Run ends for SW as Steers advance

Ron Howell
Sports Editor

ABILENE — Giving up an 87-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff was the last thing Sweetwater wanted to do Friday in its regional playoff with Graham.
The play proved to be the beginning of the end for the Mustangs. They didn’t recover until it was too late, as the Steers (13-0) won 48-28 to advance to the state quarterfinals.
Sweetwater (10-3) failed to score until 12 seconds before intermission, on a 9-yard pass from quarterback Chris Thompson to fullback Kiante McCoy. By then Graham — which will play Bushland in the state quarterfinals — already had 34 points on the board.
The defeat not only ended the Mustangs’ dream of making a return trip to the Class 4A, Division II finals in Arlington, but also ended the high school careers of many seniors who were part of last year’s experience — and whose time at Sweetwater has been among the most successful in program history with a 48-7 record over the past four years.
Friday’s playoff game was the 16th for the Mustangs since the 2014 season, when the current group of seniors were freshmen.
Of taking over the reins of the program this season, first-year coach Ben McGehee said “It’s been great for me. I was blessed to walk into what I did.
“We returned 5-6 guys who had a lot of playing experience. The senior leadership really helped the younger guys and carried us. I’m really proud of them. They did a great job.”
And the Mustangs didn’t quit after the Steers put things out of reach with their last two scores for a 48-14 lead.
Sweetwater scored a pair of TDs in the last 4:11 to get it more respectable.
Thompson made it 48-21 with a 10-yard pass to Tristan Longoria which capped a four-play drive.
The Mustangs’ last score took up the final 1:32 and highlighted the chemistry between Thompson and favorite receiver Kobe Clark, who teamed up for the last time on a 5-yard touchdown with :00 on the clock. Thompson quarterbacked Sweetwater to the state finals for the first time in 31 years and only the third time in school history in 2016.
It was the last game for not only Thompson and Clark, but also McCoy, Longoria and running back Daniel Avila, who capped the first Sweetwater possession of the second half by scoring on a 2-yard run to cut the Steers’ lead to 20, 34-14.
That score gave hope to Sweetwater fans for a miracle comeback.
Graham, however, dashed those hopes when quarterback Tucker Horn threw to Ben Taylor for a touchdown to made it a 41-14 game late in the third quarter. Sweetwater tried to answer, but its next drive died at the 13-yard line of the Steers after an incomplete pass.
That led to a lengthy TD drive by Graham that ended in a 2-yard run by Chase Gilmore, his fourth score of the contest. Gilmore ran for 170 yards on 20 carries.
Sweetwater finished with 371 yards, 303 of it passing as Thompson was 25-of-46 with no interceptions. Clark caught 10 passes for 161 yards to lead all receivers in the game. Horn finished 17-of-20 for 209 yards and two scores. Both teams had one turnover, but other mistakes also hurt the Mustangs.
“In the first half we had some miscues at bad times that killed drives,” McGehee said. “And (Graham’s) offense did a great job. Kudos to those guys.
“We knew every week we would get everybody’s best shot and be the bullseye. I thought our kids did a great job of handling that.”