Brookesmith rallied late to deny TLCA-Abilene first six-man football win
Sometimes, you have to take the victories where you can get them. Even if they’re moral victories.
The Texas Leadership Charter Academy-Abilene Eagles never had played a full game until the second-year program did it in the first home game in team history Thursday night at Curly Hayes Field.
And the Eagles came heartbreakingly close to picking up that historic first win, too.
Tristen Slayton, however, scored his fourth touchdown, a 2-yard run with 4:08 left in the game to erase a 26-24 deficit, and Brookesmith held on to beat the Eagles 30-26 in a Class 1A six-man football game.
“For us to play four quarters tonight, that’s a win in my book,” first-year Eagles coach Jeremy Kirk said. “That’s what I told them when I took the job. We’re going to play four quarters.”
TLCA-Abilene, which was outscored 366-6 in going 0-8 in its first season last year, lasted five plays into the third quarter in last week’s 56-6 loss at Woodson.
“The next step is to get a win,” Kirk said.
It appeared the Eagles might get that first win when Junior Perez scored his fourth TD of the night on a 53-yard run.
He also ran for the one point on the PAT, giving the Eagles a 26-24 lead with 5:30 left.
Perez also had TD runs of 51 and 33 yards, plus a 19-yard TD pass from Jaiden Gonzales and accounted for all of the Eagles points.
“Junior Perez came through,” Kirk said. “I mean, he was huge tonight. If I have to give a player of the game, it’s No. 5 for me.”
The Eagles played the game without starting quarterback Jay Kirk, Coach Kirk’s son, and running back Jaheem Holt. Both were out with COVID-19.
To make matters worse, Gonzales, who was thrust into the starting QB job, was hurt in the fourth quarter with the Eagles’ trailing 24-19.
So, Kirk, who already had changed his offense to a spread with his son out, had trouble running the offense with a third QB. The Eagles struggled just to snap the ball.
Yet it was a Slayton fumble at the TLCA 27 that set up Perez’s last TD.
Yet, Slayton and Brookesmith answered. He ripped off a 26-yard to the Eagles’ 26. Three plays later, he scored from 2 yards out for the game-winning TD.
The Eagles got one last crack at a comeback but turned the ball over on downs after getting to the Mustangs’ 32 – only to go backwards.
“It was huge,” Brookesmith coach Todd Lawdermilk said of the comeback. “We get the ball with about five minutes to go, and we’re just going to drive the ball down (and try to run out the clock) and we fumble. Same kid. Then we turn around, bow up on defense and stop them. We go right back down the field, and I let the same kid lead the way.”
That kid was Slayton, who wasn’t the Mustangs’ go-to back until senior Avery Williford – the only returning player from last year’s 7-3 playoff team – transferred to May at the start of two-a-days.
“Since we lost pretty much our other running back about three weeks ago, we lean heavily on him now,” Lawdermilk said. “And he takes it. He takes it as a challenge. He’s going to go hard every play. He does. He made the difference tonight.”
Mustangs starting over
The Mustangs went 4-0 in District 15-1A Division II last year, but they’re starting over this year with a first-year coach.
None of the Mustangs had played a varsity game this season, other than Williford, who didn’t stick around.
“I think it’s kind of helped us,” Lawdermilk said of Williford’s departure. “Now, these guys have had to rally around each other. I was afraid they might depend on Avery too much, and now they’ve come together as a family and a team. They’re playing harder for each other. There’s no bickering. It’s, ‘Hey, it’s us now.’ I’ve seen growth every week.”
Both teams canceled games against stronger opponents to set up a more even matchup. Brookesmith got out its game against No. 2 Strawn before the season started, and the Eagles backed out of a road game against Rochelle earlier in the week.
This is the Eagles final season as a six-man squad. Kirk said they’ll play 11-man next year.
Kirk has only been coaching six-man for six weeks, and he’s got a team that has no seniors, three juniors and two sophomores out of 21 players.
“I’m an 11-man guy,” Kirk said. “I’ve been an 11-man guy for 11 years. (Six-man) is fun, but I’m ready to go 11.”
► Turning point: This one wasn’t over until Brookesmith dropped Perez for a loss on a fourth-and-4 play from the Mustangs’ 33 to preserve a 30-26 lead. Brookesmith then ran out the clock.
► Players of the game: Tristen Slayton, running back, Brookesmith – The senior scored four of the Mustangs’ five TDs, including the game-winner with 4:08 left in the contest; Junior Perez, running back, TLCA-Abilene – Perez, one of 11 freshmen on the team, scored all 26 points for the Eagles.
► Key stat: Brookesmith converted two turnovers into their first 12 points. Grant Featherstone interception gave the Mustangs the ball at the Eagles’ 35. Six plays later, Slayton scored from 4 yards out for the game’s first score with 60 seconds left in the half. Then on the first play from scrimmage to start the second half, Blayzon Walker returned a fumble 12 yards to break a 6-6 tie.
► Coach Lawdermilk said: The Mustangs had game-planned with Kirk and Holt in mind, so their absence for the Eagles threw Brookesmith off. “Being a young team, we didn’t make the adjustment needed. But that being said. I don’t want to take anything away from TLCA. They played their hearts out tonight. “It was two good teams out here, just back and forth. We just came out on the right side of the ball this time.”
► Coach Kirk said: “Brookesmith did a good job tonight. Coach Lawdermilk does a good job over there. He’s trying to build a program over there just like I’m trying to do over here. I was a great for us to play them.”
► Impact: Brookesmith (1-1) picks up its first win of the season, while TLCA-Abilene falls to 0-2. It was the first time the second-year program led in a game and played all four quarters.
► Up next: Brookesmith plays Evant on Sept. 10 at Brookesmith. TLCA-Abilene plays Panther Creek on Sept. 10 at Curly Hayes Field.
Brookesmith 30, TLCA-Abilene 26
Brookesmith … 0 … 6 … 12 … 12 – 30
TLCA-Abilene … 0 … 6 … 13 … 7 – 26
BRO – Tristen Slayton 4 run (kick failed), 1:00
TLCA – Junior Perez 51 run (kick blocked), 0:46
BRO – Blayzon Walker 12 fumble return (kick failed), 9:52
TLCA – Perez 33 run (pass failed), 6:04
BRO – Slayton 5 run (kick failed), 5:02
TLCA – Perez 19 pass from Jaidon Gonzales (Perez run), 3:50
BRO – Slayton 14 run (pass failed), 9:12
TLCA – Perez 53 run (Perez run), 5:30
BRO – Slayton 2 run (kick failed), 4:08