ARLINGTON, Texas -- When in trouble, J. W. Walsh’s safety blanket is Quintavia Gardener.
Countless times in its record-breaking season when a play broke down, the Denton Guyer quarterback simply threw long in the direction of the 6-1, 180-pound Gardener, one of the quarterback’s closest friends and a receiver athletic enough to catch just about anything in his direction.
But at the most crucial moment, with the Class 5A Division II state title on the line, the play backfired.
Cibolo Steele defensive back Kwame Clark, three inches shorter than Gardener, intercepted Walsh’s deep throw at the Knights' 9 with 1:31 remaining, securing Cibolo Steele’s 24-21 victory Saturday evening before 37,744 at Cowboys Stadium.
An emotional Walsh apologized to teammates after the game.
“I should have known better than to throw that ball when the game is on the line,’’ the Oklahoma State commit explained later. “It was a little underthrown. It needed to be a little higher.’’
Gardener got his hands on the ball, but the shorter Clark had the advantage because Gardener was forced to reach over him. It was easier for Clark to secure the ball in his chest and remove any doubt of a dual-possession catch.
“J.W. has been making that play to Q all season,’’ said Guyer coach John Walsh, J.W.’s father. “It probably isn’t the soundest play, but it has worked all season. It is a reason we’re where we were at tonight. Their cornerback did a great job in coverage.’’
Walsh was scrambling left, a difficult throw for a right-handed quarterback, when he spotted Gardener behind the defense.
Guyer had driven from its 21 to the 37 and was not far from field-goal range at the time of the interception.
Certainly, Guyer had other opportunities in a game that was longer on defense then most would have expected with Walsh in one huddle and running back Malcolm Brown, a Texas commit, in the other.
Guyer (13-3), trying to win a state title in its first Class 5A season, took its first and only lead, 21-17, on a 10-yard touchdown run by Treavon Walton with 7:13 remaining.
The Wildcats only had to go 17 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, thanks to Josh Stewart’s punt return and a facemask penalty on the end of the run.
Steele (14-2) answered with a grinding 77-yard march in 10 plays, with Brown, the Offensive MVP, carrying the final two yards on a toss sweep. Brown finished with 107 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, despite suffering a stinger in his shoulder in the first half.
“The trainers loosened it up and I was ready to go after that,’’ Brown said.
Steele quarterback Tommy Armstrong made a game-saving play on the winning drive by digging out a recovery of his own fumble deep in the Steele end when Guyer players seemed to have a much better shot of securing the ball.
Steele is the first school to win a state championship in its first year in Class 5A since Southlake Carroll in 2002.
Guyer’s last two seasons ended in losses in the Class 4A playoffs.
“We’ve done a lot in the that three years, we’ve won a lot of football games,’’ coach Walsh said. “I’m so proud of these kids and our program.''