MESQUITE, Texas -- All eyes were on Johnathan Gray -- and rightfully so -- as Aledo routed Corsicana, 68-28, in the Class 4A Division II state semifinals Friday night. The superstar running back had 218 yards and five touchdowns and tied former University of Michigan running back Mike Hart for all-time career high school touchdowns with 204.
On a lesser-appreciated scale, Aledo’s defense put on one of its best shows of the year. The team allowed 28 points, but keep in mind this is a Corsicana team that has scored 40 or more points in 11 of 15 games.
Aledo can celebrate one major defensive milestone: Corsicana’s 28 points was the fewest it’s had all season. Give the young Bearcat defense -- one with only five seniors starting -- a lot of credit.
“The biggest thing is they’ve matured,” Aledo coach Tim Buchanan said. “We have a bunch of young kids, and I told all the sophomores after Week 10, you’re no longer sophomores; you’re juniors. You tell the juniors that they’re seniors now. It’s time to start acting like leaders, and they did.”
Aledo may have set the tone in the game’s first minute. On the first two plays, Aledo held Corsicana to negative yards combined. Cameron Washington, Corsicana’s electrifying, 3,000-yard running back, was held to 10 rushing yards in the first quarter.
“Our defense came out with a lot of heart, and we were able to shut them down the first few plays,” said junior linebacker Gunner Johnson, who made the first big play of the night for the defense, a tackle for a 1-yard loss on Corsicana quarterback DeVontay Bell.
“The first few games, we didn’t know each other. Honestly, we’re like brothers now,” Johnson said. “We’re a big family. We play for each other and have each other’s backs.”
Aledo’s defense isn’t the same defense from earlier this season. Against Stephenville and Lake Travis in the first and third games, respectively, Aledo gave up a combined 110 points. In five playoff games, the Bearcats have given up 75 points. This includes a shutout victory against Stephenville last week.
To make matters sweeter for Aledo, Washington was held to 91 yards for the game -- a rarity for him to be held under triple-digit yardage.
“We knew if we came out and made a few stops early, we could win games,” junior defensive end Jared Hinsley said. “There’s a lot of intensity in practice, and Coach [Buchanan] really gets us fired up. We’ve been preparing ourselves for this. It was huge.”
Sophomore linebacker Jordan Mittie added: “Just knowing that any week we can go home has pushed us. Definitely holding Stephenville to zero points last week was a big moment for us. Now, we’re going to play for state.”
The defense will be feeling confident heading into Cowboys Stadium next Saturday, as Aledo looks for its third consecutive state title. It will face either Manvel or Corpus Christi Calallen, two teams that play a Saturday afternoon semifinal in San Antonio.
And if all goes in the Aledo defense’s favor, it will share the limelight with Gray next week.
“We’re going into the state championship game with a lot of confidence on the offensive side,” Johnson said, “and now we’re going in with confidence on the defensive side, too. It’s awesome.”