MESQUITE — How about a shout-out to the Aubrey Chaparrals defense?
The Chaparrals' defense came up with three big stops, the biggest coming with just over five minutes left in the game, and Aubrey is headed to the second round of the Class 4A Division II playoffs following a 35-24 bi-district playoff victory against Canton Friday night at Hanby Stadium in Mesquite.
The Chaparrals' offense, which lost Washington State commit Gatlin Grisso for the season with a torn ACL, did its part, rushing for 329 yards, led by Spencer Neumann, who ran for 126 yards and two touchdowns, and Will Dow, who scored three times on 69 yards rushing.
Neumann was the hero on both sides — he factored into a key tackle to essentially ended Canton's last scoring threat and then he sealed the victory with a 41-yard breakaway TD run on a fourth-and-2 play with 2:20 left in the game.
"The coaches said all we needed was 2 yards and I went into the huddle thinking in my head, just 2 yards," Neumann said. "Then the hole opened up and I took it."
It was the second year in a row that Aubrey defeated Canton in the first round of the playoffs, but the road gets a whole lot tougher next week as the Chaparrals (8-3) battle Pleasant Grove at 4 p.m. Friday at The Star in Frisco. This will be Aubrey's third straight appearance in the area round.
"You know it's a good year if you're practicing in Thanksgiving," said Aubrey coach Keith Ivy. "That's the goal and each week is do or die to advance. The kids kept fighting. Our defense has been the unsung heroes for a good part of the year. They made some big stands. They're [Canton] a big offensive team, but we got in there and got those stops."
The biggest stop came after Aubrey, which trailed by 10 points in the first half and by three late in the third quarter, battled back to take a 28-24 lead when Dow scored on a 6-yard run with 8:37 left in the fourth quarter.
Canton (6-5) took over at its 34 and pieced together a drive that included a fourth-and-one conversion by quarterback McGwire Martin to the Canton 45. A 15-yard pass moved the Eagles to the Aubrey 40 and another completion had the Eagles to the Aubrey 35. Martin was stopped for no gain on third-and-5, then on fourth down, threw a screen pass to Carter Day, who was tackled at the 37 by Newmann and Kaleb Wiseman with 5:24 left. Not only did the Eagles fail to get the first down, they had to burn two time outs on the drive.
Aubrey turned to its run game, rushing five times to advance to the Canton 41. There, on fourth-and-2, Canton used its last time out. When play resumed, Neumann took the handoff left and broke through, cutting to the sideline and scoring to seal the win against a Canton team that had won three straight and finished second in District 6-4A despite not having beaten a team with a winning record this season.
Aubrey's efficient running game and two big defensive stops helped the Chaparrals erase a 10-point deficit to get within 17-14 at halftime. The first half was nearly a draw statistically — Canton finished with 248 yards total offense, with 160 coming from the passing game while Aubrey had 200 yards with 165 coming from the run game.
Aubrey's run-by-committee approach was evident as Dow (47 yards), Neumann (43 yards) and Brody Bounds (40 yards) each had seven carries.
Canton opened the game with an impressive 75-yard, six play drive, capped by Martin's 8-yard screen pass over the middle to Tanner Moore on a fourth-and-2 at the Aubrey 8.
After each exchanged possessions, Aubrey was able to establish its patented run game to mount a long scoring drive to tie the score at 7-7. A block in the back on a punt return and a false start put Aubrey in a hole at its own 8. But the Chaparrals went the distance in nine plays with Dow finishing from a yard out on the first play of the second quarter.
Canton took the next possession deep into Aubrey territory, but on third-and-1 at the 10, Martin was sacked by a trio of Aubrey defenders, forcing the Eagles to settle for a 34-yard field goal from Jair Rodriguez.
Canton forced Aubrey to punt and on first down from the Eagles 15, Martin lofted a pass over the middle to Cox, who caught the ball at about the 40, eluded a defender at midfield and went the rest of the way untouched for an 85-yard scoring play to push the Eagles to a 17-7 lead.
But Aubrey re-established its run game. Neumann broke an 18-yard run, Sheldon Wingert added a 16-yard gain, and the Chaparrals went 73 yards in eight running plays, capped by Dow's second scoring run of the night, a 14-yard score that brought Aubrey to within 17-14 with 1:20 left in the first half.
The Eagles started near midfield and quickly moved to the Aubrey 34 in three plays. But on second and 10, Martin was sacked by James Drake. Martin had to spike the ball to stop the clock and Rodriguez came on to attempt a 55-yard field goal that fell short.
Aubrey took its first lead of the game, 21-17, on the first possession of the second half when Neumann scored from 2 yards out. Martin countered for Canton with a 13-yard run late in the third quarter, as the Eagles would lead for the last time, 24-21.
Aubrey 35, Canton 24
CN — Tanner Moore 8 pass from McGwire Martin (Jair Rodriquez kick)
AU — Will Dow 1 run (Landon Stewart kick)
CN — Jair Rodriquez 34 FG
CN — Dylan Cox 85 pass from McGwire Martin (Jair Rodriquez kick)
AU — Will Dow 14 run (Landon Stewart kick)
AU — Spencer Neumann 2 run (Landon Stewart kick)
CN — McGwire Martin 13 run (Jair Rodriquez kick)
AU — Will Dow 6 run (Landon Stewart kick)
AU — Spencer Neumann 41 run (Landon Stewart kick)
Rushing — AU: Spencer Neumann 15-126, Will Dow 12-69, Sheldon Wingert 10-68, Brody Bounds 11-59, Taylor Swarbrick 1-7, CN: Dylan Cox 9-51, McGwire Martin 15-37, Simon Miller 2-6.
Passing — AU: Taylor Swarbrick 4-9-0-62, CN: McGwire Martin 18-30-0-242.
Receiving — AU: Will Dow 3-58, Jeff Wilbert 1-4, CN: Dylan Cox 3-95, Carter Day 5-61, Tanner Moore 5-58, Cooper Smith 2-16, Cameron Sullivan 3-12.