The Warhorse football season came to a close for a team that was never at full strength at any point during their 2017 campaign. Just as the rain poured down to begin two-a-days, a number of injuries and a few suspensions also poured down on the Warhorses, which undoubtedly dampened Devine’s chances of winning more than three ballgames. However, the players who finished the season gave all they had in going down in defeat. The #2 area ranked Navarro Panthers beat Devine 42 to 7 Thursday night at Harlandale Memorial Stadium to claim the 4A Division 2 Bi-District Championship.
“We knew Navarro was going to be very good,” stated Head Coach Paul Gomez. “I thought our kids competed well but we didn’t execute as we would have liked. The boys never gave up and fought until the end. After our defense held them in check early in the game, we had chances offensively but we could not maintain a drive. The first interception killed us because our defense had just stopped them and then we gave the ball right back on a mix up in the routes. Navarro was the better team this night and we wish them the best of luck in the playoffs.”
The Warhorse defense was on fire for most of the first half, as Coach Gomez alluded. Jarring tackles and a fly-to-the-football mentality provided Devine needed momentum early in the game. Forcing Navarro into a punting situation after a three and out on their first drive of the game had not happened to the Panthers once this season.
Devine’s shock-the-world mentality entering the game was shared by both the Warhorse players and coaches. The Panthers were facing some injury situations of their own. With six players out, the time was ripe for a major upset in the first round of the state playoffs. However, this game, like several other games played out this season and in spite of each of the players laying it all out on the field, things did not sway the Warhorse’s way.
“It has definitely been a tough season for us,” Gomez continued. “I have never seen so many injuries to one team in one season. I respect these boys so much for not giving up. They stayed positive and stayed close. They did not let any negativity affect our family and we just kept on fighting. I feel for these boys because they did not deserve a season like this but I am extremely proud of the way they handled the injuries, suspensions, and all the changes that occurred. This situation is a first for me as far as injuries and distractions are concerned but we handled it the right way.”
Devine had 187 yards on 45 offensive plays. The Warhorses rushed 35 times for 146 yards while completing 2 of 10 passes for 41 yards. Grant Collins (16 for 67), Matthew Ornelas (3 for 41), Noah Brogdon (6 for 14), Chad Lawson (7 for 12), and Luke Torres (3 for 12, one touchdown) accounted for the ground game.
Lawson completed one of 5 passes for 5 yards. His completion was to Ornelas. Payton Anderson also completed one of 5 passes. His 36-yard completion to Kyler Brown in the 4th quarter set up the Warhorses lone score.
The Warhorses threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball to Navarro once for three total turnovers.
Navarro entered the game with 85% of their season’s total offense coming from their running game. This contest was not much different. The Panthers rushed 41 times for 300 yards while completing 4 of 11 passes for 30 yards. This night, their 300 rushing yards accounted for 91% of their total offense.
The Warhorses forced one fumble to finish the season with 21 turnovers through 11 ballgames.
Nav—Johnny Alegria 35-yard run (Efrain Alfaro PAT), 7-0, 1:59, 1st.
Nav—Will Eveld 5-yard run (Alfaro PAT), 14-0, 10:45, 2nd.
Nav—Eveld 34-yard run (Alfaro PAT), 21-0, 5:21, 2nd.
Nav—Eveld 35-yard run (Alfaro PAT), 28-0, 10:22, 3rd.
Nav—Alegria 11-yard run (Alfaro PAT), 35-0, 5:11, 3rd.
Nav—Abron Ortiz 5-yard run (Alfaro PAT), 42-0, 6:02, 4th.
Dev—Luke Torres 8-yard run (Alvaro Blasco PAT), 42-7, 3:26, 4th.
Injuries… and more injuries
Devine was not at full strength at any point on any given day from August 7 all the way to last Thursday’s season ending game. To put the injury situation into perspective, there are 11 offensive positions and 11 defensive positions. Add those two 11’s together and multiply by 11 (the number of games completed) which equals 242 games.
Due to injury or suspension, the Warhorses lost 155 of 242 (64%) player games. For most snaps the season, Devine had only 36% of the anticipated starters or backup in the game.
With so many players gaining varsity experience this season instead of on JV or even on the freshman team where they would have been allowed time to develop into varsity material, next year’s squad will show more cohesiveness and knowledge of the new systems implemented this past season.
Preparations for 2018 starts soon. “We are going to take a few days off then we are going to hit the weights to get stronger. I hope this will fuel the fire of our returning kids and we will come back next year stronger and faster,” stated Gomez about what is in store for the players once they return from the Thanksgiving break.
Gomez’s final shout out went to his players and to the assistant coaches. “The young men on our team represented Devine with class and dignity. I could not have asked for a better group to go to battle within my first year. I especially thank the seniors. They kept the team together and took the young players under their wing by helping them as much as they could.
I would also like to take this time to thank my coaching staff. These men work 70-hour weeks during the season and they spend so much time away from their own families. I cannot thank them enough for their dedication to the Warhorse program.”
Devine is spoiled…in a good way. Winning district championships and advancing into the playoffs is what Warhorse football is known for not only in this town but also throughout the state. This community expects championships, and well, guess what, so do the Devine coaches and their players.
When two-a-days began, the outlook for this Warhorse team was to achieve a school-record fourth consecutive district championship and to advance multiple rounds in the playoffs. No one, absolutely no one, expected the rash of injuries and the few suspensions that derailed their initial goal of pursuing that fourth gold ball.
Something happened along the way on a different level, though. What happened will last longer and mean more to this group of Warhorses than any piece of hardware could ever offer. The young boys on this team grew into young men right before our eyes. Veteran varsity players that were lost for multiple games, or in some cases for the season, took a bunch of up-and-comers under their wing to provide guidance, leadership, and their own form of coaching to turn players that desperately needed JV repetitions in order to develop into Friday night warriors.
The mark of a Warhorse need not be the amount of wins or championships they accumulate over the course of their career, or what may be accomplished during the short time of a single season. Each of the players that strapped on their helmet for the bi-district match-up in San Antonio gained so much more than that.
These Warhorses learned how to care for another person as he were their own flesh and blood brother. They learned how to love and trust their coaches as a father figure. Most importantly, they have a real-life experience that will help make them great husbands and dads in the sometime but hopefully not to soon future. They know what a hard time can be like. They know they can battle through tough times and survive at the end of it.
The day after the playoff loss, more than one parent either stopped by my room at the high school or sent me an email while many more players and parents posted gracious comments on the Twitter and Facebook. Some spoke about how much they appreciated the coaches for holding the team together and for holding players accountable while others spoke about how the situations that arose during the season provided a great framework to begin meaningful conversations at home.
This team had the most appropriate motto to ever begin a season in Team, Family, Unity. Lessons learned the last four months might go down as some of the greatest and most important lessons learned by a group of Warhorses in the storied history of the program.
The last couple of sentences from my Fall Football Preview back in the first week of August stated, “Team, Family, Unity means a group comes together so close to the point that you know everything about everybody, and, despite those things…you love them anyway.” I also asked that you “love your Warhorse team.”
Knowing now what you actually know about the season and not just being familiar with what the invasive, manipulative, out-of-town media tried to shove down everyone’s throat, if you choose to walk away from this Warhorse season with anything but love, compassion, and admiration for what these young men not only endured but how they continued to play to their highest possible potential, and, if you choose to only speak about the season as one of the worst record-wise in the history of the school, then you, my friend are the one who did not learn a thing from all of these still-maturing teenage boys who undoubtedly discovered what Team, Family, Unity is really about.
By Jerel Beaty