Don't count Whitney Keeling among Waskom residents just content with the school's first-ever state championship appearance. The Wildcats head coach has moved well past his team's heart-stopping semifinal victory last Friday night.

Keeling saw Dillon Benton scored the eventual-game winning touchdown on a 71-yard run with just a little more than two minutes remaining, and looked on with anticipation as Sonora advanced the ball inside the Waskom 5-yard line in the closing seconds. Time ran out on Sonora, and Waskom survived its closest game of the season.

Players and coaches alike were overcome with emotion at the conclusion of the 25-21 win, understandably. But all of that is over.

"We just didn't play real well, probably one of worst games of the season," Keeling told ETSN.fm Monday afternoon. "Not taking anything away from Sonora, they whipped us. But on the bus ride home, everybody was pretty jacked."

Waskom head coach Whitney Keeling looks at the clock during his team's regional semifinal playoff win over Howe on Nov. 28 in Tyler. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

There hasn't been much time to celebrate. Waskom (14-1) players didn't return home until the wee hours of Saturday morning, and with Thursday evening's Class 3A Division II title game against perennial power Newton fast approaching, there's not much time for reflection.

"Well, obviously it's an honor; we're excited about it," Keeling said. "It's been kinda hectic as far as when we're gonna go, who's all gonna go and how we're gonna go. But we're also excited about it."

And while Keeling and his players might not be able to fully appreciate the football team's hold on the tiny, Texas-Louisiana border town of Waskom at the moment, he knows the support is there.

"They're obviously excited about it," Keeling said. "We've had a couple community pep rallies, we have one Wednesday at 5:30 p.m, and we're doing a send-off Thursday before we leave. Half the businesses in town have already put on Facebook they're shutting down early Thursday so they can go to the game. Everybody's pretty fired up here."

Waskom's goal of reaching the championship game was cut short in the semifinals a season ago with a 69-33 loss to state power Refugio. The Wildcats brought almost everyone back from 2013, and the experience has showed up in spades this fall.

"Well, being new to that stage we didn't really understand," Keeling said. "Obviously, we're more veteran than we were last year, and I think the experience helped. I don't think we're as shell-shocked as we were last year ... they're able to overcome some adversity this year that they weren't last year."

Waskom's title-game counterpart is fellow East Texas giant Newton (12-3), which has reeled off 11 consecutive victories -- none by fewer than 12 points -- after dropping three of its four games of the year.

"They're (at state) for a reason," Keeling said of Newton. "They've been here a couple different times and won it. Obviously, they have tradition, have athletes that can run and do a great job coaching. It's gonna take probably a perfect game from us to win."

2014 Waskom Wildcats Season Results

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