Dallas Christian has had the ninth state championship in program history in its sights since the start of the season.
The Chargers rolled through much of their opposition to put themselves on the precipice of achieving that goal on Saturday.
But despite dominating the stat sheets, the title game came down to the wire.
To the final play to be exact.
In one of the most memorable—and stunning—finishes in years, Austin Regents senior linebacker Ben Buerkle picked off a pass and evaded would-be tacklers on a 69-yard return for a touchdown as time expired to lift the Knights to a 26-20 victory and the TAPPS Division II state championship at Panther Stadium in Waco.
Dallas Christian (10-1) dominated the numbers, outgaining Regents (10-0) 444-184 in total yards, but its inability to take advantage of its opportunities was the difference in the game.
The Chargers had five trips into Knights territory, including four in the red zone, that came up empty.
Regents, meanwhile, combined the bend-but-don’t-break approach, along with its propensity for big plays, as its recipe for success.
Dallas Christian had won every game by at least 28 points and trailed only twice all season long, both of which were early deficits that were quickly erased, but Regents sent an early message that they would be a different challenge.
After forcing a punt on the opening possession, the Knights quickly moved 46 yards in five plays, with Trevor Tezak scoring on a short touchdown run to take a 6-0 lead.
The Chargers appeared ready to land a swift counterpunch, driving down inside the Regents 10-yard line, but a penalty pushed them back and they missed a field goal to walk away with no points.
The Dallas Christian defense not only did its part in holding the Knights in check, but also delivering big plays, and after the missed field goal, Garrett Tillett picked off a pass to set the offense up and this time, they took advantage, as Parker Robertson broke free for a 32-yard touchdown run to tie it at 6-6 early in the second quarter.
The Chargers got the ball back, but then rolled the dice on fourth-and-2 inside their own territory and were unable to convert.
The opportunistic Knights pounced, with quarterback Drew Dickey capping a 38-yard drive with a 3-yard keeper to take a 13-6 lead.
Dallas Christian again came right back, driving inside the Regents’ 5-yard line, but an interception derailed its chance.
They would get another opportunity quickly, as T.J. King picked off a pass and then hooked up with Robertson on a 55-yard touchdown pass to tie it at 13-13 and that is the way it would stay until halftime.
The Knights struck on special teams in the third quarter to regain the lead, blocking a punt that William Raeder scooped up and returned 38 yards to the end zone to make it 20-13.
On the ensuing drive, the Chargers were again inside the Regents’ 10, but a penalty put them in a tough spot and they turned the ball over on downs.
But Dallas Christian forced a fumble on the next play, and this turnover they turned into points, as King found the end zone on a 3-yard touchdown run to tie it at 20-20 early in the fourth quarter.
The Chargers then had a golden opportunity to take their first lead when they recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Dallas Christian got to the Regents 1, but the Knights defense came up big on back-to-back plays on third and fourth down to force the turnover on downs to keep it a tie game.
Both defenses held firm during the late stages of the game, and it appeared destined for overtime, but with the Chargers trying to get just a little closer at the end of regulation, Buerkle made the biggest play of the season to give Regents the title and deny Dallas Christian No. 9.