With both teams experiencing school-record seasons, Bluff Dale Bobcats eliminate Morgan Eagles with second half surge in Class 1A, DII Region III semifinals
DUBLIN – Senior DJ Wood scored six touchdowns and senior Ty Moore tossed three scoring passes as the Class 1A, Division II’s ninth-ranked Bluff Dale Bobcats used a dominating second half to spring past the Morgan Eagles, 81-35, in a Region III Semifinal playoff matchup Friday night in Dublin’s Bob & Norma Cervetto Stadium.
“I am very proud of our young men and the way they battled against an athletic Morgan team,” Bluff Dale head coach Wade Johnson said. “We managed to capitalize on multiple opportunities to put together a complete team win.”
Establishing their high school football program in 2017, Bluff Dale (10-1) won its first district title and its first playoff game on its way to the State Semifinals to face Oakwood at 7 p.m. Friday at Ferris.
“Advancing on to the Regional Final round is not only a huge accomplishment for our team but for our school and community as well,” Johnson said. “I could not be more proud of our players and their accomplishments up to this point. It certainly has been an absolute privilege to coach and lead these young men over the past three seasons.”
In the final seconds of the first half, Morgan junior Mark Anthony Garcia fielded a kickoff at the 14-yard line, threw it back across the field to sophomore EJ Aviles, who returned it 66 yards for a touchdown to make it a one-score game with 14 seconds left in the first half. But Bluff Dale countered as Bobcat sophomore Brylen Feist returned the ensuing kickoff 77 yards to give Bluff Dale a comfortable 44-28 advantage at intermission.
“We didn’t really give our best performance in the first half,” Morgan head coach Eduardo Aviles said. “But we were at one point within a touchdown of Bluff Dale. I really believe it should have been a close game. I am not trying to take anything from Bluff Dale, but we have a good team as well. It is just unfortunate we didn’t display it for the whole game.”
Sophomore EJ Aviles threw two touchdown passes and ran for another in the losing effort for Morgan (8-4), but senior Adrian Vera-Rico went out with an injury on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. Senior Kason Sims and sophomore Zach Mitchell caught scoring strikes, but the Eagles were only able to produce 213 total yards of offense.
“Morgan did a good job in the first half,” Johnson said. “We had to make some adjustments at halftime to combat their aggressive defensive alignment. We managed to get our passing game going in the second half and were able to take advantage of multiple opportunities.”
Riding the momentum of their last second kickoff return for a touchdown in the first half, the Bobcats (11-1) took control of the game in the second half, outscoring Morgan, 27-7, to end the matchup by virtue of the 45-point mercy rule with 49 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
“Adrian Vera-Rico has been our workhorse for the last two seasons,” Aviles said. “When he isn’t on the field, we are not as good of a team. Unfortunately, to make it this far and further you need to be healthy. When we didn’t have him, it made a big difference. Our team morale just took a hit not having him. It seemed we just kept waiting for someone else to make plays when it was needed the most.
“Bluff Dale is a great team and they just wanted it more. They didn’t get flustered and kept their cool during the game.”
DJ Wood led Bluff Dale with 144 yards rushing while freshmen Austin Saucedo and Jayce Adams added rushing touchdowns. Moore completed eight of 10 passes for 223 yards, connecting with junior Tristen Wood three times for 70 yards and touchdown, while hitting DJ Wood three times for 85 yards and a score and senior Adrian Saucedo on a scoring strike.
“We had a lot of offensive involvement in the game as we had seven different players in the scoring column,” Johnson said. “Our players rose to the occasion in the second half, and I could not be more proud of their effort along with their determination to seal the win for us.”
Defensively, Tristen Wood led the Bobcats with 11 tackles, followed by Feist with six, DJ Wood with four and a fumble recovery, Adams with four tackles and Adrian Saucedo with three tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.
The Bobcats will now face the surprising Oakwood Panthers (10-2), who upset the fourth-ranked Oglesby Tigers (11-1), 38-32, last Friday night in Mexia.
“Oakwood is coming off of a big win over a good and very well-coached Oglesby team,” Johnson said. “Oakwood is no stranger to the playoffs and has experience playing in the postseason. They have had a strong ground attack all season on offense and have had some quality wins this season.
“We plan to continue to take things one game at a time as we look forward to our regional matchup with a talented Oakwood squad.”
On the flipside, Morgan’s loss drew the curtains on the most successful season in school history. The Eagles qualified for the postseason for the third straight year by capturing the District 10-1A, DII title before winning the first playoff game in school history by knocking off the Fannindel Falcons, 70-34, in a Bi-District matchup.
“I am really proud of the fact we won our district, then finally got the first postseason win in school history,” Aviles said. “It has been a goal or dream of mine to come back and make us as successful as we could be in everything that we do. We have a lot to be proud of this season.”
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS
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