Trai Gardner + Onterio Thompson Help Tenaha Book a Trip to State Championship After 60-22 Rout of Burton
CROCKETT -- Big-time players show up to play in big-time games, and that's exactly what Trai Gardner and Onterio Thompson did for Tenaha on Thursday night.
Now the Tigers are headed to the state championship.
The duo combined for eight touchdowns and Gardner made his presence known on both sides of the ball in top-ranked Tenaha's 60-22 dismantling of Burton in the Class 2A Division II state semifinals at Monte Jack Driskell Stadium.
Unbeaten Tenaha (15-0) will take on No. 3 Muenster (15-0), which eliminated the Tigers from the playoffs in 2015, in the state championship game at 11 a.m. Thursday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Muenster beat Wellington, 31-28, on Thursday night.
"We owe them something," Tenaha coach Craig Horn told his team at midfield following the win.
But first, Gardner and Thompson had to inflict their wrath on Burton.
Gardner scored four touchdowns three different ways: on a 95-yard interception return, a pair of passes from C.J. Horn for 71 and 52 yards, respectively, and a 65-yard run.
Gardner, who picked off two passes on defense, also caught all four of C.J. Horn's completions for 160 yards.
"That's just Trai being Trai. Nobody's offered him yet, which means there are just a lot of pretty dumb college football coaches out there," Horn said. "The kid's special, but he's from a small school so he doesn't get a lot of respect. He's the highest-character kid you ever want to meet and the hardest working kid you ever want to meet. If someone doesn't offer him they're a damn fool."
Thompson, one of the leading rushers in East Texas, dominated the second half. After rushing for only 17 yards on six carries in the first half, his first five rushes in the second went for 198 yards and three touchdowns. He finished with 14 carries for 241 yards and four touchdowns, with 224 yards coming after halftime.
"Having guys like (Gardner and Thompson) definitely make my job a lot easier," Horn said with a laugh.
Burton faced a manageable deficit going into the second half after trailing 20-10 at the break. But Gardner and Thompson had other plans.
Gardner returned the second-half kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, only to see it called back for a holding penalty. But it didn't matter. On the first play of the drive he took the ball 65 yards to the house, and the rout was on.
Thompson was the next victim to have a long score called back on Tenaha's next drive, which followed the Tigers' third interception of Burton quarterback Caleb Harmel. Thompson's second carry of the half went for 47 yards to paydirt, but Tenaha was called for an illegal shift.
Again, didn't matter.
On the next play Horn scrambled away from pressure and dumped the ball to Gardner, who weaved in and out of defenders for a 52-yard touchdown.
"Every time I get the ball I see end zone. I don't see anything else," Gardner said. "I was tired after the kickoff return, but I was getting into the end zone if I got the ball."
De'Monderick Winters returned the ensuing kickoff 72 yards to keep Burton within 17 at 33-16, but Tenaha only needed two plays to get in the end zone when Thompson jetted 56 yards for a touchdown.
A Burton punt led to a 30-yard touchdown run by Thompson on Tenaha's third play of the next drive, and he went 73 yards to paydirt on the Tigers' second play of their next drive early in the fourth quarter.
Tenaha would score 33 of the second half's first 40 points. Burton got on the board in the fourth quarter on a 19-yard pass from Harmel to Tristan Brantley, but Tenaha answered again when LaDarrius Garrett scored on a 15-yard run to cap a seven-play drive -- the Tigers' longest of the game -- and end the scoring.
"We really just made some offensive line tweaks in the second half. They were giving us a defense we didn't really expect to see. We didn't expect them to play pressure defense on us because we did have the ability to score, which we did a few times early on," Horn said. "But they were committed to staying in it and if they were going to stay in it we just needed to make some adjustments here and there. Once we made those tweaks (Thompson) ate and we started scoring some real points."
The first quarter was the Trai Gardner Show. Less than four minutes after Thompson opened the game's scoring with a 4-yard touchdown run, Gardner picked off a Harmel pass and went 95 yards to the house to put Tenaha up 13-0 and ruin a seven-play drive that got Burton to the Tigers' 13-yard line.
"I knew it was going to be a tough game but we practiced hard all week and I felt like we had a good chance to win," Gardner said. "I just knew I had to come in and make some big plays for my team."
Burton would trek back deep into Tenaha territory, but Gardner was the hero again. He broke up a wide receiver pass in the end zone to force a turnover on downs and two plays later he took a receiver screen pass from Horn 71 yards to paydirt, stiff-arming a defender to the ground on his way.
Burton dominated time of possession during the game, especially the first half. Brantley booted a 30-yard field goal to put Burton on the board in the second quarter to end a 13-play drive, and the Panthers got their first touchdown on a 1-yard Winters run midway through the second quarter.
After a Tenaha punt, Burton started burning the clock and got as far as the Tigers' 32-yard line. Two plays later Harmel went to the end zone, but the ball fell into the arms of -- you guessed it -- Gardner, and Tenaha held Burton scoreless the rest of the half.
Burton ran 68 plays to Tenaha's 37, but the Tigers held the Panthers to just over three yards per carry, led by Harmel's 29 attempts for 96 yards. Harmel completed 17 of 26 passes for 180 yards, with eight completions going to Brantley for 82 yards and seven to Winters for 76 yards.
The Panthers' 22 points tied for the most Tenaha has given up this season, with the first time coming in Week 1 from Joaquin. The Tigers allowed just 55 points over their next 13 games. Burton got into Tenaha territory plenty of times with chances to score, but the Tigers' defense stood tall when it mattered.
"We're not a bend-don't-break defense. Don't let anybody lie and tell you that," Horn said. "We're a not-going-to-give-you-a-hard defense, a hit-you-in-the-backfield defense. I was proud of them and the way they played. When you play good people you're not going to shut them out or hold them to nothing. I understand that. It kills me, but I understand it. But our guys stepped up when they had to and made big plays."
And while business is good for Tenaha, the work isn't done yet, Horn told his team after the game. There's one game left, and it's for all the marbles.
"We're gonna shine," Gardner said. "We're gonna do what we do."
No. 1 Tenaha 60, Burton 22
Class 2A Division II State Semifinal
At Monte Jack Driskell Stadium, Crockett
Burton 0 10 6 6 -- 22
Tenaha 20 0 26 14 -- 60
TEN--Onterio Thompson 4 run (Christian Castillo kick failed), 8:31.
TEN--Trai Gardner 95 interception return (Castillo kick), 4:53.
TEN--Gardner 71 pass from C.J. Horn (Castillo kick), 0:46.
BUR--Tristan Brantley 30 FG, 8:47.
BUR--De'Monderick Winters 1 run (Brantley kick), 5:31.
TEN--Gardner 65 run (kick failed), 11:33.
TEN--Gardner 52 pass from Horn (Castillo kick), 4:41.
BUR--Winters 72 kickoff return (pass failed), 4:30.
TEN--Thompson 56 run (Castillo kick), 3:29.
TEN--Thompson 30 run (kick failed), 1:01.
TEN--Thompson 73 run (Castillo kick), 10:59.
BUR--Brantley 19 pass from Caleb Harmel (run failed), 10:02.
TEN--LaDarrius Garrett 15 run (Castillo kick), 6:32.
First Downs 17 17
Total Yards 317 568
Rushes-Yards 41-137 31-428
Passing Yards 180 160
Comp.-Att.-Int. 17-27-3 4-6-0
Punts-Avg. 2-37.5 2-26.5
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-1
Penalties-Yards 5-40 7-50
RUSHING--Burton, Caleb Harmel 29-96, De'Monderick Winters 10-27, C.J. Briscoe 2-14. Tenaha, Onterio Thompson 14-241, Trai Gardner 1-65, C.J. Horn 10-58, Jay Lloyd 3-38, LaDarrius Garrett 1-15, Tavoris Giles 2-11.
PASSING--Burton, Harmel 17-26-3--137, Winters 0-1-0--0. Tenaha, Horn 4-6-0--160.
RECEIVING--Burton, Tristan Brantley 8-82, Winters 6-76, Chase Mathis 3-22. Tenaha, Gardner 4-160.