Eunice football wins state championship
By Tom Mulherin
EUNICE – It took a third straight appearance, but the Eunice football team finally did it.
Behind a familiar combination of defensive tenacity and a balanced offensive attack, the Cardinals beat Capitan Saturday afternoon, 34-13, to win the Class 3A State Championship after losing the title game in each of the past two years.
Tears, hugs and smiles swept over Eunice. Three tries to win can be an awful long time. But many on the team said it was worth the wait, and this one was particularly sweet with it serving as revenge for a one-point loss to the Tigers in last year’s state final.
Capitan finished the season 11-2, with both losses coming to Eunice.
“It’s just a feeling that a lot of people don’t get to have,” said junior running back Juan Sosa, who finished the win with two touchdowns. “Our main thing (this year) was finish, and finish. Everyday at practice, we’d finish, and finish. We knew what (Capitan was) going to do, adjusted, and got success.”
“We all think it’s great,” added junior lineman Logan Gaskins. “We’d been to the state championship twice in a row, and, you know, third year’s a charm.”
The state championship win is the school’s 13th all time, but this year’s squad joins a more exclusive club by finishing the season with a 13-0 record. That makes the 2017 Cardinals just the third group in program history (1957, 1958) to finish the year undefeated, and also gives them the most wins in a single season after those other two teams went 10-0.
Stevens, who could finally take a break from his forward-thinking approach, talked about how proud he was of his team for accomplishing a very difficult feat. Especially the championship part.
“I’m excited for those boys,” he said. “These boys have worked hard for the last couple years. Most of these boys have started for us for three years, and to see them come up short the last two years and see them be able to celebrate and see the joy on their faces and their excitement, that’s what made it for me.
“Nobody can ever top them. They can be tied (at 13-0), but those boys … can never be beaten.”
The beginning of this game showed a stark difference from Eunice’s 48-0 win over the Tigers earlier this year, as Capitan didn’t trail by more than two scores this time around until the third quarter.
In fact, the Tigers even led at one point. After a five-play drive that ended in a punt to start the game, the Tigers forced Kari York to a fumble on the Cards’ first offensive play. Four snaps later, quarterback Price Bowen scrambled on a bootleg and barely stayed in bounds for a 4-yard touchdown and an early 6-0 lead.
But that’s when Eunice really put the clamps on, while the offense found a groove.
The Cards had punted on their second possession, but York led the team 70 yards down the field in their third drive with carries of eight, 10 and 11 yards. His brother, Tari York, took a jet sweep for 14 yards right to the goal line, and quarterback Mason Caperton punched it in with a 1-yard QB sneak.
Sosa recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, which eventually turned into a 32-yard field goal from Pit Kramer. And after the defense forced a punt and then recovered a fumble at the Cards’ own 8-yard line, Sosa led Eunice to a 17-6 lead with six carries for 57 yards and a 12-yard TD in the one drive.
Aided by a 62-yard TD catch from a Caperton pass down the left seam later on in the second half, Sosa finished with a game-high 154 yards from scrimmage.
Sosa had taken a much more complementary role this season, so seeing him go off came to the joy of many of his teammates. Stevens felt excited for him too, mostly because of how much of a team player he had been this season.
That came to light when Sosa was asked about his effort.
“I mean, the main thing is just, it goes out to my seniors,” he said. “This game was for them. Undefeated season, I mean, it just couldn’t be better. My seniors, my blockers, my line; they work hard every day. I couldn’t ask for more.”
One of those seniors benefited from a better second half from Caperton, as the sophomore QB’s first pass after a 4-of-10 first half was a 59-yard strike down the seam to Tari York for a 24-6 lead. Sosa’s TD catch followed an interception from Avante Stevens for a 31-6 lead. By the time Capitan finally scored again with 4:21 left, the game was all but over.
A big credit to that goes to big plays from the offense. But perhaps an even bigger one goes to the defense producing two red zone turnovers, six turnovers in all when including on downs, and two sacks (both from Kadin Hughes). And outside of Bowen’s 190 yards from passing and rushing, the Tigers couldn’t generate much on offense.
“That’s been our calling card all year,” Stevens said. “We’ve played great defense, we all understand that it’s defense that wins championships.”
Caperton finished 7-of-14 for 134 yards and two TDs. Tari York posted 104 yards from scrimmage, while Kari York had 48 and Cameron Santa Cruz had 34.