The Aledo football team was trying to reach the state semifinals for the 19th time in program history, but the Bearcats would have to go through District 3-5A Division 1 foe Burleson Centennial to do it.
Aledo had defeated the Spartans by 43 points in their district contest, giving Centennial its only loss of the season, so the Bearcats looked poised to do just that.
The Spartans made a game of it, tying Aledo early in the third quarter, but the Bearcats pulled away after that to win again 42-21 in a Class 5A Division 1 quarterfinal on Saturday afternoon at the Ford Center.
No. 3 Aledo (12-2) will now fact top-ranked Longview (14-0) in the semifinal round at 2 p.m. next Saturday, at Kincaide Stadium in Dallas. Longview defeated Mansfield Timberview 37-21 on Friday.
“I’m extremely excited, but we’re not going to approach the next game any different than we would any other game,” said Aledo quarterback Hauss Hejny, who threw for 278 yards completing 15 of 20 passes and rushing for 64 yards on 13 attempts against Centennial. “We’re going to keep the same mind set, take it day by day. We’re not scared of them, but they’re a good football team so we’re going to respect them for sure. But nothing changes.”
Aledo scored on its first three possessions, but allowed Centennial back in the game.
Hejny led the marches, converting key third downs with passes on each.
An 11-yard pass play to Jalen Pope set up a 42-yard keeper by Hejny for a score on Aledo’s opening possession. After a Centennial punt, the Bearcats were on the move again.
This time a 32-yard pass play to Gavin Olenjack on third down gave Aledo a first down at the Spartans’ one-yard line. Caleb Pope came in and bulled in from there to give Aledo a 14-0 lead with 4:27 left in the first quarter.
The Spartans moved the ball on its next series, but lost the ball on downs at the Aledo 21.
Two big third down conversions by Hejny set up another Bearcat score. A 48-yard pass play to Jalen Pope gave Aledo a first down at the Centennial 35. Three plays later Hejny hit Tyson Timms for 26 yards down to the Centennial 12 where Hawk Patrick-Daniels carried it in on the ensuing play.
“We’ve been in this situation before where we’ve had to convert on third down and I’m confident in our receivers to make plays, confident in our line and confident in myself to stay calm in those situations,” said Hejny. “That’s what it comes down to is me staying calm and just trusting my reads. We’re just doing what we’re supposed to be doing on those third downs.”
Centennial finally got its offense on track and answered with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a 16-yard scoring run by quarterback Phillip Hamilton to cut the lead to 21-7 with 4:45 left in the half.
Hamilton picked up 138 of his 163 first-half rushing yards in the second quarter to spark Centennial. The Spartans defense came up big forcing a three-and-out by Aledo on its next series and Centennial took advantage.
Hamilton, facing a third and four of his own, took a keeper off left tackle and darted through the line and outraced the Aledo secondary 54 yards for a TD to cut the lead to 21-14 with 1:35 left before the intermission.
Centennial had the momentum on its side and when Aledo fumble two plays later, and Cade Lee recovered for the Spartans at the Bearcats’ 47, it looked like the game might go to the break tied.
The Spartans did push it down to the Aledo 27, but was forced to try a 44-yard field goal on fourth down with 3 seconds left. The kick came up short and Aledo survived with the lead in tact at halftime.
Centennial came out on fire to start the second half. An adjustment to the blocking scheme on its option gave the Bearcats problems and the Spartans moved 75 yards in six plays to tie the game. An option pitch to Aidan Hicks, who took it in from 14 yards out, evened the score at 21 with 9:40 left in the third quarter.
“Kyle Geller is a really good football coach and he knows that offense as good as anybody,” said Aledo coach Tim Buchanan. “What he did was figure out a way to get his quarterback downfield and blocking our guys who were responsible for him. It took us a while to get our linebacker to the quarterback and still have someone on the pitch man.”
But Aledo’s adjustments started paying off as Centennial lost the ball on downs three times, punted once and committed a turnover the rest of the way.
While the Aledo defense was slowly squeezing the life out of the Centennial running game, Hejny was busy helping the offense pull away with three second half scoring passes.
The junior had TD passes of 27 and 26 yards to Kaydon Finley and added a 41-yard scoring pass to a wide-open Jalen Pope with 1:58 left. The latter was set up by an interception by Aledo defensive lineman Bryon Wheeler at the Centennial 44.
“I just felt the pass, but I didn’t realize it was a screen until I turned around and saw the running back running behind me,” said Wheeler. “I looked back and the ball was in my hands. We had some mistakes in our defense today, but we fixed them after halftime and just got better as the game went along.”
Hamilton did all he could for Centennial rushing for 242 hard-earned yards on 32 carries. The rest of the Spartans gained 107 yards on 22 attempts.
“I just got done visiting with my team and telling them that, by record, they’re the greatest class we’ve ever had,” said Centennial coach Kyle Geller, whose team’s 12 wins and quarterfinal appearance is the best of any Centennial or Burleson squad. “These seniors, not that I don’t love everyone equally, but these guys reached the success that no one else has in the history of Burleson ISD. There’s something to be said about that.”
“I think today’s game was indicative of that. They didn’t quit and that’s our goal, to develop kids that fight through adversity in their lives, that give to their families and anyone else that means something to them. I’m proud of them.”