The only way Thursday night’s game between Caprock and Canyon at Happy State Bank Field could have lived up even more to its billing is if it were the start of district play.
Alas, the two schools aren’t even in the same classification, much less the same district, although it was that way for a long time. Pity it still isn’t.
In a matchup of unbeaten teams who had rolled through their previous three opponents, Caprock and host Canyon got involved in an emotional, often sloppy struggle and the visiting Longhorns looked as if they were going to make the short drive back up I-27 with their perfect record intact.
With an 18-point lead and under eight minutes left to play, Caprock and its rugged defense looked in control. However, Canyon rallied for the last 21 points of the game, culminating with a 2-yard scoring run by quarterback Derrek Clements with 36 seconds remaining to pull out an improbable 35-32 victory.
“I was proud of the way we fought whether we’d come back and won that or not,” said Canyon coach Todd Winfrey, who certainly preferred the win. “We made a commitment we were going to play hard the whole second half. We talked about not letting any negativity creep in. We stuck together.”
With 7:46 remaining in the game, the Eagles looked as if their wings were clipped as Caprock’s Lleyten Brown hit Za’Quavion Brown on a 31-yard scoring pass to give the Longhorns a 32-14 lead. What had already been in a long night in a game which lasted nearly 3 ½ hours and featured 29 penalties figured to be a long march to the first loss of the season for Canyon (4-0).
But the Eagles took only 78 seconds to get back into the game, as Clements threw his first touchdown pass of the quarter, a 29-yard throw to Diego Oviedo which made it 32-20. Canyon’s Elijah Smotherman’s ensuing onside kick didn’t even go 10 yards, and victory still looked out of reach for the Eagles.
But Caprock’s Abdulai Dorley, who ran for a game-high 134 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, fumbled on the ensuing possession and Canyon’s Rhett Patterson recovered at the Eagles’s 43-yard line. Canyon eventually scored on a 9-yard pass from Clements to Hunter Wilson with three minutes left to cut it to 32-27.
The Eagles were out of timeouts and were forced to try another onside kick.
“The first onside went about four yards or so and we scored, and when we kicked the next one I told Elijah this better be the best dad gummed onside kick you’ve ever kicked, and he made me look smart,” Winfrey said.
The kick bounced away from the Longhorns (3-1) and Canyon’s Chris LaBue recovered it in Caprock territory. Canyon’s march to the winning points seemed almost inevitable after that.
Clements eventually hit Carson Cockrell for a 17-yard gain down to the Caprock 3. Three plays later, though, Clements tried to hit Wilson in the end zone and Smith intercepted it, returning it all the way for a score with under a minute left which appeared to clinch the win for Caprock.
However, it was ruled that Smith interfered with Wilson, giving the Eagles a fresh set of downs. Two plays later, Clements carried it in for the winning score.
“We had to get the tempo rolling,” said Clements, who threw for 213 yards and also ran for two touchdowns. “(Caprock) kind of got slow and everyone was getting tired in the fourth quarter and people start shutting down. At practice we say ‘Fourth quarter, fourth quarter’ when we’re doing sprints. We have to be prepared for that in a dogfight like this.”
Caprock got the ball back and Brown hit back-to-back completions to Carlos Gonzalez to move the ball to the Canyon 42 with two seconds left. But Brown’s last-second pass into the end zone fell incomplete, preserving the win for the Eagles.
“It’s not a shock because we know Canyon’s a good football team and we knew they were going to test us,” said Caprock coach Dan Sherwood, whose team had given up a total of 10 points in the first three games. “More than anything it’s just an awakening. We’ve got to play 48 minutes better than what we did.”
Both teams scored on their opening possessions. Canyon took the opening kickoff and marched in for a touchdown, capped by Sam Johnson’s 3-yard scoring run and a 7-0 lead.
Caprock’s first 10 points were set up by a pair of long passes. Brown hit Jaydis Marlow for a 49-yard gain on Caprock’s first offensive play to set up Joel Gijon’s 23-yard field goal which cut the lead to 7-3.
On the next possession, Brown hit Kadrian Hernandez for a 52-yard gain to set up Dorley’s 1-yard run which gave the Longhorns a 10-7 lead. Only 26 seconds into the second quarter, Clements kept the ball on and option and outraced Caprock’s defense for a 79-yard scoring run which gave the Eagles a 14-10 lead.
Caprock retook the lead by converting a fourth-and-10 with 4:29 left in the first half. Brown found Adrian Zapata inside the Canyon 5-yard line, resulting in a 30-yard scoring pass to give Caprock a 17-14 lead.
Penalties were a major story the entire night. Caprock was flagged an astonishing 20 times for 177 yards and Canyon was penalized nine times for 104 yards.