SAN ANTONIO – Salado quarterback Hayden Haire double-checked with his dad, or in this instance, head coach Alan Haire.
Eagles running back Aaron Torczynski thought about redemption.
Salado has the Bellville monkey off its back and can continue what has turned into a two-year renaissance.
A slug-it-out Class 4A Division II Region III semifinal night that was sloppy and snippy at times between two familiar foes with similar strengths, certainly scintillated at the end, and Salado answered Bellville’s overtime field goal with Hayden Haire’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Torczynski that propelled the Eagles to a 13-10 victory and a date with a defending champion.
“I knew when he called my number this time, I knew I was going to go get the ball,” said Torczynski, whose first thought after his team’s wild celebration in the back of one of the end zone’s at cavernous Alamodome was how this felt as though it made up for a fumble he lost in Salado’s lone defeat this season in overtime against Fairfield. “In the moment, I wasn’t really thinking about it, but as soon as I caught it, I couldn’t really believe it. Quarterback, he’s underrated. He should get a lot of credit. He just doesn’t get to throw a lot in our offense.”
That offense, the Slot-T, wasn’t nearly as potent against Bellville (7-6), which limited the Eagles to 150 yards rushing and 205 overall, 229 less than Salado’s average, in a game that was scoreless at halftime, had a combined 21 penalties and a turnover by each.
Alan Haire, though, was steadfast with his decision to throw on the Eagles’ first snap of overtime that followed Leo Guerrero’s 37-yard field goal.
“I called it in this huddle and my son says, ‘Dad, we need to get first downs.’ And I said, ‘We’re going to take a shot first. We still got three downs to get a first down.’ So he said, ‘If you want to do it, we’re doing it.’ And I said, ‘We’re doing it,’” Alan Haire recalled.
And look at what Salado (12-1) – which will face reigning 4A-II champion West Orange-Stark at a time, date and place yet to be determined at press time in the regional final – is doing.
Since Haire took the reins at his alma mater in 2016 after a handful of lean years, Salado’s 19 victories so far over the past two seasons are more than the Eagles’ previous eight years combined. And the 12 victories this season are the second most in program history.
It was the third consecutive season in which Salado and Bellville collided in the playoffs, and result might be example No. 1 in illustrating the difference at Salado.
Two years ago a 1-9 Salado squad was coming off its first win after 23 consecutive defeats when it encountered Bellville in the bi-district round. The Brahmas won 49-7.
The Eagles were 7-5 in 2016, including a playoff victory in Haire’s first season, but Bellville was the roadblock in the turnaround and eliminated the Eagles 34-14 in the area round.
“It’s not about coaches and Xs and Os. It’s about coaching people and building relationships,” Haire said. “The same kids were there, but I think as a coach you give them two things. You believe in them and you give them an advantage. If you can do that, you can compete. It’s about relationships.”
Salado opened the second half with an 18-play, 70-yard drive that took up of the third and was capped by Trey Sheppard’s 2-yard TD run. The Brahmas answered with a clock-chewing 15-play, 75-yard drive and tied it on Chancellor Leaks-Gillum’s 8-yard scoring run with left in the fourth.
The Brahmas traveled to the Eagles 34 while chewing up of the remaining of regulation, but quarterback Marcus Ward was stopped for 5 yards on fourth-and-7 with 6 seconds left and Hayden Haire kneeled the next snap to send it to overtime.
“Really proud of these kids,” Bellville coach Grady Rowe said. “Give it to Salado. They executed and they hung in there.”