For the second time this season Brock and Paradise met on the gridiron. And for the second time the game was a battle to the end.
Brock, No. 4 in the final state rankings by Dave Campbell’s, won the first meeting by 12 and came out on top again, but this time the stakes were much higher as the Eagles advanced to the Class 3A Division 1 state semifinals with a 21-7 win over No. 9 Paradise at Ram Stadium.
Brock (11-3), will take on second-ranked Malakoff (14-0), a 58-20 winner over No. 3 Winnsboro, at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Ford Center in Frisco. Brock defeated Malakoff 21-10 last season in the same round at the same place.
Paradise finishes its best season in school history at 12-2 with both losses coming at the hands of Brock.
The game was a rematch of the District 4-3A D1 game played on October 20 which Brock won 26-14. Paradise led 14-13 after one quarter, but couldn’t muster anything on offense against the Eagles’ stout defense after that.
This time the game was a defensive duel in the first half. The teams traded punts before Paradise drove from its own 29 to the Brock 37, but the Panthers lost the ball on downs after not being able to pick up a yard in three tries against Hunter Fay and the rest of the Eagles’ defense.
“We knew that they had a bunch of athletes coming in,” said Fay, a defensive lineman. “We knew number two (Koby Dickens) and number five (Austin Iglesias) were the guys, so if we just eliminated those two then that would be it.”
Paradise got the ball right back, however, when Panthers’ linebacker Koby Dickens picked off a Brock pass and returned it four yards to the Paradise 42. The Panthers were unable to capitalize and had to punt seven plays later.
Brock finally got moving behind quarterback Brody Woods, who guided an 11-play drive that covered 84 yards. Defensive standout Camden Harris was called on to finish the drive with a run around right end from two yards out to give Brock a 7-0 lead with 9:18 left in the second quarter.
It was Harris’ first carry of the season outside of a two-point conversion earlier in the year.
— Darren Lauber (@darren_lauber) December 2, 2023
Paradise was in position to tie the game after a 15-play drive moved the Panthers from their own 28 to the Brock two. But on third and goal the center snap sailed over the head of quarterback Austin Iglesias out to the 18 yard line where Iglesias fell on it.
The Panthers tried a 35-yard field goal, but the kick was wide right.
Brock took a 14-0 lead late in the third quarter when Woods ran around right end before reaching the ball out just over the goal line on a three-yard scoring run.
This time Paradise answered back with Iglesias, who was nursing a high ankle sprain suffered last week, guiding the Panthers on a 15-play, 70-yard march that ended with the senior darting in from the five to cut the lead to 14-7 with 9:16 left in the game.
Iglesias did everything he could to keep Paradise in the game rushing 16 times for 36 yards and completing 17 of 31 passes for 140 yards, 11 of which went to Ayden Winters for 92 yards.
The Panthers needed a stop, but Brock was having none of it. The Eagles got a 23-yard pass play from Woods to Britton Burrows down to the Panthers’ 41. Four plays later Woods ran it in from 11 yards out to give Brock a 21-7 lead with 5:38 left in the game.
“It’s a whole team thing and everyone just has to do their job,” said Woods who had a big game against Paradise the first time around and finished with 65 yards rushing on 19 carries and threw for 161 yards completing nine of 11 this time. “That’s how we took care of business today.”
Burrows played a big part in all three of Brock’s touchdown drives even though he never reached the end zone himself.
Burrows had receptions of 31 and 37 yards on the Eagles’ first TD drive. A 17-yard reception by Burrows gave Brock a first down at the Paradise 46 on the Eagles’ second scoring drive.
“We knew going into this game that it was going to be a dog fight,” said Burrows who had four catches for 108 yards. “Whoever was going to play the best tonight was going to go the semifinals and we kicked butt.”
Brock’s Carson Finney ended any hopes of Paradise cutting the lead back to one score when he picked off a pass with 4:13 left in the game to seal the win.
Brock head coach Billy Mathis was so excited about Finney’s pick that he head butted Finney, who had a helmet on, giving Mathis lacerations on his forehead and the bridge of his nose.
“He came over after that interception and I jumped up on him and head butted him...stupidity...excitement,” said Mathis, who was asked if he would do it again. “Dang right I would.”
Brock has advanced to the fourth round of the football playoffs 9 times in 10 years. The only time the Eagles didn’t reach the quarterfinals, they made it to the third round.
The Eagles are making their third consecutive appearance in the state semifinals, all under Mathis who was hired in March of 2021, and sixth trip overall in 10 varsity seasons. Brock’s football program began in 2014 and the Eagles are now 6-3 in the quarterfinal round.
Brock has been the state runner-up the past two seasons.
Paradise was a little beat up in both of its losses to Brock this season. The Panthers were without Winters, their top receiver and center Brayden Matthews in the first meeting and Iglesias’ ankle and an injury to two-way starter Isaiah Jennings limited Paradise this time, but coach Joe Koch wasn’t making excuses.
“We were banged up, but Brock is a really, really good team,” said Koch. “It helps to be healthy, but regardless, when you have an opportunity to make plays, you’ve got to make them. We missed on a few key opportunities and you have to give them credit. They made the plays when they had to.”
The Panthers are 0-11 all-time versus Brock.
“With all the people we had here, we’re only 20 minutes down the road (from Mineral Wells) it was an electric atmosphere out here and we felt it.” said Fay. “You just have to take advantage of the moment and that’s what we did.”