JUSTIN, Texas -- Heartbroken after falling in the bi-district round last season, Arlington Heights' Omar Valadez vowed to do whatever it took to get that win his senior year.
Little did he know that would mean changing positions from quarterback to wide receiver halfway through the season.
“We didn’t really have a main receiver, so me going out there made key plays for us,” Valadez said. “I’ve been going out there and they’ve been throwing me the ball, and I’ve just tried to get open.”
Thanks in part to the switch, Valadez and Arlington Heights got that 4A Division 1 bi-district win over Birdville, 14-13, at Northwest ISD Stadium on Thursday night.
“I’m so pumped right now,” Valadez said. “I’m tearing up -- that’s how excited I am.”
The senior captain not only plays wide receiver, but is also on the kickoff and kick return teams and plays on defense, where he picked up a key sack in the fourth quarter.
“All he wants to do is win,” Arlington Heights coach Ged Kates said. “He’s as fine a young man as I’ve ever been around.”
It was that defensive squad that was the key to Arlington Height’s win. Heights brought linebackers and defensive backs on almost every play, sending Birdville quarterback E.A. Northey to the turf throughout the game.
And it took two key defensive plays, a point-after block and an interception, to seal the nail-biter for the Yellow Jackets.
Down 14-7 with a little over a minute left in the game, Birdville marched down to score on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Northey to Collin Basinger on a screen, which seemed to ensure overtime.
But Arlington Heights DE Demetrie Webb blew past his blocker on the extra-point try and dived in front of the kick, giving his team a one-point lead with a minute to play.
Arlington Heights recovered the ensuing onside kick, but fumbled the snap in the victory formation and Birdville recovered on the 50.
On the verge of field goal range with a half minute to play, Arlington Heights safety Chucky Lincoln jumped his receiver’s post route and picked off Northey’s pass to seal the win for the Yellow Jackets.
“I knew they were going to try and pass it over and I saw my guy just make a simple post,” Lincoln said. “I knew I needed to jump that route to win the game for us. It’s amazing.”
Heights then ran a successful victory formation -- after Kates adamantly reminded his team the snap count -- and hoisted a bi-district trophy for the second time in three years (and second time in 35 years).
“This is the kind of team we have. Nothing is ever easy," Kates said. "I love them, but I’m already bald and what I’ve got is gray.”
For Kates, the biggest difference he’s seen in this year’s team is that they have been battle-tested, losing twice this season. Last year’s team blew through the season undefeated and didn’t know what it was like to play in a close, playoff atmosphere game, Kates said.
Arlington Heights advances to play the winner of Granbury and Killeen in the area round of the 4A Division I playoffs. However, that game-planning can wait at least one night while Valadez and the Yellow Jackets celebrate a long-anticipated playoff win.
“Those Hawks are really good," Kates said. "I don’t know how many times we’d beat them out of 10, but we beat them once, and that’s all that matters.”