By BRAD KEITH
JACKSBORO (November 25, 2016) — Sophomore Kevin Yeager passed for three touchdowns, rushed for 95 yards and intercepted two passes as part of an impressive De Leon defensive performance to knock off Windthorst, 30-14, in a Region II-2A Division I semifinal Friday afternoon.
For the first time since 1990, De Leon is on to the state quarterfinals.
“This is a great accomplishment for our team. W’re just getting better and better every week,” said De Leon head coach David Yeager. “We were young when the season started, but when you count scrimmages we’ve played 14, 15 weeks now and we’ve come a long way. We just keep winning gold balls and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Kevin Yeager was 11-17 passing for 159 yards, hitting Daniel Sanchez for two touchdowns and Calvin Martin for another. Sanchez also hit three field goals and three PATs, scoring 18 points for the Bearcats, who last played in the regional semifinals in 2013.
The Bearcats (11-2) had 283 yards of total offense and yielded just 238 to Windthorst, which had only 63 yards rushing. The Bearcat defense had five sacks, Yeager picked off passes near the end of each half and Bryce Whiteley, a defensive end, batted a ball in the air and intercepted it for another takeaway.
Sanchez capped the opening drive of the game with a 27-yard field goal and the Bearcats had the lead for good. It soon grew, with a three-and-out to begin a monster defensive afternoon followed by a 7-yard Kevin Yeager-to-Calvin Martin swing pass and run for a 10-0 advantage almost nine minutes into the game.
Windthorst responded with Nathan Bales going wide to the left for a 3-yard touchdown that cut it to 10-7 less than two minutes into the second.
De Leon’s biggest drive of the game covered 50 yards and made it 17-7 less than a minute before halftime and was highlighted by the game’s biggest play.
Facing fourth-and-seven from the Windthorst 21, David Yeager turned down a field goal try of about 38 yards, and instead De Leon called for a quick screen to Sanchez. The senior star picked up two blocks at the line of scrimmage, broke a tackle and turned on the jets. From the moment he crossed the goal line, De Leon held at least a two-possession lead the rest of the way.
A defensive stop to begin the second half set up a 37-yard Sanchez field goal, and on the next Bearcat possession Yeager froze the defense with play-action then lobbed a 36-yard touchdown to Orson Sylva for a commanding 27-7 lead halfway through the third.
Windthorst fought within 27-14 with 10:29 remaining, and the teams exchanged possessions before Sanchez finished the scoring with his final field goal from 38 yards out against a stiff north wind with 4:42 left.
“Our kids and everyone from De Leon really came in here believing we were going to win, and that’s how I think you saw us carry ourselves all day,” said Yeager. “Windthorst has a great football team and we have a lot of respect for them, but this was about us. It was about coming here on a mission to survive and play another week and here we are.”
Kevin Yeager had another touchdown pass – a back corner fade to Cooper Dyson – called back for pass interference. He worked the zone-option for the bulk of his rushing yards and then scrambled for others. And when he couldn’t get first downs he unleaded quality punts, including a key 48-yard boot that was downed at the Windthorst 10 with 9:02 remaining.
Aaron Riggs then stopped Windthorst a yard short on 4th-and-two, setting up the final Sanchez field goal and touching off a celebration on the De Leon side.
The Bearcats will face Crawford or Mart in the Region II-2A Division I final next week. Crawford beat De Leon, 45-14, in the opening week of 7-2A Division I district play, but Kevin Yeager did not play because of injury. The Bearcats dropped a 34-32 thriller to Hico a week later, but have since won seven straight including a come-from-behind 38-35 victory over perennial power Goldthwaite to steal second place in district, then playoff wins over Riesel, Valley View and now Windthorst.
“I don’t care who it is, we’ll play anybody anywhere at this point,” said Yeager, whose club has won its three playoff games by an average of 20.7 points. “It’s just great to still be playing at all.”
TheFlashToday.com photos by RUSSELL HUFFMAN