JUSTIN — Argyle’s first-half defense has given opponents fits this season.
For the 11th time this season, Argyle’s defense held its opponent scoreless in the first half. And for the third time in school history, the Eagles will be playing for a state championship.
On Saturday night, Argyle scored the game’s first five touchdowns and cruised to a 38-14 victory against Graham at Justin’s Northwest ISD Stadium in a Class 3A Division II state semifinal.
The Eagles will face Fairfield (15-0) in the 3A Division II state title game at 4 p.m. Friday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“We played as a whole tonight,” Argyle wide receiver Ian Sadler said. “Our defensive backs played unreal. I can’t even tell you. They played unreal.”
The Eagles’ defense picked off Graham senior quarterback Ben Davis five times on a frigid night in Justin. Davis had thrown only seven interceptions coming into Saturday’s game.
Argyle (15-0) returns to the state title game for the first time since 2011, when the Eagles lost to Wimberley in the 3A Division II state title game. Argyle is looking for its first football state championship.
Coming into Saturday’s game, Argyle was allowing an average of 2.92 points per first half this season. Graham’s offense was averaging 34.07 points in the first half.
On Graham’s first drive of the game, the Steers (14-1) were moving down the field and faced a fourth-and-3 on Argyle’s 21-yard line. Davis was picked off by senior defensive back Dalton Ledford.
Argyle capitalized on the turnover and Ralston scored on a 10-yard rushing touchdown with 7:20 left in the first quarter.
The Eagles remained ahead by seven points until Argyle senior defensive back Hunter Treadwell doubled the lead early in the second quarter. As Davis was being chased by defenders, he lofted a pass toward a receiver and Treadwell intercepted it and returned it for a 35-yard touchdown.
Argyle took a 21-0 lead into the halftime break.
“Our defense is such a high-pressure defense that it’s hard to acclimate to us,” Argyle head coach Todd Rodgers said. “It’s been hard to acclimate to us up to this point. That’s our effectiveness. They have to adjust to all that stuff.”
Treadwell finished with two interceptions on the night, while seniors Ledford, Colton Hinnrichs and Connor Wilson each tallied a pick off Davis as well.
The Eagles have been without senior linebacker and Kansas State commit Sam Sizelove, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the regular season against Aubrey.
Ralston carried the ball 19 times for 147 yards and three touchdowns, including a bruising 15-yard run with 3:12 left in the third quarter. Ralston bowled over a defender as he crossed the goal line to put Argyle ahead 35-0.
Not long after senior Cole Hedlund knocked down the ensuing extra point, the fans on both sides of the bleachers slowly filed down the stairs.
Graham didn’t get inside Argyle’s 20-yard line until late in the third quarter, when the outcome was all but decided.
Argyle is now 26-1 in its past 27 games, with the only loss coming in last year’s 3A Division II regional semifinals against Gilmer. The Eagles avenged that loss to the Buckeyes two weeks ago on their way to the state title game.
During that span, however, Argyle lost to Graham in the Division II final of the state 7-on-7 tournament.
On the final play of the game, the referees ruled that Sadler did not catch the ball as he was falling to the ground in the end zone, and Graham won 33-31.
But that unofficial loss was vanquished on Saturday night.
After the game, Argyle’s players formed a circle around the semifinal trophy, a golden football for the Eagles to add to their growing collection. In the middle of the circle, they were reminded of what happened when they were fourth-graders, when two teams from Argyle played each other in a little-league championship game at Northwest ISD Stadium.
Eight years ago, some of those players were told they were going to bring home the school’s first state title.
With a win next week against Fairfield, the Eagles will fulfill the prophecy.
“I can’t wait,” Sadler said. “No words can describe it.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.
Argyle 38, Graham 14
AY — Nick Ralston 10 run (Cole Hedlund kick)
AY — Hunter Treadwell 35 interception return (Cole Hedlund kick)
AY — Connor Wilson 2 run (Cole Hedlund kick)
AY — Nick Ralston 2 run (Cole Hedlund kick)
AY — Nick Ralston 15 run (Cole Hedlund kick)
GHM — Ben Davis 1 run (Fidel Herrera kick)
AY — Cole Hedlund 36 FG
GHM — Spur Hearne 4 run (Fidel Herrera kick)
Rushing — AY: Nick Ralston 19-147, Ian Sadler 9-46, Brandon Boyzuick 1-5, Jon Pucciarello 2-4, Connor Wilson 2-3, Brayden Helliker 3-0, Team Stat 1--1, GHM: Spur Hearne 9-56, Ben Davis 16-33, Justin Escalon 4-6, Dillon Gonzales 5-4.
Passing — AY: Brandon Boyzuick 8-21-0-91, GHM: Ben Davis 15-32-5-128.
Receiving — AY: Jon Pucciarello 3-43, Drew Estrada 3-26, Reese Thompson 1-12, Nick Ralston 1-10, GHM: Bryce Reeves 6-65, Dillon Gonzales 8-61, Derek Sides 1-2.