MIDLOTHIAN, Texas -- Aledo’s season-long defensive improvement can finally be accurately measured.
The Bearcats “other’’ unit, the one most often overlooked, absolutely dominated Stephenville, and a 33-0 shutout was Aledo’s reward in the Class 4A Division II Region I title game.
Fifteen long weeks ago, on the final Friday of a steamy August, the same Stephenville offense riddled Aledo for 450 yards and 48 points in a one-point victory.
Different story this time on rainy Saturday afternoon at Midlothian ISD Multi-Purpose Stadium.
With a couple of position changes, a more physical approach and a season of playing together, Aledo (12-2) limited the Yellow Jackets (12-2) to 190 total yards and zero points.
Aledo’s defense was so good, it didn’t even matter that record-setting running back Johnathan Gray was ejected in the late stages of the third quarter because of a second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
“We always hear that the defensive side needs to pick it up,’’ senior cornerback Todd Christian said. “I think today we pulled our weight.’’
Stephenville’s running game averaged less than two yards per carry. Talented senior running back Aiavion Edwards was limited to 33 yards on 14 carries.
Jackets junior quarterback Tyler Jones, when he wasn’t chased, hurried or sacked, saw the wet football slip through receivers hands or watched Aledo’s defensive backs make well-timed hits to break up plays. Jones finished 10-of-28 for 113 yards.
“Our defense played great,’’ said Aledo coach Tim Buchanan. “Coach [Steve] Wood came up with a heck of a game plan and our guys have been working on those little things all season.’’
Said Christian: “It has taken a lot of things for our defense to come together. People were counting us out early. But we kept working and never lost that chemistry.‘’
Aledo took charge on the game’s second play when Gray broke a 75-yard touchdown run. Almost unnoticed on the end of the play was an unsportsmanlike conduct flag on the running back for a hand gesture he made after reaching the end zone.
It became a big deal when Gray was high-stepping the final yards of an apparent 33-yard touchdown run in the third period. He was flagged for a second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which carries automatic ejection.
“First of all, the same ref called both of the penalties,’’ Gray said. “On the first one, I wasn’t gesturing at Stephenville players, I was motioning to my teammates and fans.
“On the second one, the ref said I couldn’t step up my stride. I didn’t know that I’d be kicked out of game. If this had been a close game, it could have hurt us.
“I don’t think I did anything wrong. The refs need to realize this is a playoff game with a lot of emotion.’’
But his head coach wasn’t as sympathetic.
“Johnathan was stupid,’’ Buchanan said. “That’s the reason he got kicked out. And he’s going to have a lot of running to do next week.’’
Gray's second penalty rubbed out what would have been his 60th touchdown of the season, which would have broken the state single-season mark he set last year.
Gray finished with 195 yards on 19 carries, giving him10,449 for his career. He remains fourth nationally. Gray’s first period touchdown was No. 199 of his career, five behind the national leader Michael Hart’s 204 while playing for Nedrow Onondaga, N.Y. in 2000-2003. Gray is also second to Hart in career points, 1,196 to 1,246.
Aledo, winner of 16 straight playoff games, advances to a state semifinal meeting with 13-1 Corsicana on Friday night at Mesquite Memorial Stadium. Kickoff time has not yet been finalized.