VICTORIA -- The Shiner Comanches used an aggressive, blitzing defense Friday night to bring down Falls City’s high-flying offense, ending the Beavers’ playoff run in the Class-A state quarterfinals at Memorial Stadium.
Falls City quarterback B.J. Sixto takes a breather on the sidelines. Sixto passed for 260 yards and one touchdown, and ran for another, but the Beavers fell to the Comanches, 16-14. (photos by Brian K. Murphy/Wilson County News)
Shiner’s 16-14 win not only avenged a tough 7-0 Halloween night loss to Falls City, it also pushed the Comanches (13-1) into the state semifinals, where they will face the Chilton Pirates (13-1).
Led by hard-charging linebackers Chris Baer and Jared Boedeker, the Comanches held the prolific Beaver offense to just 241 yards of total offense. Although many teams might consider that a productive night, it wasn’t much for Falls City -- which had averaged 339.5 yards of total offense a game in the regular season and 485 yards of total offense in three previous playoff games.
Running back Joe Theis had rushed for 798 yards since the playoffs began, including a phenomenal 419-yard performance against Center Point. But he was frustrated by the Shiner defense, and managed only 30 yards on 12 carries.
On eight of those carries, Theis couldn’t even get across the line of scrimmage, as Shiner defenders consistently broke through the Falls City line. Linebackers -- Baer, Boedeker, Todd Wenske, Ryan Kloesel, Steven Evans -- and defensive linemen -- Clayton McCorkle, Desmond Brooks, and Brady Strauss -- combined to make 12 tackles in the Falls City backfield for losses totaling 60 yards.
The Beavers’ defensive players did their job, too. They held Shiner’s potent offense -- which had averaged 374.5 yards of total offense during its previous 13 games -- to just 176 yards of total offense.
The Beavers’ defense was led by linebacker Derek Sturm and defensive back Theis, who had six solo tackles each. Linebacker Jim Ed Baugh assisted on eight tackles, two of which resulted in losses of 10 yards. The Beavers also combined to make seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage, which cost the Comanches 40 yards.
Shiner quarterback Garet Pustka (1) outruns two Falls City defenders for a 24-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s playoff game.
But Shiner’s defense came up with the first big play of the game. A defender broke through the Beavers’ line on the third play of the game and hit quarterback B.J. Sixto, who was setting up a screen pass to Theis. The hit caused a fumble, which was recovered by Steven Evans and advanced to the Falls City 1-yard line.
"We ran a screen play. They brought the blitz, and we didn’t get [the pass] thrown," Falls City head Coach Mark Kirchhoff said, describing the play that set up the first touchdown. "We lost the football. It was the same play we burned them on later in the game."
From the 1, Shiner quarterback Garet Pustka followed center Kevin Berger into the end zone. Kloesel kicked the extra point and Shiner held a 7-0 lead after only 37 seconds of play.
Then the defensive units took over, as the two teams traded punts until halftime.
Shiner did move to the Falls City 21-yard line late in the half, but two trick plays were unable to move the Comanches into the end zone. On the first, Steven Evans took a reverse handoff and tried to pass to Wenske. But defensive end Chris Balser broke up the pass at the 5. On the next play, Kloesel lined up to kick a 38-yard field goal. But Pustka took the snap, rolled out, and threw a pass, which fell incomplete in the end zone.
Neither team could move the ball in the third quarter, and the two teams continued to trade punts. But Shiner slowly gained an edge in field position, and late in the quarter, a Falls City punt rolled to a stop at the Beavers’ 38.
Baer then carried the ball three times for 9 yards, putting the Comanches in a fourth-and-inches situation at the 28. Pustka called his own number, and was hit hard at the line of scrimmage. The hit forced him back a couple yards, but the 157-pound senior stayed on his feet and forged ahead for the first down. Two play later, Pustka ran for a 24-yard touchdown to put Shiner ahead, 13-0 with 11:52 left to play.
"I was just determined to get the first down, and miraculously I got it," Pustka said of the crucial fourth-down play. "The offensive line did a tremendous job tonight."
Sixto then regrouped his squad and led the Beavers on a 78-yard march to the end zone. Sixto began the drive with a screen pass to Theis, who rumbled ahead for 41 yards to the Shiner 37. Sixto then threw three straight incomplete passes. But on fourth down, he found Sturm open in the middle of the field for a 37-yard touchdown. Baugh’s extra point made the score 13-7 with 11:01 remaining.
Baer returned the ensuing kickoff 27 yards to set Shiner up at its own 44- yard line. Baer (23 carries for 74 yards) and Quentin Wright (18 carries for 64 yards) helped move the Comanches to the Falls City 43, where they faced third down. With 8 yards to go, Pustka called a timeout to confer with head Coach Steven Cerny.
After the break, Pustka came out and made his only completion of the night. Flanker Nick Evans, who ran a short hook pattern, caught the ball and carried it 30 yards to the 13. Although the drive stalled at the 5, Kloesel kicked a 22-yard field goal, making the score 16-7 with six minutes left to play.
"My receiver [Nick Evans] told me he had the 5-yard hook," Pustka said after the game. "He did a good job of letting me know."
Falls City narrowed the gap to 16-14 two minutes later, when Sixto capped a 72-yard drive with a 1-yard quarterback sneak. Sixto set up the score with passes to Sturm, Theis, and a 26-yard strike to wide receiver Joey Wiatrek, who made a diving catch at the 1-yard line. Sixto completed 16 of his 29 passes for 260 yards.
Although the Comanches’ next drive stalled at their own 41, they would use field position to their advantage, punting the ball away to the Falls City 17.
Two penalties pushed the Beavers back to their own 7. The Beavers reached their own 28, but the Comanches brought a heavy rush against Sixto, who was sacked six times in the game. Steven Evans and McCorkle teamed up to sack Sixto for an 8-yard loss and a 2-yard loss. His final pass, on fourth-and-20, fell incomplete to end the game and the Beavers’ season.
"I tip my hat to Coach Kirchhoff and his coaching staff. They did a good job," Cerney said after the game. "If we were to go at it again, you don’t know who would win."
Kirchhoff returned the compliment.
"They’ve got quality kids and they made some [big] plays," he said.
"I’m excited for Steve and his bunch," Kirchhoff added. "I’m hoping Shiner goes on and wins it all. They’ve got a good team."
The Beavers finished the season with an overall record of 13-1. They went undefeated in district play and won the District 30-A title.
Along the way, they averaged 363.6 yards of total offense and 37.6 points a game. Defensively, they held opponents to 173.6 yards of total offense and 12.9 points a game.
Sixto led the team, completing 98 of his 149 passes for 1,597 yards and 16 touchdowns. He only threw six interceptions during the entire season. His favorite target was Wiatrek, who caught 44 passes for 695 yards and six touchdowns. Sturm caught 20 passes for 424 yards and six scores. Wide receiver Brandon Moczygemba also caught 17 passes for 227 yards and two trips to the end zone.
Theis rushed for 1,597 yards and 23 touchdowns on 170 carries. He also caught eight passes for 180 yards, giving him 1,777 yards of total offense.