ARLINGTON — The football was in midair, the back-and-forth game was in the balance and the hearts of both teams’ fans were in their throats.
Senior tight end Chris Minter was in the end zone for Temple; senior quarterback-turned-emergency safety Luke Bishop was there for Aledo.
With a leaping interception of Chad President’s deep pass as time expired, Bishop brought jubilation and the Class 5A Division I state championship to the Bearcats and heartbreak to the Wildcats.
Fourth-ranked Temple outscored No. 1 Aledo 28-7 after halftime to turn a 35-17 deficit into a 45-42 lead with 5:50 remaining, but Bishop drove the Bearcats 75 yards for his go-ahead touchdown run with 47 seconds left and his interception in traffic allowed Aledo to prevail in a 49-45 classic that captivated 40,281 fans Saturday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.
“I can’t say enough about our football team and our fight,” Temple coach Mike Spradlin said. “There wasn’t a lot of second-half adjustments to it. We talked a lot (at halftime) just about taking the fight to them. We didn’t come all this way to spend the last 24 minutes feeling sorry for ourselves.”
Temple, in its eighth state championship game all-time and first since it won the 5A Division II crown in 1992, finished with a 13-2 record.
After winning three consecutive 4A Division II state titles from 2009-11 and another one in 2013, Aledo (15-1) earned its fifth state championship in six seasons, an achievement surpassed only by the Austin Lake Travis program that won five straight 4A titles from 2007-11.
“It feels great. It’s unbelievable,” said Aledo first-year coach Steve Wood, who served as coach Tim Buchanan’s defensive coordinator since 2002 before he became the Bearcats’ boss in late July. “We knew Temple was a very talented football team and we knew they would come at us. My hat’s off to Temple. There’s some pretty special people in that other dressing room.”
With 2,000-yard rusher Jeff Carr aggravating his previously injured ankle, his fellow Temple senior Marques Hatcher rushed 24 times for a game-high 171 yards and three touchdowns. Hatcher’s scoring rumbles of 9 and 5 yards helped the Wildcats outscore Aledo 14-0 in the third quarter to trim the Bearcats’ seemingly commanding lead to 35-31.
“When Jeff went down, I told (Marques), ‘You’ve got to step up and have an even better game than last week,” President said of Hatcher, who ran for 292 yards in the 76-35 state semifinal win over Leander Vandegrift and finished the season with 30 rushing touchdowns. “He said, ‘I’ve got you.’ We gave him the ball and he was breaking tackles. He’s amazing to watch. He’s a workhorse.”
Carr, who suffered a twisted ankle against Vandegrift, didn’t carry the ball after the early minutes of the third quarter and was limited to five carries for 24 yards. Carr finished with 2,099 yards this season and 3,978 for his three-year varsity career, second on Temple’s all-time list.
“Jeff’s an outstanding young man,” Spradlin said. “We tried to nurse him through it this week and he made a gallant effort in the first half, then he took a pretty good shot on that kickoff (early in the fourth quarter) and that pretty much finished it for him.
“Jeff’s been phenomenal. He’s absolutely the scariest running back I’ve ever coached. He can make everybody miss. He wasn’t 100 percent today and I know he hates that, but I love him for his effort.”
With Temple trailing by 18 points at halftime and Aledo getting the ball to begin the second half, President said the message among the Wildcats’ players was clear.
“There’s two halves to every game, and you’ve got to come out in the second half and give it your all. We said, ‘Empty the tank,’” said President, who was 18-for-33 passing for 233 yards with a 48-yard touchdown to Davion Curtis and rushed for 70 yards and one score.
Bishop was voted the title game’s Offensive MVP for the second straight season. His 20 rushes for 169 included touchdowns of 55 and 6 yards, and he threw scoring passes of 5 yards to Austin Summerhill and 29 yards to running back Jess Anders.
“(Temple) had made a great run at us. I just told everybody to stay calm,” Bishop said.
“He’s just a smart quarterback,” Temple senior cornerback Clint Cole said of Bishop. “He’s been there before and plays the brand of football he knows how to play.”
Anders ran for 103 yards and two TDs, and Defensive MVP Larry Brown intercepted a first-quarter President pass and returned it 31 yards for a Bearcats touchdown.
“Jess is a great football player, probably the best pound-for-pound player I’ve ever been around,” Wood said of Anders.
Anders’ 29-yard touchdown catch from Bishop on a wheel route on fourth-and-6 pushed it to 42-31 a minute into the fourth. But Temple whipped its huge crowd into a frenzy as President’s 6-yard TD run with 8:15 left and Jordan Lee’s acrobatic 40-yard scoring reception from receiver Tyler Hannon gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game at 45-42 with 5:50 to play.
But Bishop and Aledo skillfully moved down the field while burning clock. Anders gained 3 yards on fourth-and-1 from the Wildcats’ 13-yard line with 1:30 left, and with less than a minute remaining Bishop ran to the right side, got a block from Anders and raced in for the go-ahead 6-yard touchdown and a 49-45 advantage with 47 seconds to go.
The Wildcats began the game’s final possession at their 24 with 41 seconds left and had to use their final timeout with only 18 seconds remaining. Back-to-back 15-yard passes from President to Aaron Freeman advanced Temple to the Aledo 35 with 6 seconds to play, then with the Wildcats’ season down to one play President scrambled and launched a high-arching pass toward the goalpost for Minter, the 6-3, 230-pound tight end who had a touchdown catch in each of the previous three games.
But three Aledo defenders had Minter surrounded, and the 5-10, 180-pound Bishop jumped to secure the championship-clinching interception toward the back of the end zone.
“I told Chris to get to the back of the end zone and I was going to throw it up,” President said. “The line gave me enough time and I had enough air on it. It just sailed to the right a little bit and he just couldn’t get to it.”
Temple scored first for the 14th time in 15 games when a streaking Curtis caught President’s pass in the middle of the field and sprinted for a 48-yard touchdown, and Cole Martin’s first of six extra points gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead only 1:34 into the game.
Bishop’s 48-yard scamper set up Anders’ 2-yard touchdown run, but Hatcher responded with a 4-yard scoring rush for a 14-7 Temple lead with 4:36 left in the first quarter.
However, Bishop provided the spark as Aledo began to take control. One minute after Hatcher’s score Bishop outran everyone for a 55-yard touchdown and a 14-14 deadlock. President’s throw while rolling to his left was picked off by Brown, who took it back for the 31-yard touchdown and a 21-14 Aledo advantage late in the first.
Anders’ 11-yard scoring run midway through the second made it 28-14, and after Temple settled for Martin’s 35-yard field goal 2:16 before halftime Aledo preserved its momentum when Bishop’s 5-yard TD pass to a leaping Summerhill 23 seconds before the break made it 35-17.
“I don’t want to say the big stage got to us, but we didn’t play quite as carefree as I like for us to play,” Spradlin said. “We were on our heels defensively a little bit.”
Temple turned the tables on Aledo after halftime. Hatcher’s pair of touchdown runs in a 17-second span late in the third quarter and President’s athletic 5-yard scoring keeper with 8:15 remaining in the fourth pulled the revived Wildcats to within 42-38.
Already riding a wave of momentum and crowd noise behind their sideline, the Wildcats seized the lead with 5:50 left on a play they hadn’t shown since the season opener against Round Rock. Inside receiver Hannon caught President’s backward pass on the left side and threw deep for Lee, who reached back over a defender and tapped the ball twice before snaring it at the goal line for a 40-yard touchdown and a 45-42 Temple lead, causing pandemonium in the stands.
But Aledo’s savvy Bishop made the final moves for the win. His 6-yard, go-ahead TD run in the last minute gave the Bearcats the lead back, and his interception at the final gun ended the Wildcats’ dream season in heart-stopping fashion.
“It hurts right now,” President said. “But when we look back on it we’re going to see what we did through the season and enjoy it.”