MINERAL WELLS – The San Saba Armadillos, a team that averaged 56 points during its first 13 games this football season, is out of the playoffs because they lost to a team that gained six first downs and scored 14 points Friday night.
Opportunistic Valley View shocked No. 3-ranked San Saba 14-12 in the Class 2A Division I state quarterfinals after the Eagles converted Christian McMurray’s fumble recovery and Clint Epperson’s 72-yard kickoff return into short scoring drives of 16 and 13 yards.
Valley View (12-2) won its 11th consecutive game after a 1-2 start and advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in 27 years. The Eagles will face Post in next week’s 2A DI state semifinals.
San Saba (13-1), which came in outscoring its first 13 opponents by an average of 56-6, was held to one offensive touchdown -- a 1-yard run by quarterback Risien Shahan on the game’s opening possession. The Armadillos’ other score came when Shahan recovered an errant Valley View shotgun snap in the end zone.
“We had opportunities. We just didn’t capitalize,” Andreas Aguirre said after his first loss as San Saba’s head coach. “We didn’t get any breaks like we had been getting all season. But Valley View played their tails off. They took advantage of their opportunities, they executed and they’re well coached. I wish them the best.”
The Armadillos, held to a season-low 238 total yards, were limited on offense because of a shoulder injury to quarterback Sean O’Keefe suffered about halfway through last week’s regional semifinal win over Bogota Rivercrest. O’Keefe didn’t attempt a pass Friday, leaving all the throwing to Shahan, the Armadillos’ backup quarterback. Shahan played quarterback most of the first half while he and O’Keefe quarterbacked about the same number of plays in the second half.
“It did limit what we could do on offense,” San Saba receiver Logan Glover said of O’Keefe’s injury. “He could barely throw the ball. Risien Shahan stepped up and did a great job filling in at quarterback.
“But Valley View had a great game plan. They made stopping the run their main priority.”
San Saba had a chance to rescue a victory from a frustrating night when it trailed 14-12 in the final three minutes. After Glover, who doubles as a safety on defense, intercepted his 10th pass this season and returned it 29 years to midfield, the 6-foot-5 junior threw a 44-yard, double-reverse pass to Eli Salinas.
The Armadillos had a first-and-goal at the Eagles’ 5-yard line, but a holding penalty pushed San Saba back to the 14. On fourth down from the 12, Justin Yarbrough lined up for a 30-yard field goal attempt, but it was blocked after a high snap from center and the Eagles preserved their 14-12 lead with 1:27 left.
Clint Epperson, Valley View’s 2,000-yard rusher who like O’Keefe was battling injuries, had been limited to 19 yards on his first 11 carries. But the 190-pound senior broke a 77-yard run to the Armadillos’ 2, and freshman quarterback Logan Lewis knelt three times to end the game.
“We drove the ball with some success, but we didn’t execute close to the goal line,” Aguirre said. “We pride ourselves on all three phases of the game -- offense, defense and special teams. It hurts that we didn’t execute better on special teams tonight. It really hurts.”
In addition to the botched field goal attempt at the end, the Armadillos missed their first extra-point kick and a two-point conversion attempt after their second touchdown. They also allowed Epperson’s 72-yard kickoff return that set up the game-winning touchdown.
Valley View’s defense limited a San Saba offense averaging 470 yards a game to 238 total yards. O’Keefe and Salinas came in combining for 286 yards rushing per game, but were held to 67 and 53 yards, respectively, by the Eagles. Shahan added 58 yards rushing.
“We wanted to keep in our pursuit lanes and not give their quarterback room to run,” first-year Valley View coach Curtis King said of his defensive game plan. “We wanted to tackle hard and play physical all night.
“If they made a mistake, we knew we had to get points out of it. They kind of whipped us in the line and held our rushing game in check pretty much all night.”
Valley View finished with 182 -- even after Epperson’s 77-yard run late in the game.
Up 7-6 at the half, Epperson returned the second-half kickoff 72 yards to the Armadillos’ 13. Luis Morales slipped through the line for a 4-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-one, and the Eagles extended their lead to 14-6.
“Once we got out from halftime and got that kickoff return, it really hyped us up. We felt like we had a chance after scored our second touchdown,” said Lewis, Valley View’s freshman quarterback.
San Saba later drove to the Valley View 3, but was held on downs. Three plays later, though, a shotgun snap went off Lewis’s arm and back into the end zone. San Saba’s Landon Yarbrough tackled Lewis, and Shahan recovered the fumble for a San Saba touchdown. However, the Armadillos still trailed 14-12 after McMurray and Logan Torres stopped Salinas on a two-point conversion attempt.
Forced to start the game at its 12 because of a penalty on the kickoff, the Armadillos methodically drove 88 yards in 16 plays and converted all four times on third down. Shahan, who took over at quarterback early in the opening possession, broke a 20-yard run, but the five-minute drive was marked by a lot of modest gains.
Shahan scored on a 1-yard run, but Justin Yarbrough’s extra-point kick hit the right upright, leaving San Saba with a 6-0 lead.
After its defense forced a three and out, San Saba began its next drive at its 9. Shahan fumbled on a sack by Cameron Byrom, and McMurray recovered for the Eagles at the Armadillos’ 16-yard line.
It appeared San Saba would dodge any damage after Logan Lewis lost 6 yards on two runs. But on third-and-16, the freshman threw into the flat for his senior brother Colby Lewis, who turned the short catch into a 22-yard touchdown. Thomas Kilpatrick’s extra-point kick gave Valley View a 7-6 lead with 1:28 left in the first quarter.