Tenaha Holds Off Iola, 35-28, to Win Its Fourth Straight Regional Championship
TYLER -- With all the numbers that play into football, the number four was undoubtedly Tenaha's favorite number Friday night.
Four years, four trips to the final four.
T.J. Thomas accounted for three first-half touchdowns and the Tigers withstood Iola's second-half rally to win their fourth straight regional title, 35-28, at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
Tenaha (11-1), which handed Iola (11-1) its first loss of 2014, will play for a chance to get to the Class 2A Division II championship game against Bremond at a time and site to be determined. The Tigers have reached the state title game two of the last three years, but Friday marked the fourth straight year they hoisted a regional championship trophy.
"I tell ya', that's something I'm very proud of. It's not something we take lightly," Tenaha coach Terry Ward said. "It goes back to the kids. These seniors haven't lost one. It's very special."
It certainly didn't come easy against an Iola team that had major comeback aspirations in the second half.
Down 28-7 at halftime, Iola's do-everything quarterback Hayden Martinez put the Bulldogs on his back, accounting for three second-half touchdowns -- the last a 21-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Dykes to get Iola within seven at 35-28 with 8:24 left in the game.
The Bulldogs looked destined to tie things up after recovering a fumble at their own 43. Eight plays later they were sitting at fourth-and-goal on the Tenaha 4-yard line, but the Tigers defensive line dropped Martinez for a 3-yard loss to secure the victory.
"We told them at halftime it was going to be close. [Iola] is a very good team. We knew we were going to have to make some defensive stops, and we did it when it counted," Ward said. "They did a good job of coming out after halftime and making plays."
Iola scored 14 unanswered in the third quarter on touchdown runs of 25 and 27 yards by Martinez, the second capping a nine-play, 93-yard drive to make the score 28-21 with 2:33 left in the third quarter. Martinez, who came into the game with more than 3,000 total yards of offense and 54 touchdowns, finished with 177 yards and three touchdowns rushing and 108 yards and a touchdown passing.
But Tenaha has been here before, as we all know, and the Tigers responded to the 93-yard drive with an impressive one of their own.
Tigers 2,000-yard back Cobe Caraway, who came into the game averaging 12.6 yards per carry, was held in check in the first half, rushing for just 67 yards on 15 carries. But he was able to break loose in the second, rushing for 113 yards on 13 attempts.
Caraway responded to Iola's 93-yard scoring drive with a 53-yard run on Tenaha's first play. Two plays later an 18-yard touchdown run by Caraway was called back for holding. But three plays later his 14-yard touchdown gave Tenaha a two-touchdown lead six seconds into the fourth quarter.
While Caraway was Tenaha's catalyst in the second half, quarterback T.J. Thomas was its saving grace in the first. Tenaha had just 97 yards rushing in the first half, this for a team that averages 318 yards on the ground per game. But Thomas completed 9 of 13 first-half passes, including his final six attempts, for 151 yards and two touchdowns. He posted only 16 passing yards in the second half while Caraway took care of things on the ground.
Thomas, who scored Tenaha's first touchdown on a 27-yard run, found Seth Wyatt on a 33-yard touchdown connection on second-and-22 to put the Tigers up 21-7 with 2:15 left in the first half.
Iola lost a fumble on the ensuing drive, giving Tenaha great field position at the Bulldogs 23. Two plays later Thomas hit D'Andre Thomas in the middle of the field, and Thomas juked his way outside and dove inside the pylon as time expired to give Tenaha a 28-7 halftime lead.
T.J. Thomas finished 12 of 18 passing for 167 yards, with seven of those passes going to D'Andre Thomas for 107 yards, all in the first half.
"That's what we try to do, try to stay balanced and throw if we have to. We've been preaching that all year," Ward said. "When we've got to throw the ball, throw it and catch the ball, and be effective in the running game. It starts up front with our offensive line and they played a great game. They did a good job defensively, but we did enough to win it."
Tenaha 35, Iola 28
Class 2A Division II Region III Final
At Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium, Tyler
Iola 7 0 14 7 -- 28
Tenaha 7 21 0 7 -- 35
TEN--T.J. Thomas 27 run (Abel Rodriguez kick), 10:20
IOL--Hayden Martinez 21 run (Hector Arzola kick), 2:00
TEN--Cobe Caraway 1 run (Rodriguez kick), 7:04
TEN--Seth Wyatt 33 pass from Thomas (Rodriguez kick), 2:15
TEN--D'Andre Thomas 13 pass from T.J. Thomas (Rodriguez kick), 0:00
IOL--Martinez 25 run (Arzola kick), 9:48
IOL--Martinez 27 run (Arzola kick), 2:33
TEN--Caraway 14 run (Rodriguez kick), 11:54
IOL--Tyler Dykes 21 pass from Martinez (Arzola kick), 8:24
First Downs 16 21
Total Yards 336 384
Rushes-Yards 36-228 40-217
Passing Yards 108 167
Comp.-Att.-Int. 6-15-0 12-18-0
Punts-Avg. 2-36.0 2-36.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 2-1
Penalties-Yards 3-15 3-15
RUSHING--Iola, Hayden Martinez 26-177, Ryan Renick 1-34, Taylor Stabler 3-24, Court Creamer 4-11, Tyler Dykes 1-4, Team 1-(-22). Tenaha, Cobe Caraway 28-180, T.J. Thomas 10-42, LaDarius Garrett 1-(-1), D'Andre Thomas 1-(-4).
PASSING--Iola, Martinez 6-15-0--108. Tenaha, T.J. Thomas 12-18-0--167.
RECEIVING--Iola, Dykes 3-45, Renick 1-34, Creamer 1-20, Will Nevill 1-9. Tenaha, D'Andre Thomas 7-107, Colton Goeke 4-27, Seth Wyatt 1-33.