Red-Zone Defense Helps Fairfield Eliminate Center, 21-17
LINDALE -- Two red-zone interceptions in the fourth quarter sealed the victory for the Fairfield Eagles, as they defeated the Center Roughriders 21-17 on Friday in their Class 3A Division II Region III bi-district playoff at Eagle Stadium.
Fairfield advances to face Lorena in the area-round next week.
Fairfield's (8-3) defense, despite yielding a game-high 197 yards and two touchdowns from Center star tailback K.J. Garrett, combined for four sacks, three interceptions, seven pass-breakups and two tackles for loss, while holding the Roughriders to seven second-half points.
Fairfield used a balanced attack on offense led by senior senior Aaron Cain, who played near flawless football, going 10 of 17 for 155 yards and two touchdowns. His favorite target was wide receiver Cooper Cole, who had 109 yards and two touchdowns on six catches. Fairfield's running backs Andre Welch and Larry Rose III combined for 169 yards and a touchdown to assist the attack.
"We kept playing hard until the last bell," said Fairfield coach John Bachtel. "We played Center early in the year, and they beat us by three in overtime. And then here's another barn-burner. We just made the plays at the end to win the game. Last week, we didn't play very well on defense, so this week we went back to basics in practice. We tackled a whole lot, and just got after it."
Center (8-3) took its first and only lead of the game early in the third quarter when Garrett scored from 13 yards out at the 8:32 mark, giving Center a brief 17-14 advantage.
Fairfield wasn't down for long. Cain and Cole quickly struck back, when they connected on a 29-yard touchdown at the 5:11 mark in the third, giving the Eagles a 21-17 lead. It was a play where two Center defensive backs converged on Cooper, who somehow slid behind them and raced into the end zone for the deciding score.
"Aaron's (Cain) gotten better and better the whole year. He's our captain, and we're so proud of him," Bachtel said.
Center's next drive went 10 plays, but quarterback Dalton Horton was sacked on fourth down in the red zone by senior linebacker Cody Sell with 2:48 left in the third.
With 3:58 remaining in the game, Center faced another fourth down in the red zone, but Horton was picked by safety Jacob Gallegos at the 2-yard line. Still, the Roughriders held Fairfield to a punt on its next possession and had one more opportunity to win it. With a first down at the Eagles' 45-yard line, sophomore cornerback Chance Carroll picked off Horton's pass and clinched the bi-district triumph.
The first half was about time of possession, and Fairfield won that battle. The Eagles held the ball for for over 15 minutes and had drives of 17 and 13 plays, both ending in touchdowns.
"When you're in the red zone, you have to score," said Center coach Kevin Goodwin. "I'm proud of these guys. We overcame a lot of stuff. No one thought that we would be what we were. With seven sophomores coming back, and a great freshman class, we plan on doing this more. Coach Bachtel, I can't say enough about that guy. He's a God-fearing man, and if i'm going to lose one, I'd rather it be to him."
Fairfield got on the board first when it completed a 17-play drive that ended the first quarter and went almost three minutes into the second. A Cain-to-Cole 12-yard scoring strike made it 7-0. After holding Center to a three-and-out, the Welch scored on a 4-yard jaunt and Fairfield held a 14-0 margin.
Center answered with an 11-play drive of its own when Garrett punched it in from 4 yards out, cutting the Eagles' advantage to 14-7.
After a Fairfield punt, Center strung together another 11-play drive, culminating in a Luis Garcia 23-yard field goal and a 14-10 deficit going into the intermission.