The El Campo Ricebirds and the West Columbia Roughnecks found yards tough to come by Friday night at Ricebird Stadium. With the battle for the second seed in District 13, it was the Roughnecks who hung on to beat the Ricebirds 17-9.
“It’s the first time since 1987 that West Columbia has come and beat (the Ricebirds in El Campo),” West Columbia Head Coach Brent Mascheck said. “I thought defensively I thought are team did great. Offensively they did some things that we weren’t ready for and we had some problems blocking them. It was a total team effort.”
El Campo and West Columbia’s defenses Friday night limited the offensive firepower that both have shown throughout the season. Both defensive forced turnovers, but the Roughnecks won the turnover battle with four takeaways to the Ricebirds’ two.
Of the Roughnecks 12 drives, only three turned into points. While the Ricebirds gave them four more possesions, twice the Roughnecks were able to turn them into points, which proved to be costly.
After a Ricebird interception, the Roughnecks used a six-play 30-yard drive to take the lead 10-7 in the third quarter.
“You can’t give a good team like that extra possessions,” Ricebirds Head Coach Wayne Condra said. “We’ve been able to control that the past few weeks but tonight we couldn’t.”
The Ricebirds offense kept trying to run the ball to little avail. The Roughnecks sealed off cutback lines and limited El Campo to two first downs next four drives.
Junior Cullen Braden with six minutes left fired off a punt that pinned West Columbia inside the five. Two plays later, the defense came up with some offense as senior Javien Williams sacked the Roughnecks quarterback to make the game 10-9.
With some life and energy on the sideline, West Columbia kicked the ball off to the Ricebirds and with the ball on the 33, El Campo started driving with under four minutes left in the game. Facing a three and out, Braden connected with senior Conner Williams for a 15-yard pass and a first down, but on the following play, disaster happened with the Ricebirds third fumble of the game.
West Columbia with 1:47 left in the game, nearly gave the ball back to El Campo but an unsportsmanlike penalty on the Ricebirds kept the Roughnecks alive.
Content to run the ball out and end the game, a Ricebird defensive breakdown led to a Roughneck touchdown run, but with the safety earlier in the fourth quarter it was still a one-score game with 40 seconds left in the game.
West Columbia opted for a deep kick to try and pin El Campo back deep. Senior Rance Thornton picked the ball up at the goal line and started to run. At the 20-yard line, he made a cutback and only had one person left to beat. Thornton made a move on the kicker and it looked like he was home free, but was finally caught crossing the 25-yard line.
“He made a great move and got up the field, he did a great job for us,” Condra said.
Life was given to the Ricebirds and with 25 seconds and no timeouts, they were five yards away from the red zone. Braden nearly found Hal Erwin in the back of the endzone but it was broken up by a couple of Roughneck defenders. On second down, Braden completed a short throw to Nathan Willis and tossed it to Charles Shorter who was running behind the play, but it was only good for 10-yards, with time ticking off the clock, they spiked the ball with two seconds on the clock. Barden tried another throw into the end zone, but it fell incomplete and the game was over. However, the Roughnecks were flagged for a roughing the passer penalty and with the ball on the 10-yard line they had one final play, Braden rolled and was looking for Willis, but it was knocked away and the miracle comeback fell a few yards short.
“You feel down because you fought so hard, but like I told them, the sun is going to come up tomorrow,” Condra said. “There is a lot of teams putting up their football equipment tonight and we get to suit up and get ready for a playoff game.”