Some games you never forget. Even in details. Bi-District-Llano- Rockdale in 1976. Jackets lost in the final seconds on a field goal 10-9. Bi-District Llano- Bastrop in 1973. Llano won 7-0. Llano –Fredericksburg 1977. Llano won 35-34. Bi-District 1997- Llano- Cuero. Cuero won 13-7. And only last season, Llano-San Saba. Llano won 35-31.
In my mind, the Ballinger game will be on that short list. The Jackets played their hearts out, and still lost. Ballinger played their hearts out, and played in a game they will remember for the rest of their lives. Bearcats won 35-34 in over-time. After the San Saba game last season, the Armadillos went home with all the respect in the world from Llano fans and players. I suspect that not a Bearcat or Bearcat fan didn’t hold as much respect for the Jackets.
Opening the game, each teams defense showed up and forced punts. But on the Jackets second possession, Llano drove 10 plays and 57 yards down to the 5 yard line. Llano pulled off a fake punt on fourth down when junior Carson Kuykendall ran 21 yards and a first down. Senior quarterback Maddox Green hit junior Brock Fly for a five yard gain. Four plays later Maddox hit junior Sam Sueltenfuss for 21 yards and a first down. Junior Miguel Hernandez made 4 yards to set up a field goal attempt by Sam on a 22 yard try. And the field goal is good and Llano lead 3-0.
Ballinger had the football and drove to the 31 yard line. Fourth down. The Jacket defense held. Llano’s defense has not allowed a point in the first quarter this season. Great effort by senior Zach Watson, juniors Isaiah Bush, Caden Bauman, Fitz Kennedy, Coy Kelso and a 6 yard loss by linebacker Ricky DeLa Torre ended the quarter. Ballinger started with the ball on their 25 yard line. Two pass plays, and 9 running plays. Ballinger had a running back that was 6’2, and 215 pounds. To say he was a load is an understatement. A real work horse. The Jacket defense was tough, but not enough. The quarterback scored on the 10th play and Ballinger went up 7-3. Outstanding play by Tanner Howell and River Smith, both juniors.
The Jackets recovered a Ballinger fumble on the next series. First play Maddox to Sam for 41 yards down to the 6 yard line. A 10 yard penalty did not faze Llano. Maddox went back to Sam for the 16 yard TD catch. Llano lead 9-7 The Jackets ended the half when junior Hayden Manahan sacked the quarterback of Ballinger for an 11 yard loss.
Llano kicked off to Ballinger. The Bearcats were held, but a ruffing the passer put Ballinger back in business. Two long passes of 23 and 44 yards put the Bearcats on the scoreboard and went ahead 13-9. Sam blocked their extra point try.
Llano only had the ball four plays in the third quarter. But that was all they needed. 8 yards by Carson. Four by Miguel. And then a 37 yard completion to junior Coy Kelso for the TD and Llano lead 15-13.Maddox was 8 for 15 and 124 yards thru the first 3 quarters. Llano only had the ball on offense for 9 plays total in the second and third quarters.
The fourth quarter would be a bugger. The Jacket defense had been on the field 38 plays in the second and third quarters. And on the first play of the fourth quarter, Ballinger scored and went ahead 21-15. Llano came right back. Completions to junior Ross Prokop for 10 and 5 yards. Sam for 12 more. And Sam for the final 12 yards and the TD toss from Maddox. The extra point was blocked and we had a 21-21 game.
Junior Caden Bauman intercepted the first play of the Bearcats from his safety position. Llano was unable to move the football and Ballinger had the ball on the 29 yard line. A great play by junior Cole Franklin for no yards halted the drive for a moment. But pass completions of 18 yards and 35 allowed the Host to score. 28-21 Bearcats.
No give up in the Jackets. A 15 yard kick off return by Sam. Maddox hit Carson for 14 yards. and the final 45 yards was a picture perfect pass from Maddox to Coy for the TD. Sam kicked good and score 28-28. Llano defense held on the Bearcats final drive. Fitz Kennedy, Hayden, Ricky and Bush had game stopping plays. Actually, Caden Bauman’s second interception of the night ended the drive. Aiden Guido and Aiden Hendrickson had great games. And now into over-time.
Set up on the 25 yard line, Ballinger scored in 4 plays, despite two outstanding plays by Manahan. Kick was good, score 35-28.
Llano’s turn. 10 yard catch by Ross, and a face mask had the Jackets on the seven. Miguel for 4 yards and Carson in from the three. 35-34. Sam to kick…but this time, no good.
Every player. Every Coach. Both sides. Every fan. All were exhausted beyond description. I tried to find Zack Watson, who had been playing both ways. Great plays by Ulisses Martinez, Jaxon Lange, Ross Edwards, and Dylon Kennedy. Senior Matthew Whitley was outstanding. Junior Daniel Sandovall getting so much better weekly. Jordan Coronado coming off injury, hurt again. Jenin Bastyens making plays as a senior. Tremendous effort. Everyone.
Do not remember a game in which a player was so outstanding, as was the case with Hayden Manahan. 19 tackles, solo!.. I’ve never heard of such a feat. His leadership is making this defense one to be reckoned with, by everyone we play. And his cast of “take no survivors” defenders are special.
Except for the barrage of injuries, this could turn out to be a great game for the Jackets. Will be hard to see where Llano will face a team as physically tough as Ballinger. And Llano proved to themselves they could keep coming back, even to the end. Even when being behind 3 times, and coming back each time. This kind of game will make Llano better. Beating a weak Sonora team had little value. This game had value. You want to win every game. And Llano expects to win every game. And Llano starts District next. And the Jackets expect to win.
Will write again next Monday. We will talk about the District race that begins next week. Jackets…get healed and well. And thanks for the memory.