Amarillo Globe-News On-Line

Elks' plan goes awry
Shiner corner O'Connor overcomes illness
to thwart Stratford hope to beat him deep
(Texas Class A State Championship Game)

Sunday, December 19, 2004
Mike Lee, Amarillo Globe-News

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click to enlarge photo
The Final Walk: An emotional Tony Ruiz, a senior running back for Stratford, walks off the field following a 33-19 loss to Shiner. He had a combined 162 yards of offense.
photos by Michael Lemmons, Amarillo Globe-News
WICHITA FALLS - Chase O'Connor felt so bad during the week, he had to see a doctor.

On Saturday, he made the Stratford Elks feel sick.

Stratford was determined to beat the Shiner cornerback deep for a touchdown pass, but O'Conner - flu and all - proved equal to the challenge. The Elks completed a couple of short passes in front of the 180-pound senior, but they never beat him deep in the Comanches' 33-19 victory in the Class 1A state championship football game at Memorial Stadium.

"I had kind of a rough game. I've been battling the flu for the last three days so it was perfect timing for them to pick on me," said the 5-foot-9 O'Connor, who finished with two tackles, one interception and one pass breakup. "They (Elks) were coming right at me pretty much from the start. I saw their quarterback (Josh King) relaying hand signals to the receiver on my side.

"They came right at me and I tried my best. I think it shows on the scoreboard."

Josh Lanning, the Stratford receiver lined up against O'Connor most of the night, sprinted free past the cornerback on more than one occasion. However, Lanning and King never could connect on a touchdown pass or even a long gainer. While King finished 14- of-33 passing for 204 yards and an 88-yard touchdown to running back Tony Ruiz, Lanning finished with one catch for minus-3 yards.

"I was faster than him, I could tell," Lanning said. "It just didn't work out. We tried. That's all we can do.

"I had him a couple of times, but I guess I didn't run fast enough to get under the ball. I don't know what happened."

Lanning had hoped to be a factor Saturday after Tyler Haynes and Chris Ortega, the Elks' other receivers, burned Windthorst's pass defense in last week's semifinal game. But while Haynes and Ortega combined for 11 catches for 115 yards, King was never able to connect with Lanning for positive yardage.

King, who had 19 incompletions, overthrew some of his receivers and was the victim of dropped passes on other occasions.

"We never connected," Stratford first-year head coach Eddie Metcalf said of the strategy to beat O'Connor with Lanning. "We had some openings there. It just never worked.
click to enlarge photo
End of the Line: Stratford senior running back Asbel Gomez watches his season and high school football career end Saturday in the closing minutes of the Class 1A state championship game in Wichita Falls. The Elks were defeated by Shiner, which finishes 16-0. Stratford completes its season 13-3.

"I thought we had a big advantage there (with Lanning) from watching film of Shiner. But you've got to hit it for it to work, and we didn't."

A home run pass to Lanning could have had a major impact on the game. Stratford was down by no more than one score for most of the game and ended up running 75 offensive plays to 39 for Shiner.

The Elks' offense gained 314 total yards to 238 for the Comanches. For much of the game, the Elks were one play away from the tying score.

Stratford trailed 21-13 at the half, got as close as 21-19 late in the third quarter and trailed 27-19 for most of the fourth quarter. Shiner didn't put away the game until safety Kevin Berger's 6-yard fumble return gave the Comanches the ball at the Elks' 15- yard line with 3:55 to play.

Shiner scored four plays later on Chris Baer's 1-yard run, extending its lead to 33-19 and clinching the state title with 2:58 left. By then, O'Connor had won all the most important individual matchups and the Comanches had won the championship.

"You didn't see the real Chase O'Connor tonight," Shiner head coach Steven Cerny said.

"He had to go see the doctor and take antibiotics this week. He was congested and couldn't breathe and was cramping up during the game. He had to take a break for a few plays here and there. But he hung in there. I'm proud of him.

"They (Elks) took some shots at him but they didn't get anything out of it. He's done an excellent job all year. I don't know if he's given up a touchdown all year."

King, who had run or passed for all nine of the Elks' touchdowns in their quarterfinals win over Sunray and their semifinals win over Windthorst, was frustrated with not being able to connect over O'Connor.

"We were just trying to do something," King said. "It didn't come out our way. I don't know why.

"None of us did anything good tonight. I'm not going to blame anybody. I'll blame myself."

Ortega, the Elks' tight end who caught five passes for 44 yards Saturday, was also frustrated that his team couldn't beat O'Connor deep.

"Josh Lanning is a much better athlete than that guy (O'Connor)," Ortega said. "We tried to throw over him, but we couldn't make it work. They (Comanches) were getting good pressure on Josh (King) and he had no choice but to throw it in a hurry."

Shiner's defense held Stratford to a season-low 19 points and 14 points below the Elks' playoff average of 33.8 points per game. O'Connor was a big reason.

"Stratford is the most effective passing team we played this year, and their quarterback (King) is awesome," O'Connor said.

He looked outside Memorial Stadium toward the south and pondered the seven-hour drive back to South Texas.

"That bus ride will be a lot easier now that we have the gold trophy.''

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