ABILENE — In what was probably the most exciting game in the state over the weekend, Big Spring came up just short of a major upset over defending state champion Stephenville Friday at Wylie's Bulldog Stadium.
The Steers (9-4) had a two-point lead over the Yellow Jackets (12-1) with 35 seconds to go in the regional playoff game, thanks to a touchdown by junior quarterback Tobyn Tannehill.
Stephenville quickly assembled a scoring drive, moving 65 yards down the field in 25 seconds. A touchdown put SHS ahead 41-36. A series of last ditch lateral passes by Big Spring wound up in the the wrong hands and with no time left, the Yellow Jackets added a pick six, making the final score of 47-36 look more lopsided than it actually was.
The Steers drew first blood on their opening possession when hard-charging running back Hunter Hill scored from the four-yard line. Then it was Big Spring's defense who stepped up, forcing a SHS punt.
A 20-yard field goal by All-State selection Devin Roberson grew the Steers' lead to 10-0 as heavily favored Stephenville seemed dazed by BSHS, which was playing at an intensity level Head Coach Phillip Ritchey had never seen before.
“It was a perfect game for us,” a proud Ritchey explained. “We did exactly what we needed to do to have a chance at beating that team. We scored points, we forced turnovers. All we wanted was a chance to win and we did exactly what we needed to do. They're a really good team. We knew we had to create turnovers to slow them down.”
Both Stephenville fumbles were recovered by Big Spring and Shaiem Menefield intercepted a pass.
The Jackets tacked on a TD of their own with seconds left in the first quarter, then added another in the second. With 15 seconds left in the half, Tannehill scored on a three-yard run, but the PAT kick was no good and the Steers led 16-14 at the halfway mark.
It only took 46 seconds for SHS to regain the lead on 33-yard pass by QB Stidham — a player Ritchey referred to as a “D-I quarterback” and much of the reason for the Yellow Jackets' success.
“It's hard to point out any negatives, but we gave up the big play,” Ritchey said. “We gave up some long passes.”
Down 27-23 at the start of the fourth stanza, SHS tacked on another TD, but Hill — who scored touchdown No. 12 in three postseason games — barreled down the field for a 41-yard score.
Tannehill followed suit on the next Steer possession, scoring from a yard out to take the lead before the quick strike by the Yellow Jackets sealed the game.
It may have been a heart-wrenching loss for Big Spring, but it was also a massive feat for a team who didn't win a single district outing in the two years prior.
“We played with a lot of heart,” Ritchey said. “(Stephenville) matched us in size, they matched us in strength and they matched us in speed, but they couldn't match us in heart. In my opinion, that's the reason we had a chance to beat them. We earned a lot of respect from them, the state and a lot of people around the here who may have counted us out.”
As for Ritchey's seniors, who played their final game in a Steer uniform, he said the team's success wouldn't have been possible without them.
“Our seniors were incredible (Friday) and all year,” he said. “Some of those guys saw the lows and they worked hard to create the highs. They're a special bunch. They play together. We never have problems in the locker room. They raised the bar for Big Spring football. People are going to talk about the 2013 Steers for a long time.”
There's some rebuilding which must take place if the Steers are to repeat the success they enjoyed this season. Offensively, Big Spring will be looking for linemen and receivers to fill vacancies when Tate Kennedy Menefield and Roberson graduate.
On the defensive side, BSHS will have many replacements to make.
Despite losing such integral players, the Steer offense is poised to be just as potent next season. Running backs Hill and freshman Preston Alexander are slated to return, along with Tannehill, who accumulated 156 rushing yards and 246 passing yards during Friday's nail biter.
But for now, Ritchey is savoring the moment. The Steers may have lost, but they certainly didn't look like losers.
“It was one of the most exciting high school games you could be a part of,” Ritchey added. “We went to toe-to-toe with the champ and went 15 rounds. And it ended on a split-decision — a controversial one. It was a great year. I wouldn't trade places with anybody right now. This is one of the best football teams in Big Spring history. We appreciate the support from the community. We may not have been able to celebrate a victory, but we can celebrate the effort.”
Total yards: BSHS, 530; SHS, 567.
Passing: T. Tannehill, 21-37-2-246.
Rushing: T. Tannehill, 29-156; H. Hill, 11-115; D. Roberson, 1-28; P. Alexander, 7-9.
Receiving: D. Roberson, 7-164; T. Kennedy, 7-97; H. Hill, 2-18; Matt Yanez, 3-12; Garrett Wigington, 1-10; S. Menefield, 1-5, 1 int.