That best explains why the Albany Lions will be playing to defend their Class 2A Division II championship next week.
For one half in the state semifinal game at Lowrey Field, Sunray appeared to have more than an even chance to knock off Albany and make the first state championship game in school history. But on the doorstep of perhaps taking the lead, the game turned in a few plays, shifting all the momentum to Albany as the Bobcats fell 34-14.
Albany has now won 26 straight games and will play for the state championship next week at AT&T Stadium. Sunray (12-3) equaled its best season in school history, but it wasn’t enough to unseat Albany (15-0).
“For (Albany) it helps being at this stage having been there before,” Sunray coach Wesley Boatmun said. “They’re a good football team and we’re a good football team. We had some opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on and they’re here for a reason.”
Both teams gave the other one the kind of resistance they’d rarely seen in the postseason. It was thanks to an additional stop that Albany led Sunray 20-14 at halftime.
The Bobcats got the second half kickoff and marched down to the Albany 23-yard line, where they had a second-and-one and all the momentum in the world. It was gone that quickly.
Sunray had back-to-back holding penalties and quarterback Armando Lujan was sacked, putting the ball at midfield. Lujan then tried a desperate third down pass to Kagan Davis, which Albany’s Branson Beal intercepted, and most of the air deflated from Sunray’s balloon.
“Momentum is a big deal and that point in the game changed the game,” Boatmun said. “At the end of the day we’ve got to be able to respond to situations like that and make the next play. Credit Albany. They kept the ball and ate the clock.”
“They’ve got a really good football team but our guys came out and played really well,” Albany coach Denney Faith said. “I think our guys have been in some big games before and obviously having that experience is important when you get to this level. Our coaches did a great job of making some adjustments at halftime.”
A shootout looked highly probable after the first two possessions. Albany took the opening kickoff and marched down the field, culminating in a 4-yard scoring run by Hill for a 6-0 lead.
It took only two plays for Sunray to answer back, as Lujan found a ridiculously wide-open Davis up the left sideline, and Davis could have crawled into the end zone for a 61-yard score which gave the Bobcats a 7-6 lead.
“They just took our flats away and played more physical,” said Lujan of the Lions. “We weren’t communicating who we had to pick up. It was just cramps which were bothering me. I’m not thinking about next year yet.”
Albany took the lead back for good, as Chip Chambers hit Branson Beal for a 30-yard scoring pass to make it 13-7. It was the first of two touchdown passes in the half for Chambers, who found Cason Fairchild on a 37-yard scoring pass to make it 20-7 in the second quarter Chambers and Lujan actually dueled to a standoff yardage wise, as each one threw for 198 yards.
It could have been much rougher for Sunray in the first half, as between those two scoring passes, a high center snap got away from Lujan and the Lions recovered at the Sunray 24-yard line. However, the Bobcats held on downs to stay in the game.
They made it a lot more interesting when Lujan scored on a 1-yard run with 30 seconds left in the half to cut it to 20-14 going into the locker room. However, those were their last points of the season.
“Some of these guys have been on teams that were not very successful and some of these guys have been on teams that were always successful,” Boatmun said. “This team is special. They came together with just the right mix of kids and accomplish something that’s only been done a couple of times in the history of Sunray.”