Four-Loss Tenaha the Only Defending State Champion Still Alive in Playoffs
The Tenaha Tigers were one of 10 state champions in 11-man football last season. And after four weeks of playoff action, they're only ones capable of a repeat.
One game away from a return trip to state, Tenaha's 2-4 start seems like a distant memory.
“That’s kinda crazy," Tigers coach Terry Ward said. "If you had told me that back in August or September that we’d be the only state champion still playing, I would have got a good laugh out of that. I tell you what, the kids have really picked it up and been playing very hard. I’m very proud of those kids.
"They’ve overachieved all year and they’re doing stuff nobody expected them to do. I couldn’t be more pleased with them.”
Tenaha is currently in the midst of a seven-game winning streak, but that run was put in serious jeopardy last Friday night against Frost.
Things began easy enough for Tenaha as the Tigers built a 26-8 first-half lead.
“We came out defensively being really aggressive and we were just executing on offense," Ward said.
Then everything changed. Frost scored 22 straight points to take a 30-26 lead in the fourth quarter.
“They’ve got a good club," Ward said of Frost. "We had four turnovers, three fumbles and a muffed punt and the muffed punt led to a score. They converted several fourth downs the whole night to keep the ball moving. We only had the ball for three plays the entire third quarter.”
Instead of panicking, Tenaha answered.
“At that point, you tried not to think about it," Ward said. "You knew we were behind, but we also knew we’d been able to move the ball pretty well all night. The kids stayed positive and we told them to go score. The kids responded, they rose to the occasion and went down and scored.”
Even after Chavis Gregory's 17-yard touchdown run gave the lead back to Tenaha, Frost was mounting a furious rally. But on the game's final play from the Tigers' 2-yard line, the Polar Bears fumbled.
“There are a lot of teams I’ve been around or that I’ve coached that might not have battled back the way our kids did the other night," Ward said.
The very nature of victory has increased the confidence level of the team, according to Ward.
“The kids are very excited," he said. "They’re confident, but not overconfident. They also know that we didn’t play a perfect football game the other night, but we were able to come away with a win. They know there are areas we need to get better at and improve on this week. Right now, they’re excited and that’s a good thing to be.”
Standing in Tenaha's way of back-to-back state final appearances is the 2010 Class A state champion Falls City Beavers.
“This is a matchup of the last two state champions," Ward said. "All of their seniors were sophomores when they won it. They definitely have the pedigree. They made the regional finals last year, so they’ve won a lot of football games over the last couple of years. They’re very well-coached and disciplined, especially defensively right now. They’re not allowing very many touchdowns and I think they have five or six shutouts on the year.”
Kickoff for the Class A Division II state semifinal is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday from Cypress' Berry Center. The winner will face either Wellington or Munday in the state championship game, set for noon Thursday (Dec. 20) from Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.