By BRAD KEITH
MOODY (November 28, 2015) — All Stephenville FAITH needed for a fifth straight state championship was a little extra time.
As in double overtime.
Joey Braun hammered the ball into the teeth of the Plano CHANT defense three straight times in the second overtime at frigid Bearcat Stadium Saturday, running over the CHANT safety at the goal line for the game winning touchdown on the final offensive snap FAITH would need in a hard-earned and dramatic 28-20 win in the Texas Association of Independent Athletic Organizations Division II six-man championship.
Braun, named FAITH’s defensive player of the game by TAIAO officials, also kicked the 2-point PAT, his second of the game to go with a wild first-half touchdown pass. The senior and his classmates have known nothing but state championships in their high school careers, putting their first TAIAO title on the back of four straight Division II crowns in the Texas Christian Athletic League.
TAIAO officials named sophomore Travis Loper the offensive player of the game for FAITH. Loper scored a long touchdown in the first half and had two big overtime runs to set up a short TD by Braun to tie the game at 20-20 in the first overtime.
That touchdown answered a one-play score on a rare pass by CHANT to begin the first overtime. FAITH had to convert a fourth down for the third time of the game – doing so on a run by Loper – to stay alive during its first overtime possession.
But Loper was injured on his first-down gallop and did not return, putting the pressure on Braun to lead the Knights to the title.
And just as the senior has done time and again on his way to 73 total touchdowns for the season, Braun delivered.
The Knight defense, as it had been for the bulk of the afternoon, fought off temperatures in the upper 30s and a soggy grass surface to limit the powerful CHANT rushing attack to only two plays longer than 20 yards and 0-for-8 on fourth down conversion attempts.
The consistent pass rush of Kelan Gray and open-field tackling of Noah Swindell was key, along with Braun’s consistency in the middle of the field. CHANT managed just a 10-yard scoring drive after an early turnover on downs by FAITH, and one true scoring drive that tied the game at 14-14 early in the fourth quarter.
It was the first time FAITH has needed overtime to win a championship game, and by and large the first time the Knights have been in a title game that was in doubt down the stretch.
The first half was governed by early turnovers, an aggressive pass rush by both teams and two big fourth down plays by FAITH.
FAITH was 2-for-5 on fourth downs before halftime and CHANT 0-for-5, two of those failures coming inside the FAITH 10. FAITH’s fourth-down conversions each went for touchdowns, both on long plays.
Braun appeared to be dead to rights for a fourth-down sack with a CHAMP defender grasping him by the leg. But Braun used his arm and other leg to stay up, twisting over the CHAMP defender before tossing the ball to Kyler Gray. The latter sped around the left sideline all the way to pay dirt for a 30-yard TD and 6-6 tie with 3:23 left in the first.
The second fourth-down score was even longer, with Travis Loper taking a sweep around left side and eluding two tacklers before sprinting away and high stepping away from the last defender to beat for a 60-yard TD on fourth-and-13.
FAITH made a defensive stand with a diving Braun interception by Braun at its own five-yard line, but the Knights surrendered a safety on the next play. CHANT also scored following an exchange of early turnovers for a 6-0 lead before the two FAITH touchdowns and the safety made it 14-8 Knights at intermission.
TheFlashToday.com photos by JESSIE HORTON