Waskom’s Doubted Team Turns Out To Be State’s Best
HOUSTON -- Friends and family leaned down the walls at NRG Stadium in Houston to greet their once and current state champions.
It was one of the best scenes you could imagine. A place where love, belief, support and accomplishment all met.
A team of average football players later redefined as good football players became measurably great Thursday with a 33-21 win against previously unbeaten Franklin in the 2015 Class 3A Division II state championship game.
"Nobody expected us to be here," head coach Whitney Keeling said amidst chaos on the field and even more so in the stands. "Everybody expected us to be here last year. There's a lot of differences between those two football teams. Kind of the Cinderella story, so to speak."
The only thing left to do is say is, 'Yes we could.'
Waskom's roster didn't have the same offensive explosiveness. It also took a while for the squad to begin intimidating opponents before kickoff.
Now, there will always be a friendly rivalry between the Wildcats' 2014 and 2015 senior classes as to which team was the best.
The fact Thursday's team is in that conversation has a lot of Texas high school football pundits wishing they owned a time machine.
Fans were going crazy in Houston for a squad picked in the best-sold preseason publications to finish second or third in District 8-3A Division II alone.
"It feels great," Mike Reason, a senior linebacker and the game's Defensive Most Valuable Player said amid the same chaos. "No one expected us to be here. No one at all. Except for our community and our fans. Because of them and because of our coaches and the other guys inside the locker room, that helped us. We weren't bummed we were picked to go down. We just used fuel and motivation to do even better."
Even better they did.
Reason and company became the first team in school history to finish a campaign with a 16-0 overall record.
The team made a statement in Week 1 with a victory against a larger Center program. Center handed the 2014 state team its sole loss at the exact same point.
Then it outscored district opponents 374-44, reducing its points allowed total by more than half despite the fact its district was more competitive.
Then, with a few made believers along the way, it followed through with what it hinted at.
But Franklin made them work late into the night. It was a 21-21 ballgame midway through the fourth quarter.
Dylan Harkrider, the team's first-year starting senior quarterback, broke the tie with a 14-yard run. The toll was a hit at the goal line that nearly knocked him out of the game.
Senior fullback and linebacker Chan Amie, the team's only real bright spot left on offense from last season, sealed the game with an 8-yard touchdown after the defense forced a three-and-out sparked by senior defensive end Keileon Johnson's East Texas-best 55th tackle for negative yardage.
That run, Amie's final of his high school career, allowed the fullback to become East Texas' leading rusher of the 2016 season. He finished the year with 2,672 yards to surpass Alto's Keenen Johnson by two yards. It's the second-best, single-season rushing total in ETSN.fm's four-year history.
Amie won Offensive Most Valuable Player. He scored three times and added another 30 receiving yards -- 13 yards shy of 300 total-yard night.
Johnson recovered a fumble on Franklin's frantic final drive. He housed it, but a block in the back penalty negated that score inside the final minute.
Waskom finished the championship game with a plus-three turnover margin and 486 offensive yards against the state runner-up.
Collectively, between 2014 and 2015, the Wildcats have compiled 31 straight wins. All other East Texas teams lost at least once this season. Factor in the 2013 team, Waskom has a 45-2 record the past three seasons.
This 'down team' established another point for what has to be considered a dynasty.
"It was hard work," Amie said. "We had to go hard in the weight room, we worked hard all offseason. We came back even better."