ALLEN — Was it faith, confidence or maybe a bit of good luck that fueled the Guyer defense in a Class 4A Division I semifinal against Highland Park on Saturday at Eagle Stadium?
It was all of that, but the Wildcats will say it was a sign from the sky that convinced them a return trip to the state championship game would be theirs.
Trailing 10-0 early in the fourth quarter, Guyer’s defense had just held Highland Park to a three-and-out when the Wildcats took over at their 31 with 10:28 on the clock. Up to that point, the game had been played under an overcast sky and in a 16 mph wind.
Then the sun came out.
“That’s when we knew the game was ours,” Guyer junior defensive lineman Carl Thompson said. “When the sun came out, we knew everything would go our way. Everyone started jumping and cheering — the fans, the players — we knew it was our time.”
It certainly was a turn of fortunes for the defending 4A state champs, who rallied for 22 fourth-quarter points to defeat the Scots 22-16, setting up a state title bout with San Antonio Brennan on Friday at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium.
While Guyer’s offense and special teams struggled with three lost fumbles, one of which set up a Highland Park touchdown, and the team was penalized 72 yards, it was the defense that kept the Wildcats in the game.
“I’ve been saying since the spring that we had a state championship defense that we could lean on,” said Guyer coach John Walsh, who will be taking a team to the state title game for the third time in four years. “We haven’t had to do it in a few years, and today was one of those days. I was glad to see them step up and win the game for us.”
The Guyer defense made two critical stands late in the game before a breakdown made things interesting.
After the sun’s appearance, Guyer drove for a score — a 23-yard run by Anthony Taylor with 8:44 left.
Needing the ball back, Guyer’s defense did the job as Scots quarterback Brooks Burgin threw three incomplete passes and the Wildcats took over with 8:08 showing.
Guyer drove for a go-ahead score, a 25-yard run by Jerrod Heard, and the Wildcats led 14-10 with 4:13 left in the fourth quarter.
This time, the Scots would break the Guyer defense. Burgin fired a 45-yard completion over the middle to William Stowe, who took the ball to the Guyer 22 before being tackled by Ian Edwards.
Four plays later, Stephen Dieb scored from 1 yard out and the Scots were back up 16-14 with 2:18 left after Will Sanders missed the extra point.
The Scots had marched 67 yards in five plays, consuming less than two minutes and putting the pressure back on Guyer offense.
“We had a couple of breakdowns,” said Guyer defensive back Jordan Wallace. “I had a bad angle on one of those passes, and we didn’t cover like we were supposed to on the touchdown run. But even after that happened we all had faith. We all knew the offense would get it back.”
Indeed, the Wildcats would drive for a game-winning 1-yard TD run by Heard with 55 seconds showing.
The Guyer defense had to make one more stop. After the Scots returned the kickoff to the Highland Park 46, Burgin threw incomplete across the middle on first down.
On second down, Burgin scrambled out of the pocket but was sacked by Thompson for a 7-yard loss. On third-and-17, Burgin again threw incomplete. On fourth down, he completed a short pass to Kevin Ken, who was tackled by Michael Carrillo well short of the first down.
“We were completely focused, even when things weren’t going our way,” Guyer defensive lineman Thomas Ferguson said. “This was a big test for us — probably our biggest test of the season — and we showed we could play big.”
Highland Park had mounted 126 yards of total offense in the first half, compared with 104 for Guyer. But the end of the game, the Scots had 237 yards. Guyer finished with 356.
“We just had the right mindset,” Guyer linebacker Demontrie Taylor said. “We had faith in each other. We didn’t see anything that surprised us, except the one trick play they had, but our coaches did a great job preparing us for this game. We all knew we had to do our part and the offense would eventually get going. We just had to stay strong.”