FLOWER MOUND — In a matchup of two rising programs, Haslet Eaton took the next step Friday with a 26-21 victory over the Sherman Bearcats in a Class 5A Division I bi-district playoff at Wilson Stadium.
Eaton's Titus Swen rushed for 286 yards and two touchdowns as the Eagles (6-5) advanced to the area round in their first playoff appearance.
Sherman, making its first playoff appearance since 2012, finished 5-6 in its second season under coach J.D. Martinez.
“The kids played their butts off,” Martinez said. “I'm proud of them.”
Eaton, playing just it's second varsity season, will take on Colleyville Heritage at Denton's Apogee Stadium. Miller, who took over the program in May, said things have come together at the right time for the Eagles.
“It's come together here and there all year,” Eaton coach Ellis Miller said. “When we are playing and not making mistakes, we're a really good football team. When we have mistakes, we turn very mediocre. Tonight, we were pretty good at the right times.”
The game was overshadowed by a neck injury to Sherman senior safety Austin Bindel in the fourth quarter. Martinez said Bindel had feeling and movement, but was taken off the field to an ambulance as a precaution.
Bindel, who had 10 tackles, was hurt when he stopped Eaton quarterback Riley Taylor and forced a fumble at the Sherman 3-yard line with 7:40 remaining. Eaton ended the possession with a field goal to go up 26-14.
Sherman came back twice to tie the game in the first half and had a chance to go in front late, but Nathaniel Omayebu was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Eaton 14 with 2:31 remaining. The Bearcats also lost the ball on downs at the Eaton 1 to start the second half when quarterback Blaise Bentsen was stopped for no gain.
“Two fourth-and-1s, and we just couldn't convert,” Martinez said. “The first time, we tried to run the quarterback and that didn't get it. I wasn't going to make that mistake again and gave it to the workhorse, but unfortunately they stopped it. They did a good job.
“We ran power. We ran our best plays and they stopped our best plays.”
Despite the season-ending loss, Martinez said the Bearcats have made progress during his two seasons with the program.
“It's having great assistant coaches, putting pressure on the kids, the kids believing in it and working hard,” he said. “We've definitely got our work cut out for us. We're losing quite a few seniors (29, including 12 starters).
“We're going to have to turn the corner in a lot of areas as far as with our kids and our work ethic. These young ones are going to have to really pick it up and take the reins.”
The experience of earning a playoff berth will be vital next year, Martinez said.
“You've got to have it,” he said. “You've got to have the small steps in life so you can keep improving and moving down the road. It's huge.
“Hopefully, these young guys that all came out will see it and we'll keep improving throughout this building process.”
Sherman's last chance was lost with three consecutive unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties after Swen was stopped short of a first down with 1:36 to go. Rather than Eaton facing fourth-and-1 at the Sherman 40 and having to decide whether to punt or go for the first down, the Eagles advanced to the Sherman 6 and ran out the clock from there.
“We're definitely going to have to work for some character and not losing our minds in certain situations and realize we're still in the boat,” Martinez said. “We have moments where we lose it, and we can't do that.”
Omayebu finished with 130 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, while Bentsen rushed for 108 yards on 12 carries and was 15 of 26 passing for 135 yards and a touchdown. Tylor Jones caught five passes for 31 yards and a TD as Sherman finished with 373 total yards.
Omayebu finished the season with 1,404 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing and his career with 3,253 yards and TDs. He said the Bearcats took big steps forward over the last two seasons.
“It was a lot of coming together, never giving up on each other. Hard work in the summers and offseasons. I'm just proud of the way the team worked, proud of the things we accomplished over the last two seasons. I'm glad of the legacy we'll leave at Sherman High.
“They're going to keep on building. These younger guys are going to come up and do very well.”
Jones said the hard part is realizing the seniors won't get a chance to help continue the building process.
“We all fought hard and played well,” he said. “Our direction is to keep moving forward and keep battling our battles through life.
“As freshmen, we came and we were just normal, little freshmen, battling it out. But now, we're seniors and it's the end of our career. It's over now. There's nothing we can do.”
Gage Smith led the Sherman defense with 14 tackles, while Brent Wilson and Cody Hunter joined Bindel with 10 tackles. Devante Clayton had nine and T.K. Walton had eight. Smith also produced two huge plays on special teams in the fourth quarter, blocking an extra point and recovering an onside kick to give Sherman a chance to take the lead.
“Even though we lost this game, I think it's a great way to leave off to the ones that will be coming back next season,” Clayton said. “As seniors, we won't get that opportunity to do so, but I think it leaves a great foundation for them to be able to build off of.”
Eaton finished with 460 total yards, 397 of it on the ground. The Eagles had rushed for more than 400 yards before keeling on the ball three times to run out the clock. Dawson Pell added 120 yards on 12 carries, while Taylor was 6 of 9 passing for 63 yards.
After both teams punted on their first possession, Eaton drove 89 yards in 11 plays for Swen's first score on a 2-yard run with 2:29 left in the first quarter. Sherman answered with Omayebu's 17-yard touchdown run with 14 seconds left in the period.
Taylor put the Eagles back in front with a 6-yard keeper, but Sherman responded again with a 15-play, 75-yard drive that ended in Bentsen's 5-yard TD pass to Jones. The Bearcats took advantage of two Eaton penalties — defensive holding on third-and-10 from the Eaton 36 and pass interference on fourth-and-7 from the 23 — to extend the drive.
Rhett Marshall's 19-yard field goal gave Eaton a 17-14 halftime lead, then the defenses took over in the third quarter. Sherman moved 60 yards in six plays and had first down at the Eaton 10 before losing the ball on downs. The Eagles drove to the Sherman 27, but Taylor was flagged for intentional grounding and Clayton's pressure forced and incomplete pass on fourth down at the 25. The Bearcats reached the Eaton 32 before Bentsen, who started the half 8 for 8 for 84 yards, threw three consecutive incompletions to end another series on downs.
The Eagles regained their form on the next series, which resulted in Swen's second TD on a 2-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter, and Ryan Hopper's interception led to Marshall's second field goal, a 29-yarder with 6:53 remaining. Bentsen got the Bearcats back in the game with a 45-yard scramble on third-and-10 from the Sherman 38 and Omayebu scored on a 3-yard run two plays later to cut the margin to five points. Smith the recovered Miguel Ramirez's onside kick, giving the Bearcats possession in Eaton territory with 5:55 to go and the Bearcats picked up two first downs before the drive stalled.