IOWA PARK — Cody Fagan has only been the Whitesboro coach for one season, but he knew how the Bearcats would respond to playoff pressure.
His senior group would respond to adversity by trying to make the next play. They’d fight. They’d stay calm. He’d watched them rebound from consecutive losses early in the season to win back-to-back one-possession games. He’d seen them respond to a tough second half against Brock by winning three straight, including a playoff win over Eastland.
There was more adversity against Bushland in a Class 3A Division I area round match-up as the Falcons jumped on top 14-0 midway through the first quarter. Whitesboro (7-5) responded by holding Bushland to two first downs in the second quarter and by striking first in the third quarter to make it a 14-10 game. But the Falcons pulled away late, thanks to three interceptions by junior defensive back Brody Sutterfield, for a 34-10 victory.
Bushland (12-0) will take on Brock (10-2) on Friday night in Iowa Park.
But Fagan was impressed. Senior Cade Acker stood in against a free rusher right in his face and delivered a perfect slant to another senior, Tryston Gaines, a shot that got Bushland’s attention. Gaines caught it and broke free for a 48-yard touchdown to trim the margin to four points. Acker had a huge third-down completion at the end of the first half to give the Bearcats just enough breathing room to keep Bushland from extending its 14-3 lead before the half.
Acker passed for 132 yards and rushed for 40. Gaines had five receptions for 79.
“With all they had to go through with the transition and everything, they never let it get them down,” Fagan said. “I’m so proud of them. I appreciate them giving me the opportunity to come in and be their coach their senior year. And these younger kids have a bright future.
“They came out and got punched in the face early with a 14-point deficit but never quit. They showed up and fought hard. We had a couple bad breaks in the third quarter and it got out of hand a little bit but no reflection on our kids and the fight in them. I’m really super proud of our kids for what they did for the program and what it can be in the future.”
The bad breaks came after trimming the lead to 14-10. Bushland first made its own break with a timeout before a fourth-and-nine from the Whitesboro 24-yard line and then a perfect conversion with a motion to the flat and a perfect crossing route to Jackson Espe. But Whitesboro came back fighting with two stops in the backfield that were nullified by personal foul calls, one after a really slow whistle. Eventually, Bushland quarterback Jared Thomas scored from the two.
Thomas scored the first TD of the game as well with a nine-yard run. It also came after a key fourth-down pass conversion. Thomas finished 15-of-21 for 218 yards and two touchdowns in the air. He was intercepted by junior Major Ledbetter in the second quarter on a perfect read and even better break on the ball. That set up a 37-yard field goal by Jorge Montes.
In the third quarter, Bushland pulled away just moments after Thomas’ score as Sutterfield had the second of his three interceptions and returned the ball 51 yards to the Whitesboro 13-yard line. One play later Jake Orcutt, who had four catches for 56 yards, caught a seven-yard flip from Thomas on a well-executed rub route to the sideline.
Whitesboro doesn’t get a chance to bounce back from this one. But Fagan is excited about the future, although he told his younger guys to remember how this one ended for off-season motivation.
“I think you got a bunch of kids with a lot of experience this year and a JV coming off an 8-2 year,” Fagan said. “You have a lot of bright stops coming next year. We’re going to be young at the varsity level but tonight was about honoring these seniors and what they’ve done for this program.”