WACO – On a day where the John Paul II coaching staff challenged its players about overcoming adversity, the Cardinals attempted to channel that second wind during the last of nine games played at the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools 7-on-7 state tournament.
Trailing Austin St. Michaels by two touchdowns late in the second half on Saturday, John Paul closed that deficit to a single point as the final seconds ticked away in the gold bracket consolation final.
With a chance to send the bout into overtime with a tying one-point conversion, the Cardinals instead opted to play for keeps – backing up a few yards and going for two.
Some airtight coverage by St. Michaels led to an incomplete pass, as the Crusaders swarmed the field in celebration of a 42-41 victory. Though ultimately falling short of its endgame goal for the tournament, John Paul head coach George Teague still came away encouraged by his club’s 5-4 showing at the state tournament.
“I think overall we got better,” Teague said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t reach our goal over these past two days. We really wanted to get in the platinum bracket and felt like we were ready to take that next step, but as a team, we ended up growing – whether it was something like leadership things that we really had to continue working on. Overall, coming in and playing the way we did, we definitely improved.”
Competing at the Heart of Texas Soccer Association soccer fields in Waco, the Cardinals were among 28 TAPPS programs taking aim at a 7-on-7 state title on Friday and Saturday.
Slotted in Pool C, John Paul posted a 4-2 record on Friday – complete with wins over Regents (27-7), Cypress (42-0), McKinney Christian (42-7) and Tyler All Saints (14-13) alongside losses to Country Day (27-20) and Houston St. Pius X (39-28) – to book a spot in the gold bracket, reserved for the third- and fourth-place finishers in each pool.
Although Friday’s showing brought the Cardinals one win shy of the platinum bracket – designated for the top two teams in each pool – Saturday’s three-game gamut dealt a myriad of outcomes for John Paul.
The aforementioned finale against St. Michael’s saw the Cardinals snag a momentary lead out of halftime before the Crusaders answered with two consecutive touchdowns. In familiar fashion, the quarterback-receiver connection of juniors Grayson James and Jerand Bradley willed John Paul’s near-comeback, including a late end-zone fade to pull the Cardinals within 42-41.
“Everything I learned from coaches in the clinics I go to, they say that sometimes you just have to feed the beast,” Teague said. “I really adopted that motto and when you’ve got someone who’s 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds with that kind of vertical, you just have to give him a chance.”
One game prior, Bradley wasn’t alone in pillaging the opposing secondary as John Paul spread the wealth all over in a 49-0 shutout of Bryan St. Joseph. Names like senior Donavon Johnson, freshman Kyle Parker, sophomore Jordyn Tyson and sophomore Jude Nicolaidis were on the receiving end of James touchdown throws, while senior Max Mazur kicked off the contest with a pick-six and senior Tkai Wade intercepted multiple passes.
It was a welcome bounce-back for the Cardinals after dropping their first game on Saturday, a 43-31 setback to Tyler Grace Community where John Paul sunk into a four-score deficit at halftime. Challenged by their coaches at halftime in responding to adversity, that message became one of the team’s focal points for the remainder of the tournament – a mentality Teague hopes will carry over into the fall.
“My biggest goal this whole offseason was that we had to compete every down and ever snap – it doesn’t matter where we are, be it in the grass, on the turf, against UIL teams or against private school teams,” Teague said. “Everything has to be about competing and trying to win every single down – when we can understand that we’re not necessarily winning the little battles, but trying to win the whole thing.”