Happy edges Miami in overtime thriller to advance back to state semifinals

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Happy’s Noe Juarez turns up field for yards against Miami during a Class 1A Division I state quarterfinal at Panhandle on Friday night. [Sierra Franks/ Press Pass Sports]
PANHANDLE- In a game that had more twists and turns than a Six Flags thrill ride, Happy used the lone score in overtime to advance to back to the UIL Class 1A Division I state semifinals with a 30-22 win over Miami on Friday night at a cold Panthers Stadium.

This will mark the third straight trip to the semifinals for the Cowboys (12-1) and their fifth appearance in eight years. Happy will get the Borden County-Westbrook winner next week.

Getting this win was anything but easy for the Cowboys.

To tell the story of this classic you have to set the backdrop which was the first half of this game. The Cowboys stormed out to a 14-0 lead courtesy of Happy’s do everything player in Noe Juarez. Juarez toted the rock in from 11-yards out in the first then found Devin Burris open from eight-yards out to start the second quarter.

That’s when the first hairpin turn came in as the undefeated Warriors put together a long drive capped off by Miami all-star Haiden Thompson finding Breken Early from 21-yards out to trim the lead to 14-8. On the ensuing kickoff, Braylan King was stripped of the ball by Thompson which Jack Kotara recovered at the Cowboys 25-yard line.  Four plays later it was Thompson diving in from the one to give Miami its first lead, 16-14.

Miami’s Haiden Thompson (4) delivers a pass against Happy on Friday night. [Sierra Franks/ Press Pass Sports]
Happy scored the lone touchdown in the third quarter as the Cowboys used a seven play, 59-yard drive to go back in front when Jaxon Stoker was stacked up on the run to the left, then reversed course, and outraced the Warriors to the end zone from ten yards out and a 22-16 Happy lead.

What the fourth quarter brought was a ride of epic proportions for both sides. Miami answered Happy’s score with a long drive of its own finished off by bowling ball fullback Luke Wheeler from seven yards out to knot things up at 22 with 8:31 left. The two-point conversion snap was high, but Kotara put it down and Thompson sent a screaming kick right at the crossbar which the officials determined to be just under and ruled no good.

Happy then used its efficient ground game to march 53-yards on 11 plays but couldn’t finish the drive off as Hayes Bressler took a short dump pass looking for the first but Evan Kelley of the Warriors wrapped him up three yards short of the first down at the Miami 13 and the ball back with 3:43 remaining.

Thompson then went to work moving the Warriors down the field highlighted by a falling down completion to Tyler Anderson on fourth and seven that covered 41-yards and left the Warriors with a first goal at the ten in the waning moments of the game. Three straight dives left Miami at the one-yard line where they turned to their ace in Thomspon to give them the lead. However, the Cowboys defense forced a stalemate on the play and the backside end, Cutter Hodges raced in to haul Thompson down short of the goal line by mere inches with 57 seconds remaining. Happy then ran out the remaining time on the clock to force a rare overtime situation for both teams.

Happy won its third straight UIL Region I Class 1A Division I championship on Friday. [SIerra Franks/ Press Pass Sports]
Starting at the 25, Happy used only one play in overtime to hit paydirt as Joey Blackmon made a nifty a cut back run to outrace Early to the edge and score and put Happy up 30-22 after Juarez drilled the two-point conversion kick through the uprights.

The final turn in this ride belonged to the Cowboys defense as Thompson completed a 13-yard pass to Early to set up a third and short. A furious rush from the Cowboys forced Thompson to dump off the ball to Wheeler who turned and found himself one on one with Happy’s nose guard, Mason Hix. Hix stone walled Wheeler at the 17 for a loss to set up one last attempt for the Warriors. Pressure again moved in quickly on Thompson who tried to hit Early cutting across the middle, but the ball sailed high and sealed the victory for Happy.

For the third straight playoff game, Happy used a strong rushing attack to run up 308 yards on the ground led by 115 yards on 16 carries for Blackmon and 127 combined yards for Juarez and Stoker on 14 attempts.  Miami’s Thompson finished his career going 12-20 through the air for 157 yards and a score while being held to 30 yards rushing on 18 attempts.

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