ARLINGTON – The Muenster Hornets made the most of their first appearance in a state championship football Thursday, defeating the Tenaha Tigers, 27-20, to claim the UIL 2A-Div. II title at AT&T Stadium.
Defense – specifically Muenster's defensive line – was the difference in the game as Tenaha was held to a season-low 251 yards.
“Our defensive line has been our strength most the year,” said Hornet head coach Brady Carney. “We held number 6 (Onterio Thompson) in check most of the night and the (C.J.) Horn kid in check in check. The (Trae) Gardner kid is an exceptional talent. He's a really talented young man and a Division 1 talent in my opinion. Our kids were even talking about how hard he was to bring down.
Gardner was the Tenaha's offense, scoring all three our its touchdowns and accounting for 163 of the team's 251 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown run and a touchdown catches of 16 and 60 yards.
“He got loose on us a couple of times, but I overall I thought we did an exceptional job on him,” Carney said.
Tenaha head coach Craig Horn had praise for the Hornets defense.
“Their play at the line of scrimmage on critical downs – when you can rush three or four and get pressure on us, that's huge,” Horn said. “It's hard to complete passes when you are running backward. It was not just their line, their linebackers and secondary did a great job. We knew coming in they were a complete team with no weaknesses.”
Despite managing only 66 yards in the first half, Tenaha trailed by just three at 10-7 going into the half.
Both teams scored on their opening drives.
Muenster took the ball at its own 22 and drove 78 yards for a touchdown on Parker McGrew's 20-yard pass to Danny Luttmer. Trey McTaggart hit the PAT to make it 7-0. The opening drive took 11 plays and chewed almost four minutes of clock.
Muenster tried an onside kick, but Trey Tutt recovered the ball on the Tenaha 47, giving the Tigers a short field.
The Tigers scored 10 plays later as Horn hit Gardner for a 16-yard score. Christian Castillo hit the PAT to tie the game with 3:08 left in the quarter.
Muenster responded with a time-consuming drive that covered 18 plays and more than seven minutes. But the Hornets had to settle for McTaggart's 25-yard field field goal after Tenaha denied them on three tries from the three-yard line.
Tenaha punted on its next two drives after just three plays – the second on a drive that failed to capitalize on Christian Ashton's recovery of McGrew's fumble as he was sacked by Matthew Flournoy.
Tenaha received the ball to open the second half and used a roughing the passer penalty to set up Gardner's 60-yard touchdown off a short pass from C.J. Horn. Castillo missed the PAT, leaving Tenaha ahead 13-10.
Muenster answered with a 70-yard scoring drive capped by McGrew's 8-yard pass to Carson Trubenbach. McTaggert hit the PAT to put Muenster ahead 17-13.
The Tigers responded by driving to the Hornet's 29, but Horn threw and interception to Danny Luttmer, who returned the ball 53 yards to the Tenaha 37.
The Tenaha defense fought off another goal line bid to force another McTaggart field goal to make the score 20-13.
Tenaha needed just one play to tie the game as Gardner broke off 55-yard touchdown run after taking a direct snap from the wildcat formation.
But, on the last play of the third quarter, McGrew scored from nine yards out. McTaggart hit the PAT, making him a perfect 100 for 100 on the season.
In the fourth quarter, Tenaha got as close as the Muenster before turning the ball over on downs after Horn was sacked on a fourth-and-10 play.
The Tigers got one more chance from their own nine with 5:05 left. But Muenster force them to punt after three plays and controlled the ball the last 3:40 of the game.
The win gives the school championships in basketball, baseball and football in the same calendar year. The win was dedicated to John “Cal” York, a member of the championship basketball team and son of the school's principal, who died in a car crash in May.
Running back and defensive back Clay Stevens was a player on all three title teams – and is rejoining the basketball team next week and will play baseball in the spring.