SAGINAW – The Celina football team’s quest for an unprecedented ninth state title came to an end Friday night at the hands of a program that has asserted itself as a perennial powerhouse over the last decade.
Waco La Vega, the defending Class 4A Division I state champions, grabbed a stranglehold in its area-round matchup with the Bobcats and never let go en route to a 35-13 triumph over Celina.
The crushing loss ends the Bobcats’ impressive 2019 campaign in which they finished the year with a 7-5 overall record and yet another postseason appearance.
However, Celina failed to reach its ultimate goal of winning a state title, which it has not done since 2007 and last competed in the state final in 2015. Head coach Bill Elliott knows just how difficult that is for his players to grasp while the wounds from the Pirates remain fresh.
“Every year you have a lot of good kids, and there are so many great guys in this senior class,” he said. “For four years they have worked their tails off, and it’s almost like they are your own kids when this happens. The one thing that I hate about coaching is this part right here when you don’t make it to the state championship and get to finish that way.”
Although Elliott’s crew went toe-to-toe with La Vega in the second half when it was outscored by just one point, the Bobcats simply could not recover from the onslaught of huge plays given up in the first half.
In fact, the Pirates stormed out to a quick 21-0 lead by scoring on three of their first four possessions with all three touchdowns coming on runs of at least 31 yards.
The reigning state champions needed just five plays – four of them on the ground – to score on its opening drive before junior running back Jar’Quae Walton exploded for a 31-yard score just three minutes in.
Following a Celina punt, the La Vega backfield carried the load once again with this time junior Elisha Cummings doing the dirty work with a 63-yard scamper to the house followed by a 55-yard burst into the end zone to begin the second stanza.
Before the Bobcats could even march into Pirates territory, they found themselves down by 21 points after not being able to win the line of scrimmage and stop the run in the early going.
“Those plays just break your back and break your mentality,” Elliott said. “We kept on staying in the fight and getting after it, but it just kills you when you have them stopped and they make a big play.”
Despite going into the half down by three scores and with just two first downs under the belt, adjustments made in the locker room proved to be a difference maker in the second half.
With possession of the ball to begin the third, Celina came out firing shots downfield with senior quarterback Hunter Watson connecting with the 6-foot-7 DJ Dell’Anno deep for a 50-yard hookup. That pass play then set up senior running back Logan Point’s lone touchdown run of the night from 2 yards out to finally get the Bobcats on the board.
With a mountain of confidence from its first scoring drive against a stout La Vega defense, Celina then held the Pirates scoreless for the entire third quarter before La Vega senior quarterback Landry Kinne showed off his arm with a 29-yard touchdown strike to Sol’Dreveon Degrate.
Instead of getting discouraged down 28-7 early in the fourth, the Bobcats answered right back with a 61-yard bomb to Dell’Anno just one offensive play later to climb back within striking distance at 28-13.
Dell’Anno, who did not record a catch in the first half, left his mark in the second with three catches for 151 yards and a touchdown in this contest.
“He’s a great receiver and got great hands,” Elliott said. “His size makes him a great target to throw to, and it’s going to be great to have him back next year. He works his tail off, keeps his mouth shut and does what he’s told to do. That’s kind of the kids you want in your program.”
Momentum seemed to be on the side of the Bobcats moments later when Cummings lost a fumble deep in Celina territory as the Pirates looked to ice the ballgame.
Instead of making most of the mistake and making things interesting down the stretch, Watson, who threw for 187 yards and a touchdown in the loss, then heaved a deep pass into the hands of La Vega defensive back Ara Rauls.
Rauls then dipped and dashed his way 43 yards to the end zone to put things out of reach for good.
“La Vega is good and has a lot of talent,” Elliott said. “They have so much speed and a big line up front, so that’s where they are hard to control and handle. It will be a good matchup with them and Argyle here probably in a couple of weeks.”