Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout.
ARLINGTON — For three quarters the two worthy combatants never held a lead greater than a single touchdown and it looked like a fantastic finish would be decided by the final possession.
The Gunter Tigers held the slim advantage on the scoreboard and were trying to find a way to hold on for 14 more minutes. But the Newton Eagles were able to find a way to do to the defending champs what no one had been able to do for two years — hit them with big plays and bottle up a high-scoring offense at the same time.
“For three quarters I thought we played really well,” Gunter head coach Jake Fieszel said. “Unfortunately for us they ran away with it in the fourth quarter. That’s as fast of a team that we’ve coached against. They made the plays in the fourth quarter and put the pressure on us.”
On three straight plays Newton scored touchdowns of at least 70 yards and Gunter had to settle for being the state runner-up as the Eagles dethroned the Tigers, 40-16, in the Class 3A Division II state championship game on Thursday night at AT&T Stadium.
“The dam just kinda broke,” Fieszel said. “They hit us with some 1-on-1 plays. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Newton.”
It was the fourth state title for the Eagles (15-0) and the first since 2005. Noah Williams finished with five catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns and was the Offensive Player of the Game while Corbin Foster had 15 tackles, including a sack, and was the Defensive Player of the Game. Josh Foster threw for 217 yards and TDs on just six completions and added a touchdown run while Darwin Barlow ran for 137 yards and a TD on 18 carries.
Gunter (15-1) was unable to defend its state title and had its 31-game winning streak snapped as it came up just short of a second consecutive perfect season.
“I’m really proud of this group and everything they’ve accomplished,” Fieszel said. “They’ve done everything we asked of them. We’re going to turn it into a positive, build on it for next year.”
The Tigers hadn’t allowed an opponent to score more than 27 points this season and also allowed a season-high 540 yards. But 31-1 with a championship and a runner-up finish is something to celebrate.
“It was special,” senior lineman Colton Schmitz said. “It was a special team. These coaches are special. It was great to be a part of it.”
Dylan Jantz had 11 carries for 65 yards while Braiden Clopton caught a TD pass to lead the Tigers, who held a 16-14 lead until Newton scored 28 unanswered points to close out the game. Gunter finished with 184 yards — 44 in the second half.
The Eagles took the lead for good with a long touchdown pass as the third quarter expired. Williams hauled in the 70-yarder and it was a 20-16 margin after Jantz blocked the extra point.
The Tigers were unable to get much going offensively and after a three-and-out, Newton was up 27-16 on a 74-yard catch-and-run by LaKendrick Adams on the ensuing first play from scrimmage.
A bad snap on second down sabotaged Gunter and the Tigers again had to punt. Tamauzia Brown ripped off a 75-yard run down the right sideline for a 34-16 lead with 7:24 remaining. Foster capped the win with an 8-yard TD run with 2:41 left.
“They were really fast. Speed kills. They found our weakness and exploited it,” senior linebacker Zach Lowe said. “It would have been nice to get a second ring. Bittersweet I’d say. They beat us fair and square.”
Clopton had a pair of quarter-changing plays after the break. First, he gave the Tigers that 16-14 lead with 8:15 left in the third on a 23-yard catch from Daylan Bower, who faked the hand-off to Peyton Lowe as Clopton leaked out over the middle and was all alone for the score. The PAT failed, however, after a penalty backed up the try.
The touchdown was set up by Adrian Martinez’s fumble recovery at the Newton 21-yard line. That was the first play of the half for the Eagles and Foster dropped back, was harassed by Bryson Rigsby, stripped by Gage Biggerstaff and Martinez recovered.
Newton was on the verge of regaining the lead when Clopton came up with an interception at the goal line. The Eagles made it to the edge of the red zone when Foster tried to hit Williams but Clopton baited the throw and returned it to the Gunter 33.
The Eagles took a 14-10 lead into the second half after holding Gunter to a field goal attempt in the middle of the second quarter.
Evan Gonzalez booted a 32-yarder with 6:09 left in the frame after the Tigers’ drive stalled at the Newton 14 following a 31-yard run by Clopton to the 25 kept the possession moving.
A 19-yard punt with 2:23 remaining in the half set up Newton at its 41-yard line and the first snap was a 46-yard reception by Williams down the left sideline.
With 16 seconds left in the quarter, Williams was called for pass interference on his catch in the end zone on fourth-and-16. Instead of a 21-10 lead, the Eagles were backed up and a couple more penalties forced them to punt instead of taking another shot at a TD.
Newton came up with the first turnover, an interception by Brown on Bower’s off-balance deep shot at Jantz down the right sideline. Brown returned it to the Gunter 28 and on the first play, Barlow took the handoff to the right, faked a reverse and scored for the 7-0 lead with 3:59 remaining in the first quarter.
Then it was Gunter’s turn to find its footing. The Tigers put together an eight-play, 61-yard drive that covered four minutes. The second snap was a 33-yard toss down the right sideline by Jantz to get into the red zone and Peyton Lowe capped the series with a three-yard TD run up the middle in the final minute of the quarter.
The counterpunch by Newton gave the Eagles a 14-7 lead on Williams’ jump-ball TD grab from 11 yards out.
It looked like the Tigers would tie the score but the ensuing drive ended on Gonzalez’s field goal.
Newton picked up 221 yards on 29 plays, including 165 yards on 21 carries that was buoyed by Barlow rushing nine times for 85 yards. Just that rushing total was more than what the Tigers came into the game allowing for total yards in a game — 150 per contest.
Gunter gained all of its 140 first-half yards on 28 carries with Jantz pacing the Tigers at 57 yards on seven carries and Clopton not far behind with five carries for 41 yards.