Buckley: Tucker's show one to remember
April 4, 2012Chapel Hill High School Football
Before Matthew Tucker was running for roses at TCU, he was a standout, three-year starter at Chapel Hill.
The school’s all-time leading rusher racked up 6,307 yards and 70 touchdowns in his time with the Bulldogs, and was named the state’s offensive player of the year following his senior campaign.
But three years ago, on a gray Saturday afternoon in November, his prep career came to a crashing halt. Despite running for 224 yards, his Bulldogs were blasted by Waco La Vega, 56-8, in the regional round of the 2008 playoffs.
Matthew’s little brother, Andrew, was a freshman on that team. He must have carried that with him all this time. Because on Friday night, Andrew — now a senior — left La Vega with an altogether different impression.
If revenge is truly a dish best served cold, “Little Tuck” finally took the thing out of the cryogenic lab following a three-year, deep-freeze.
His 93-yard touchdown with less than a minute to play not only gave the Bulldogs a 27-20 win that pushed the state’s top-ranked team one week closer to a return trip to the state championship game, it will forever stand the test of time as one of greatest moments in the history of high school football in East Texas.
OK, so it might not be …
Rod Dunn’s 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to help John Tyler stun Plano East, 48-44, in the third round of the 1994 playoffs.
Nick Sanders’ blocked field goal and ensuing 67-yard touchdown return in double overtime of Kilgore’s 33-27 win over Dallas Lincoln in the 2004 4A Division II state championship game.
It might not live up to …
Reggie McNeal’s 33-yard, game-winning touchdown pass with 36 seconds to go in Lufkin’s 27-23 comeback win over Euless Trinity in the 2001 5A Division II semifinals in the midst of a driving rainstorm at Rose Stadium.
Or even …
Tyler Boyd’s 69-yard scoring toss in the closing seconds, giving Daingerfield its third-straight state title with a 33-27 victory over Cameron Yoe last year.
But it’s up there.
“I didn’t know what to think,” an emotional Chapel Hill coach Thomas Sitton said after the game Friday night. “It was … exciting … I don’t know what to say about it.”
That’s all right, coach. I’ll take it from here.
STOP AND GO
This was supposed to be Chapel Hill’s year, with almost everyone back from last season’s squad that was dealt a stunning defeat to Highway 64 neighbor Henderson in the state championship game.
After all, the Bulldogs have been ranked No. 1 in the state since the preseason. Not even a broken bone on the leg of star quarterback Avery Saenz, who has since returned, stood in the way of Chapel Hill and the win column this year.
Not by a long shot.
But in the waning moments of the fourth quarter Friday night in Huntsville, La Vega was threatening to ruin everything.
With the game square at 20-20, the Pirates pushed the ball to the Chapel Hill 1-yard line with two minutes to go. After a false start penalty on third down, La Vega running back Randy Gober powered his way back to the 1, setting up a fourth-and-goal.
Chapel Hill called a timeout, its last one. Allowing one more yard was not an option.
“It was getting a little grim, I’m telling you,” Sitton said. “They just kept marching it on down the field.”
The players returned to the field. The crowd of almost 5,000 collectively rose to its feet.
This is it.
It’s now or never.
It all comes down this.
Insert your favorite cliché here.
Gober got the call again, but was met at the line of scrimmage by a wall of Chapel Hill defenders and stopped for no gain to preserve the tie.
“We had bodies pushing and they had bodies pushing and we found a way to get him on the ground and get the football back,” Sitton said.
But at that point, all it did was make overtime the logical conclusion to the epic matchup of unbeatens. After all, Chapel Hill was out of timeouts and the ball was in the shadow if its own goalpost.
“We were just running iso-weak there, basically trying to get a first down and move it out where we can move the ball,” Sitton said of his team’s approach on offense following the defensive stand. “We were really thinking that we might have to go to overtime.”
Tucker had a mind of his own.
“I knew, with our offense, that we were going to score … at least kick a field goal,” he said.
On third-and-4, he took the handoff, saw the 10-man wall in front of him, cut to his left, picked up a key block from his receiver on the edge and was off to the races.
The only question was whether he would be caught by the speedy La Vega defense.
“I was thinking I better hurry up and get in this end zone,” Tucker said. “I was cramping up, but I had to fight through it. I had to help out my teammates by finishing it off.”
Tucker peeked over his shoulder at one point.
“I had to,” he said. “Because if I didn’t, they probably would’ve got me by my foot.”
They didn’t. And after Tyler Brown’s extra point, the Bulldogs held a 27-20 lead with 57 seconds left.
La Vega got the ball back at its own 32 with one timeout, but went backward, allowing Chapel Hill to officially celebrate perhaps the school’s most thrilling win.
Ten minutes after the game ended, Sitton was still visibly overcome with emotion.
“I’m just glad I get to spend Thanksgiving with them,” he said, doing all he could to keep himself from completely breaking down. “We’re all like family and that’s what Thanksgiving’s all about. I’m just excited to get to practice with them again next week.”
When it was Tucker’s turn for the postgame interview, he took the time to remove his pads.
Given all that was at stake for Chapel Hill, it makes you wonder if that was the only thing unloaded from his shoulders.