‘An opportunity to capitalize:’ Paetow wins 5A-D1 state title in OT to cap remarkable run

An opportunity to capitalize: Paetow wins 5A-D1 state title in OT to cap remarkable run (Copyright (c) 2021 VYPE - All rights reserved)

ARLINGTON—On the 17th of December last year, Paetow was heartbroken. Devastated. Frustrated. Mad. A 9-1 season had coldly been called to a close as the team was told it could not play its area playoff game due to a rash of COVID-19 cases.

On the 17th of December this year, however, Paetow was elated. Overjoyed. Thrilled. Ecstatic. Overwhelmed.

An emotional rollercoaster appropriately fitting for an incredible ride.

The Panthers are state champions, overcoming College Station, 27-24, in an overtime classic in the Class 5A-Division I state championship game Friday evening at AT&T Stadium.

Just five years after starting up the football program and four years after starting varsity play, Paetow is the best of the best, finishing 2021 at 15-1 overall and making the most of its first state championship appearance.

“Look here today,” said senior safety Kentrell Webb, the Defensive Player of the Game. “We won a state championship. The love and support of those guys from last year and from the community really kept us going. After last season, anybody could have been defeated and hung their head. But we took it as an opportunity to capitalize.”

Senior running back Jacob Brown’s two-yard touchdown run in overtime was the winner, coming moments after a dramatic fourth-down conversion by senior quarterback C.J. Dumas Jr.

On 4th-and-1 from the College Station 3-yard line, Dumas kept the ball on a sneak. Refs initially ruled it a first down. But a review was held, and the replay was shown on the Jumbotron overhead. By the look of it, Dumas appeared short. However, there was no concrete evidence to overturn the call because it was difficult to see where the ball was among the clump of bodies.

The conversion was so tight and close that College Station fans began cheering wildly after watching the replay, because they felt Dumas was short and the ball, and state title, was theirs.

“I was kind of lost, to be honest,” Dumas said. “I was looking, like, they just measured it, (so) why are they replaying it on the Jumbotron? I knew I got in. I knew it was going to show. I knew I wanted to get that first down so we could punch it in.”

Coach B.J. Gotte was confident Dumas had gotten the first down as well.

“Of course, I thought he made it,” Gotte said with a grin. “When we got in that situation, the thought that came to mind is their defense is so good, so big and physical, and we were hot and cold and up and down offensively. Their offense is so explosive, so you just never know when they were going to bust one. It was fourth-and-a-yard, and it’s like, if we can’t get a yard … I don’t know. We went for it to try and keep the game in our hands.”

After the review, the ruling was the call stood. First down for Paetow on the College Station 2-yard line. On the next play, Brown, the Offensive Player of the Game with 120 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries, bullied in for the winning score.

“I didn’t think it’d be overturned,” College Station coach Steve Huff said. “I thought it was very close. It’s a game of inches. You can go over that thing 1,000 times and it’s a quarter of an inch each time. Our kids played their tails off.”

Added College Station linebacker/defensive back Kyle Walsh: “We were hoping it would turn around and go our way, but at the same time we were preparing to go out there and get a stop. We weren’t going to rely on the refs to help us.”

It was a fitting end to a frantic game that kept the 12,112 in attendance on the edge of their seats.

College Station, which entered undefeated at 15-0 and having won a state title in 2017, struck on the first play from scrimmage on senior receiver Traylen Suel’s 80-yard catch-and-run 20 seconds into the game.

It was the first time Paetow trailed since Oct. 29 against Manvel.

But the Panthers settled down. Senior fullback Bryan Del Cid scored on a seven-yard run to tie the game with 4:57 left in the first half. College Station junior running back Marquise Collins scored on a 23-yard burst a little more than a minute later to put the Cougars back on top.

Paetow followed with two critical plays to close the first half.

First, junior fullback Gene Kendall scored on a one yard run to tie the game. Then, Webb intercepted senior quarterback Jett Huff in the end zone with mere seconds left. It was only Huff’s fifth interception in 16 games this season.

“They were on the goal line, and he (the receiver) tried to set me up with an inside route,” said Webb, who finished with eight tackles and one tackle for a loss. “I played my alignment inside, and once he threw it outside late, I made a break on the ball.”

After a scoreless third quarter, Dumas scored on a 1-yard run to put Paetow on top 21-14 with 11:22 left, capitalizing on another big takeaway for the Panthers. Senior linebacker Tyler Silves delivered a bone-crushing sack of Huff. Senior cornerback K.J. Truehill jarred a fumble of the ball. Junior linebacker Alex Kilgore recovered it and returned it 31 yards, setting up Dumas’s score.

But the Cougars’ defense stepped up, forcing a late turnover on downs by Paetow, and Collins went untouched down the visitors sideline for a 71-yard score with 4:04 left to ultimately force overtime.

To open the extra session, the Panthers forced the Cougars to settle for a Dawson Schremp 24-yard field goal, which was a game-altering stop.

“That was the ballgame right there,” Webb said.

It meant a touchdown would win the game for Paetow.

And it did.

“It’s being able to finish what all those seniors before us helped start,” Dumas said. “We had a lot of great senior leadership before that paved the way for what we’re doing now, and it’s a testament to the culture we have here at Paetow.”

The game featured just two punts. Gotte went for it on fourth down six times, converting three. The last gamble proved particularly gutsy. A failed conversion by Dumas would have meant a Cougars win.

“It’s great knowing our hard work up front is able to produce great results with touchdowns and huge plays,” senior offensive tackle James Bailey said. “Up front, we all know what we needed to do, and they knew, too. It was a matter of who wanted it more.”

Paetow finished with 363 total yards to College Station’s 405, but had 22 first downs to College Station’s 17. The Panthers converted nine of 17 third downs; the Cougars converted four of 10.

Paetow converted all four of its red zone chances; College Station went 0-for-2. The Panthers held possession for 31-minutes, 45-seconds. The Cougars had the ball for 16-minutes, 15-seconds.

“I’m just so happy,” Gotte said. “I’m happy for our kids. I’m happy for our community. So happy for these coaches and for these seniors who started with us in eighth grade when the school was brand new. For them to work as hard as they’ve worked and bought in to what we did, and to see them finish their careers as champions, is really fulfilling as a coach.”

Two things, especially, are synonymous with these 2021 Paetow Panthers.

One is confidence.

“It comes from senior leadership,” Gotte said. “These kids feed off each other. We talked to them from the very beginning about doing your best every day and that they’ve been trained for these types of moments. First, it was earning the right to play in big games. If you want to be in big games, you’ve got to win. Then, it’s about not changing what we do to play championship football, because if you have to change what you do, you haven’t been doing your best from the jump. And they have. They’ve always done their best, whether it’s August or it’s December.”

The other is love.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” Webb said. “We were all pulled from different schools. We bought in. I give Coach Gotte and our coaches a lot of credit. They pushed us. We’re not the perfect team, but we come out here and we love each other and we’re a big family at the end of the day.”