FRISCO — Salado running back Hunter Turk gathered with his fellow senior offensive starters on the bench for a motivational conversation during the fourth quarter Saturday evening.
“We just kind of said, ‘One last time, let’s just get it done,’” he said.
And they did, as Turk plowed ahead for his second 1-yard touchdown rush with only 13 seconds remaining against powerful Texarkana Pleasant Grove.
Alas, Turk’s late score didn’t give the Eagles a dramatic victory or send the Class 4A Division II area-round playoff game into overtime at the Ford Center. It simply was one final expression this season of Salado’s physical, tough-minded approach.
An undefeated state champion in 2017 and a state runner-up last year, Pleasant Grove displayed its dominance by rushing for 349 yards and using its menacing defensive line to limit Salado’s lethal Slot-T rushing attack to 183 yards as the Hawks beat the Eagles 42-14.
“I knew it was going to be a meat grinder,” said Salado coach Alan Haire, who guided the Eagles (8-4) to at least the second round of the playoffs for the third time in his four seasons. “Golly, Pleasant Grove’s got, what, four Division I (prospects) on the defensive line? So we were going to try to get 3 yards a carry and minimize their possessions, which I felt like we did early.”
Pleasant Grove (11-1) scored touchdowns on its first six possessions and advanced to battle Sunnyvale (12-0) in a Region II semifinal.
The Hawks’ versatile Wing-T crew got 123 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Bruce Garrett, and fellow senior KJ Hicks produced a stellar all-around performance. Hicks ran for 110 yards and a touchdown, turned Ben Harmon’s short pass into a 78-yard third-quarter TD and made a leaping interception to thwart Salado’s scoring opportunity late in the first half.
“My body’s killing me right now,” said Turk, who had 89 yards on 22 carries for an Eagles offense that came in averaging 371.4 yards rushing. “I felt like we came into it ready to go. We were trying to compare ourselves to the best. It’s an opportunity to get better. But they’re just a hell of a team. They’re definitely going to make a good run at it.”
Pleasant Grove moved to 40-4 in the last three seasons and closer to its third straight state title game.
“The first thing was to play disciplined football, because coach Haire does such a phenomenal job of playing sound ball,” Hawks coach Josh Gibson said. “We had to get physical on the defensive line and get a punch.”
Pleasant Grove rushed on its first first 15 snaps, netting 133 yards and touchdowns from Hicks and Garrett to lead 14-0 with 3:21 left in the first quarter. Salado responded with a 75-yard drive capped by Turk’s 1-yard TD run on fourth-and-goal for a 14-7 game midway through the second.
After a pass interference penalty negated an interception by Salado’s Latrell Jenkins, Nick Martin’s 14-yard TD run put Pleasant Grove up 21-7. The Eagles then drove to the Hawks 21-yard line, but Hicks leaped to intercept Hutton Haire’s pass intended for Wrook Brown (46 yards rushing, 57 yards receiving).
“We were taking a shot right there, and if it goes in, everything’s well,” Alan Haire said.
Hicks’ ensuing 46-yard run led to Garrett’s 9-yard TD rush 12 seconds before halftime, giving Pleasant Grove a commanding 28-7 advantage.
“We’re only losing 12 seniors, and we’ve got a bunch of juniors returning who got great experience today,” Alan Haire said. “I love Salado and I love our athletes.”