ABILENE – The highly anticipated seventh meeting against Gunter didn’t go the way Canadian wanted after leaving Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium in heartbreak a year ago.
The Tigers took it to the Wildcats from the second quarter on using their power and speed to once again end Canadian’s season pulling away for a convincing 38-17 victory in a battle between the top two teams in Class 3A Division II during a state semifinal on Friday night in front of an estimated electric crowd of 6,000 fans.
Gunter (15-0) remains one of the hottest teams in the state of Texas running their win streak to 31 straight and will now look for back-to-back UIL Class 3A Division II state championships and a fourth since 2016 when they face Tidehaven (14-0) at 7 p.m. on Thursday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“This is great for our team and community,” Gunter head coach Jake Fieszel said. “We’re just excited to get back to Arlington and defend the state championship. I’m proud of the team and our coaches. Canadian is an unbelievable program and never easy to beat.”
With the win, the Tigers lead the all-time series against the Wildcats with a 5-2 mark including a back-to-back victories the past two years.
For Canadian, it was another unbelievable season for a small school blue blood and a team that sets the bar when it comes to football programs in the Texas Panhandle.
The Wildcats, who were making their unprecedented ninth state semifinal appearance in 10 years, ended the season ranked no lower than No. 2 all year, finished with a record of 14-1 overall and outscored their opponents 868-237.
“I’m super proud of this team,” said Canadian first-year head coach Andy Cavalier. “We put up a lot of points, we had a lot of yards, but what I’m proud about is they were all great teammates. They worked hard together. I told them that life doesn’t go perfect, and this isn’t the worst thing that will happen in their life. Yes, it feels terrible right now because they wanted to win so bad. We had a great season, and it hurts but now we get to practice when things don’t feel good in life.”
Canadian got out to one of those normal fast starts scoring on the opening drive when quarterback Camren Cavalier rolled right and threw a rope to Preston Miller over the middle for a 42-yard pitch and catch putting the Wildcats up 7-0 early in the first.
Gunter came right back on its opening drive behind a speedy yet powerful offensive line resulting in a Brock Boddie 11-yard score tying things up, 7-7.
After a Canadian field goal late in the opening frame, the Tigers started to seize control in the second quarter. The Wildcats fell behind for the first time all season when Gunter QB Walker Overman, who is billed at 5-foot-8, but is dynamic with his shiftiness and incredible speed, rolled out and hit Cannon Lemberg on an 18-yard touchdown toss that put the Tigers on top 14-10.
From there, it was a Gunter exhibition. The Tigers defense put the clamps on a dynamic Canadian offense that was averaging 60 points a game coming in, frustrating Cavalier. Defensive end Brayden Hinton was disruptive for the Canadian offensive line collapsing the Wildcat backfield on almost every play. In fact, Gunter was so controlling the Wildcats didn’t have a single yard rushing by halftime.
“I think Brayden is the best defensive player in the state,” Fieszel said. “He’s a great player that works extremely hard. He’s a leader on this team and he was very disruptive.”
Leading 21-10 to begin the third quarter, Gunter put the contest to rest on the second drive of the third quarter when Overman made a scramble toward the endzone that won’t soon be forgotten. Leaving the pocket at the Candian 12-yard line, Overman raced toward the sideline inside the Canadian five-yard line. Overman took a massive hit from defensive back Preston Neumeier that jolted him backyards, however, Overman regained his balanced and dove in for the touchdown.
Overman finished his night rushing for 92 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns. He also threw for 120 yards with another score as the Tiger offense racked up 400 yards of offense.
Canadian ended the game with 370 yards but only 125 on the ground well below its 250-yard average.
Friday also brought an end of an era with Cavalier playing his final game in a Wildcat uniform. Though it wasn’t the result he wanted running for his life most of the evening, Cavalier threw for 245 yards and rushed for 93 yards on 22 carries. Cavalier ends a remarkable year with 3,950 yards passing and 1,503 yards on the ground.
Cavalier even rewrote the record books on Friday by passing for two touchdowns giving him 83 on the season which breaks former Levelland quarterback Nick Gerber (2016) and Sunray quarterback Armando Lujan’s (this season) mark of 82 for the most TDs in a single season.
“I couldn’t have done any of it without my teammates,” Camren said. “We are all brothers, and I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else. Canadian is a special place.”
The Wildcats said goodbye to another talented senior in wide receiver Luke Flowers. Playing healthy for a full season for the first time since he was a freshman, Flowers showed what he could do with his versatility snagging 66 catches in 15 games for a team-high 1,471 yards with 21 touchdowns.