012 3A title with a 49-45 victory. The win sealed the deal on a perfect 14-0 season for the Wildcats.
"Glen Rose was so resilient and we have been that way too, all season long," Mote said. "Every play is important and fortunately we were able to execute a few more than they were."
The win marks the first title since 2002 for Harding and fifth in school history.
Francis led all passers with 499 yards through the air on 35 of 48 completions and four touchdowns. Francis ends the year with just over 4,200 yards passing and 42 touchdowns.
For Glen Rose, the loss ends the Beavers season with a 13-2 showing and a runner-up finish.
"We were terrible on defense and there is no excuse for that," Kehner said. "You are not going to win a championship playing defense like that and it is nobody’s fault but our own."
Hunter put together a nice game, completing 15 of 19 passes for 218 and two touchdowns. Burton ran the ball 18 times for 118 yards in the loss.
"You play until the last snap," Kehner said. "They took the last one and you have to tip your hat to Harding Academy. Every kid plays their tails off and they just made one more play than we did."
The Beavers lose some key seniors from this group, including Hunter, Bredensteiner, Lewis and running back Dillion Coney.
"They are just a great group of kids," Kehner said. "We are disappointed tonight, but we got here. We just weren't good enough."