Salado has come a long way.
After winning just two games the previous three years, the Eagles continued a magical 2016 season Saturday afternoon by defeating Waco Connally 33-28 on a muddy field in Salado to capture the third seed in District 9-4A, Division II.
Salado (6-4, 3-2 9-4A, D-II) racked up 426 yards of total offense in the win, 301 of which came on the ground.
“I’m excited for these kids,” Alan Haire, Eagles first-year head coach, said. “From where we started to where we are now, it’s a testament to their work ethic, and the type of people they are and the type of parents they have, because they come to work every day.
“It’s one of those years I just want to go slower, just one of those years you enjoy because they love getting better.”
Senior Jake Harvey led Salado on the ground with 125 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries, and he also caught two passes for 54 yards and a score. Junior Trey Sheppard had 22 carries for 124 yards, and fellow junior Aaron Torczynski tallied 14 carries for 54 yards.
Harvey said the Eagles had a great week of practice and were prepared for what Connally was going to bring to the field.
“It was kind of muddy, which affected the handoffs,” Harvey said, “but we just played the way we usually do and ran the ball. The O-line did good, and we run No. 5 (Torczynski) and No. 25 (Sheppard) constantly, and then when I run it they’re not expecting it.
“That’s what we do.”
Salado will play La Grange (4-5) in the bi-district round of the playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Pflugerville Hendrickson.
Saturday’s contest began on a sour note for the Eagles, as the Cadets took the opening drive 74 yards on six plays and culminated it with a 2-yard touchdown run by senior Kristian Evans. Junior place-kicker Gerardo Bazaldua made the extra point to put Connally up 7-0 at the 9:38 mark in the first quarter.
Salado responded with a five-play, 61-yard drive that was capped off by a 22-yard scoring gallop by Harvey. Junior kicker Jake Walrath was successful with the point after to tie the game at 7-all with 8:03 left in the opening period.
The Cadets regained the lead with 2:39 remaining in the first on a 76-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Ricky Gerik to senior Devin Miles for a 14-7 advantage.
On the ensuing possession, however, the Eagles drove 68 yards on 13 plays to score. Junior Hayden Haire crossed the goal line on a 1-yard quarterback sneak to make the score 14-13, Connally, after the extra-point attempt failed with 9:35 left in the second quarter.
But Salado took the lead on its next drive, as Haire found Harvey for a 30-yard touchdown pass to go up 19-14 with 5:29 remaining in the half.
Connally was driving for a late score in the second period, but junior Quade Brown intercepted a Gerik pass at the Eagles’ 33-yard line to halt the possession and preserve a five-point Salado lead at the break.
“Our coaches on the sidelines were saying, ‘Watch the pass, watch the pass,’” Brown said. “I just stayed deep and broke on the ball. It was a good play.
“Our game plan was to basically make them go lateral. No big plays, make them drive on us.”
The Eagles extended their lead to 26-14 at the 3:47 mark in the third quarter on a 3-yard touchdown run by Harvey.
The Cadets replied with a six-play, 52-yard drive that was capped off on a 6-yard scoring run by Evans to pull within 26-21.
Salado scored its final touchdown with 10:09 left in the fourth quarter on a 46-yard dash to the end zone by Harvey, and although Connally answered with a 3-yard touchdown run by Evans — his third of the day — with 6:26 remaining in the game, the Eagles held on for a five-point victory.
The game was moved from Friday night to Saturday afternoon due to lighting issues.