Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mike Spradlin’s voice broke as he tried to hold back the tears. Saying goodbye to this group of Cooper seniors wasn’t easy for the Cougars’ coach.
Yet, say goodbye he did.
J.W. Walsh threw three touchdown passes and ran for three more as Denton Guyer rolled past Cooper, 57-34, in a Class 4A Division I Region I semifinal game Saturday at Shotwell Stadium.
Walsh completed 8-of-9 passes for 143 yards, and he also ran for 113 yards on 14 carries. Running back Jaimaine Wilhite added 109 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Guyer (12-1) rolled up 384 total yards, including 241 on the ground. Cooper (9-4) had 495 yards, but turned the ball over three times.
Guyer had no turnovers.
It’s the second straight year Guyer ended Cooper’s season in the region semifinals. Last year, the Wildcats beat Cooper 28-7 in Aledo.
This time, that was the halftime score. Cooper spotted Guyer 28 unanswered points in the first half, including 14 off turnovers — a blocked punt and a fumbled kickoff return.
“They’re way too good to do that,” Spradlin said about the early deficit. “The thing is, we did it with some mistakes we haven’t made. The blocked (punt) is the first one we’ve had (this season), and then the fumble. They got (14) points off real short fields there.”
The Coogs would outscore the Wildcats 34-29 the rest of the way, but it wasn’t enough for another magical comeback like a week earlier against El Paso Del Valle, when Cooper rallied from a 24-0 deficit early in the second quarter for a 51-41 victory.
“This bunch, they never laid down,” Spradlin said. “That’s what was cool about this group. There was a point there going into the fourth quarter I was thinking, ‘Man, we’re going to win this thing.’ I think (our players) were thinking they were going to win it, too.”
It was another tough ending for Cooper quarterback Ryan Heslep and this group of seniors.
“We didn’t accomplish our goal,” he said. “We set out to win a state championship, and we just came up short today.”
Heslep threw for 296 yards, becoming Cooper’s all-time career leader with 4,822 yards in two seasons. His three touchdown passes Saturday left him with 46 for his career — two shy of the all-time record. The senior also ran for 90 yards on 12 carries.
Cooper (9-4) got a late touchdown in the first half — a 3-yard touchdown pass from Heslep to John Harvey — to make it a 28-7 Guyer lead at the break, and the Coogs scored the first touchdown of the second half — a 6-yard run by Alford Cooper — to cut the lead in half at 28-14.
But Guyer responded with a six-play, 70-yard drive. Walsh capped the drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Dylan Moore.
Then the bottom fell out. Jon King returned a fumble 37 yards for another Wildcats touchdown less than two minutes later for a 42-14 Guyer lead. Heslep tried to throw a lateral to Alford Cooper out on the left flat on a third-and-10 play at the Coog 46 but the ball fell incomplete. King scooped the live ball at the 37 and ran for the score.
The Coogs answered with an eight-play, 69-drive drive as Heselp threw his second touchdown pass of the day to Harvey, a 14-yarder, with 1:46 left in the third quarter.
Spradlin then tried an onside kick, and it turned out to be a big play for the Wildcats not the Coogs. Josh Stewart grabbed the ball at the Guyer 45 and raced 46 yards down to the Cooper 9. One play later, Walsh ran for his third touchdown of the day.
What kind of day was it for the Wildcats? They botched the ensuing PAT, thanks to a high snap, but holder Luke Russell improvised and threw a pass to Moore for the two-point conversion — giving Guyer a 50-21 lead.
Davon Riddick ripped off a 65-yard touchdown run for Cooper but the Coogs could only trade touchdowns with the Wildcats in the fourth quarter. Walsh threw his final touchdown pass of the day, a 22-yarder to Russell, to culminate a 13-play, 80-yard drive, and Heslep threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Alford Cooper with 3:10 left in the game.
“I think the drive they started in the fourth quarter was kind of the back-breaker,” Spradlin said. “At least we still had hope. They went a long time there, scored and that was tough. But that’s a good football team. I think we were, too. We were in the elite part of the playoffs.”
Cooper’s season might still be alive had it not been for its first-half woes. Cooper forced Guyer to punt on its first possession and the Coogs marched to the Wildcats 27. They even got down to the 15 on a pass to Alford Cooper but the play was pushed back to the 31 on an illegal block penalty. The drive then died, thanks to two illegal procedure penalties.
Guyer answered with a 9-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Wilhite ran 13 yards for the game’s first touchdown with 16 seconds left in the first half.
The Wildcats never trailed.
Cooper, the District 4 champion, would close the gap to 14, but couldn’t get any closer — or stop Guyer enough times the rest of the way. Spradlin let his emotions flow afterward as the Cooper faithful filed out of the stadium.
“I’ve worked 26 years to get to coach this group — a group that was really unselfish,” Spradlin said, his voice breaking with emotion. “We’ve really worked that band of brothers thing and the team thing, all that kind of stuff. Man, this was a great group for us.
“I can honestly look anybody in the eye and say, ‘I’ve coached 26 years, and this is my favorite group I’ve ever coached.” And they’ve set a standard for the guys to come for many years.”

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