The Sunray Bobcats executed their game-plan to perfection showing a very physical style of play dominating both sides of the ball to take down previously unbeaten and No. 3-ranked New Home 28-7 in a marquee Class 2A Division II area round matchup of top 10 teams under the lights of Happy State Bank Stadium on Friday.
The victory guarantees a new Region I champion from a year ago as the Leopards end the year at 11-1. This also assures a Texas Panhandle team will advance to the state semifinals with Sunray, Wellington, Gruver and Clarendon as the only teams still standing heading into the regional semifinals next week.
Sunray (10-2) gains a measure of revenge as well after falling to New Home last year in this same round in a heartbreaking 22-21 loss.
“This team has had a longtime to think about this game,” Sunray head coach Wes Boatmun said. “We were looking forward to playing these guys again. It happened earlier than we thought it was going to happen, but we were motivated, we were focused and we controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball the entire game. It was a tremendous team effort. I would say this is the best win we’ve had because of how we played for all four quarters.”
Though the Bobcats have a reputation for a pass-happy team, Sunray offensive coordinator Caleb Harley attacked New Home behind an effective ground game and timely passing that left the Leopards in complete disarray.
It started on Sunray’s second drive of the game on a heavy dose of running back Arnold Mendoza mixed in with timely passing from standout quarterback Armando Lujan. The Bobcats took a 60-plus yard drive for the first score highlighted by a Lujan eight-yard touchdown run that gave them a 7-0 advantage at the 3:55 mark of the opening frame.
That was just the beginning. The second quarter was more of the same as Sunray stretched the lead thanks to a 92-yard march with that same recipe that was capped off by a Lujan to Ty McDowell eight-yard pitch and catch, then followed by another Lujan scamper of four-yards that put the Bobcats in complete control 21-0 with 1:44 to halftime.
As much as Lujan gets the praise for Sunray, and scored the touchdowns on the night, the offensive line and the bruising Mendoza was the story. The Sunray big men and Mendoza worked over New Home’s defensive front as Mendoza chewed up 172 yards rushing on 28 carries. Again, Sunray executed an outstanding game-plan totaling 476 yards of offense gaining 259 yards on the ground and 217 by air. Lujan finished a superb night 17-of-23 for those 217 yards with a touchdown toss and two rushing scores and Dawson Bennett snagged six catches for 101 yards.
The Sunray offense also put up 29 first downs to New Home’s eight.
“Arnold is a workhorse,” Boatmun said. “He gets those tough yards. He’s hard to bring down. When he hits you over and over you can break a team. He carried the load for us and it was an impressive performance.”
Mendoza echoed Boatmun’s comments.
“I just wanted to go out there and do the best for my team,” Mendoza said. “We executed our game-plan and I’m so happy we got this win. They beat us out last year and we wanted this one.”
As good as the Sunray offense was, the followed suit with an equally impressive effort. Anytime the Bobcats needed a stop or a big play the defense delivered. Trailing 21-0, New Home was trying to cut the deficit in the final minute before the half, however, Sunray defensive back Dawson Bennett picked off a Caleb Cook pass inside the Bobcat 10-yard line.
In the second half, after a Sunray fumble, it was defender Kagan Davis picking off a New Home pass on a trick play that stalled another key drive opening moments of the fourth quarter.
New Home just never found a rhythm as the Sunray defense stifled the Leopards to 43 yards rushing and 197 total yards for the contest.
“Football is a game of momentum,” Boatmun said. “When we needed a big play, we got one. They moved the ball against us, but we always answered the challenge. Dawson Bennett got a big interception then another one in the second half. A lot of things went are way and the most important thing we did was never give up momentum.”