25 Days of Champions -- 2015 Abbott


Six-man expert

Abbott’s football program under head coach Terry Crawford year-in and year-out has always been in the conversation, when it comes to which teams have a chance at making a long playoff run and win a state title. Dating back to 2000, Abbott had fallen in the quarterfinals four times, the semifinals four times, and the state championship once. However, the state title always seemed just out of Abbott and Coach Crawford’s reach. The Panther program’s consistency, hard work and dedication, thanks largely to the years of tutelage by coach Crawford, would finally gain the laurels of a state crown in 2015.

Abbott entered the 2015 campaign ranked in the top 10 and coach Crawford had a solid team returning as they looked to not only make their usual deep playoff run, but win a state championship.

The Panthers won their season opener easily enough, defeating Austin Hill Country, 46-0, but their second game of the season was against highly-ranked, Division Two Calvert, and the Panthers would suffer their first defeat, losing 53-8. Coach Crawford’s squad recovered well and won their next game, narrowly edging Blum, 22-16, and then their following five games via the 45-point mercy rule.

In their fourth district game, ninth game on the season, the Panthers faced off with Milford and narrowly lost, 53-40, setting up a big district showdown with Coolidge in the final game of the regular season to decide the district’s runner-up team. Abbott would go on to win a wild one, 46-32, and advance on into the playoffs.

For bi-district, it was a rematch with Blum. Again, Abbott won a close game 56-38, afterwards they defeated a scrappy Savoy team 64-46 in the second round. The Panthers would get a rematch with district foe Milford in the quarterfinal, gaining their revenge, 42-26. They then beat Zephyr via the mercy rule, 53-8, to advance to the school’s second-ever state title game appearance, to face the Crowell Wildcats.

Crowell was the two-time defending Division One champion and not expected to be playing for their third-straight title. The Wildcats had lost their season opener, 58-48, to the preseason #1 team Borden County. They had also lost two more regular season games to Happy, 37-22, and Calvert 37-34.

But the Wildcats responded later in the season, eventually winning a shootout with Garden City in the quarterfinals, 94-86only to face favored Borden County once again in the semifinals. This time the Wildcats pulled off the biggest upset of the playoffs, avenging their season-opening loss, 68-40. Their high-powered offense was averaging 74.5 points per game in the playoffs and after the big upset win over Borden County, entered the state game as the prohibitive favorite.

State Championship Game – Saturday Dec. 12th in Shotwell Stadium, Abilene
Crowell was first on the board, scoring on a long 47-yard run by Daniel Clark just two plays into the game, to take a quick 6-0 lead.

On their opening drive Abbott, facing a fourth-and-short, broke free on a dive run for a long 49-yard gain down to the Crowell five-yard line. The Wildcat defense stood strong and on fourth-and-goal from the five-yard line, forced a turnover on downs.

The Panthers answered with an even bigger defensive stop, forcing Crowell to turn the ball over on downs after going for it on fourth down at their own 15-yard line, gaining a sack for a one-yard loss. Not to be outdone, Crowell proceeded to stop Abbott again on fourth-and-goal from the 10. The first quarter came to an end in the middle of Crowell’s possession, with the Wildcats marching the ball down field holding onto a 6-0 lead.

Abbott’s pass defense was able to cover the Wildcat receivers, while Hayes tried to make throws downfield, ultimately falling incomplete on fourth-and-short for the fourth-straight game possession that resulted in a turnover on downs. The Panther’s took over at their own 28 and on their first play gained 31 yards on a play-action pass, but the offense stalled and just missed scoring on pass up the middle that was slightly over thrown, and once again we had a turnover on downs. Crowell took over at their own 13-yard line.

As Abbott’s defense recorded a sack and a tackle for no gain, they rushed hard and almost recorded a safety, but instead accidentally pulled Hayes’ face mask, resulting in a big first down for the Wildcats. Now they had some room to operate their spread offense. The Panthers kept the pressure coming and recorded another sack eventually forced an interception.

Starting at the Crowell 32, Abbott was forced into another fourth-and-long situation, but this time quarterback Zane Cooper found an open Truston Berger, who turned upfield and ran in for a 27-yard touchdown. Their PAT kick by Nolan Putejovsky was good and Abbott had a slim 8-6 lead, with 2:27 left in the first half of play.

A failed onside kick gave Crowell great field position, starting their next drive on their own 36. A few plays later, Tristen Hayes ran in for the Wildcats second touchdown. Leonardo Gentile’s kick was good, and Crowell led, 14-8. Abbott ran a few plays before time ran out on the half, with the Wildcats clinging to a narrow, 14-8 lead.

The Panthers received to start the second half of play and put together a nice drive, thanks to a gain on a play-action pass that took the Abbott all the way down to the Crowell seven-yard line. On the next play Cade Ramsey scored on a dive. The PAT was good and Abbott took a slim 16-14 lead, a lead they would never relinquish.

The third quarter would belong to the Panthers. On the ensuing kickoff, after taking back the lead, Abbott kicked and recovered an onside kick. Six plays later, they scored on a two-yard run by Ramsey, to extend their lead to 24-14.

Crowell would answer with a nice drive of their own, scoring on a draw from nine yards out by Danny de la Pena. The converted PAT kick brought the score to 24-22 in favor of the Panthers.

Abbott returned the ball past midfield on the kickoff and needed just four plays to score on a four yard run by Ramsey. The PAT rang true again, and it was now 32-22, Panthers.

A failed onside kick attempt gave Crowell the ball at the Abbott 39. On their first play, Daniel Clark ran 39-yards up the middle for a touchdown. The PAT was good and the Abbott lead was cut to two, 32-30, as the third quarter was winding down.

Abbott converted on a crucial fourth-and-three, taking them down inside the Wildcat 15, as time ran out on the third quarter. After a false start on fourth-and-goal from the 10 moved Abbott back five yards, Cooper connected with Kyle Langford 15-yards and a touchdown. The PAT was blocked and score was 38-30, with 9:09 left to play.

Abbott recorded two sacks, including one on fourth-and-long, when they caught Hayes to get the ball back at the Crowell 11, but Crowell responded in kind, forcing a turnover on downs with back-to-back goal line stands, to take over at their own two-yard line. On the next play Abbott’s front line got a hard push upfront and tackled the Crowell running back, who took the pitch on a would be sweep, in the backfield, resulting in a safety and putting the score at 40-30, with 5:23 left in the game.

Crowell, needing a big stop, came up with one, forcing Abbott to punt after going three-and-out. The punt was a good one, but went out of the back of the end zone and Crowell took over at their own 20. However, the Wildcats could not get anything going against the Panther, defense and on fourth-and-16, turned the ball over on downs on an incomplete pass, giving the ball back to Abbott at the Crowell 36.

Abbott ran four straight run plays, killing the time on the clock, but not getting enough yardage for a first down and turned the ball back over to Crowell at the 26. Four plays later Crowell was stuffed on fourth-and-three and Abbott, back in possession, would kneel out the clock and win their first state title, 40-30.

Abbott out-gained Crowell, 392-267, as the Panthers, primarily a run team, threw for 230 yards. Zane Cooper was 12-of-17 and no interceptions for 212 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Cade Ramsey, who powered downfield all game, had 30 carries for 141 yards and three touchdowns for Abbott, and received the games Offensive MVP honors. Defensively, Jacob Pavelka was a major standout for Abbott, winning Defensive MVP honors for his performance leading the Panthers with 11 tackles, five of those for losses.

The back-to-back scores to start the third quarter, recovering an onside kick and the Panthers defense shutting down Crowell in the first half, and more importantly in the fourth quarter, proved the difference in this game, which was a constant push and pull for the full four quarters. Interestingly enough, every week the coaching staff and players came up with a magic number they wanted their defense to hold the opposing offense to in that week’s upcoming game. The number they came up with for Crowell was 30.

While it was a big win for coach Crawford, his players, and his program, he maintained that the win would not define him, his players or the program he built at Abbott. For him, the success his former players and students achieve after graduation is always more important than any trophy or medal. His tag at the end of all his e-mails sums it up pretty well, “Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.” In doing that he has always been a champion at sending champions out into the world.

- There have been very few two loss teams to win the six-man state title. In 2015, the Abbott Panthers would march into the title game with a 12-2 record and would become just the second team to win a state title with 2 losses on their record.
-Stats came from 2016 edition of Dave Campbell’s Magazine
-I also watched the game film to help with this piece.
-Crowell’s upset over Borden County in the semi-finals made them most people’s favorite to win their third-straight title.
-This was the 13th season the six-man state championship was played in Abilene. The game was webcast on the NFHS Network with Kit McConnico on the call and Granger Huntress doing color. We all went to Lowake after the game together.
- Thank you to Coach Terry Crawford for the photo