MARBLE FALLS – Mildred had to make the three-hour trek to the rolling hills of Central Texas to earn the shortest trip of its postseason. A memorable one that will end in Arlington, at Cowboys Stadium.
The Eagles were at times frustrating, at times dominating, and at all times ahead on the scoreboard in a 28-14 Class 2A Division II win over Sonora at Marble Falls’ Mustang Stadium, nestled in the beautiful hill country.
They got a safety on the first play of the game, led 5-0 at the half, and had a 28-0 lead with five minutes left and Sonora (11-4), a team without a catch-up passing game, on life support with 48 yards of total offense, all on the ground.
But the Broncos struck twice in the final 3:22 in a 10-second span to make the final respectful, and Mildred (13-1) achieved a first in the school’s football history: The Eagles will play East Bernard (14-0) Thursday for a state title at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. East Bernard whipped Elysian Fields, 52-8.
It will be the closest game to Mildred in the five-game postseason for the Eagles.
“It will be my first visit, and I’m going to be playing a game on (the field),” senior lineman Noah Pennell said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Mildred scored half of its season average, but it didn’t need a yoe-man’s effort from its offense on this warm Friday in mid-December. Sonora, a power run team, opened in the shotgun, and after a snap and intentional grounding in the end zone for the safety, reverted back to the I-formation for drive No. 2. It started well.
The Broncos marched to the Eagles’ 21, and had a second-and-5 before defensive end Joe Carrizales dropped quarterback Micheal Rollert for a four-yard loss. Two plays later, the Broncos turned it over on downs after picking up 42 yards on the drive.
They’d get six more until the final five minutes.
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised, because I was not surprised,” said Mildred coach Patrick Harvell, 26-2 in his last two seasons. “I have an extreme amount of faith in (defensive coordinator Billy Dan) Chambliess. He does a great job with our defense, and we had a great game-plan and executed it.”
Leading tackler Draylon Sterling said the Eagles were thinking shutout all week. There were no surprises, he said.
“We just did what our coaches coached us to do,” Sterling said. “Guys stepped up and made plays.”
While the defense was stuffing Sonora, Mildred’s offense sputtered early. The Eagles managed a 28-yard Devin O’Sullivan field goal to take a 5-0 lead into the half.
Last week, up nine against Nocona, Mildred took the second half kick and did it nothing with it, and soon found themselves down to Nocona. That didn’t happen here.
The Eagles opened the third with a power-running team-like 12-play, 62-yard drive. It included a 30-yard Nic Shimonek run on second-and-17, three Shimonek completions and two big Sonora pass interference calls, one on fourth-and-7 when Jonathan Harrison had broken open at the Broncos 5, and the other in the end zone on third-and-goal.
It ended with a 3-yard Sterling touchdown to make it 12-0.
“We came out in the second half last week dead,” said Shimonek, who later passed the 8,000-yard career mark with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Will Burnham. “Noah and I expressed at the half we couldn’t do that.”
Shimonek said the team received a visit from a local pastor earlier in the week, and he repeated a message of “heart and soul.” Shimonek kept a card bearing the message in his sock.
“We just kept emphasizing it, heart and soul,” he said.
After that, the Eagles’ offense – which ended with 277 yards of total offense – went to work. The next drive ended with the 27-yard touchdown pass to Burnham, a 6-3 freshman starting in place of the injured Jase Butler. He ended with a team-leading 71 yards on five receptions.
“I told Will on Tuesday he was going to make big plays in this game,” Harvell said.
Mildred got inside the Sonora 10 on the next possession, but it ended with an interception on a tipped pass. Two plays later, Nic Stone sacked Rollert for another safety to make it 21-0.
The Eagles needed only four plays to make it 28-0 when Shimonek went 29 yards on fourth-and-3 after the ensuing kickoff. He threw for 173 yards and a score, and ran 106 more to lead the team.
Looking down and out on third-and-9 from its 4 with under four minutes left, Sonora got runs of 63 and 38 from Chance Campbell to end the shutout, then 34 yards from Darien Lopez after recovering an onside kick to cut the lead in half.
But Sonora was 0 for 9 passing.
Harvell said he had 12 hours to think about nothing but this win, while Shimonek said the team would enjoy it for 24 hours.
“In the second half, we knew we had to come out and produce, on offense and defense,” said Harrison, who said the team left it on the field, then added with a smile. “(The state title game) is the only thing that has me standing right now.”
Class 2A Division II Semifinals
Mildred 24, Sonora 14
Mildred 2 3 14 9 — 28
Sonora 0 0 0 0 — 14
M — Safety, Darien Lopez intentional grounding in end zone (Devin O’Sullivan kick), 11:41
M — O’Sullivan 28 FG, 4:13
M — Draylon Sterling 3 run (O’Sullivan kick), 6:53
M — Will Burnham 27 pass from Nic Shimonek (O’Sullivan kick),3:06
M — Safety, Michael Rollert sacked in end zone (O’Sullivan kick), 10:13
M — Shimonek 29 run (O’Sullivan kick), 8:30
S — Chance Campbell 38 run (Kade Wemberly kick), 3:22
S — Darien Lopez 34 run (Wemberley kick), 3:12
First downs 18 6
Rush-yards 39-124 37-189
Passing yards 173 0
C-A-I 15-26-1 0-9-1
Fumbles-lost 1-1 3-0
Punts-avg. 4-27 3-39
Penalties-yards 5-45 10-64
Rushing — M: Draylon Sterling 15-34, Jeremy Ballard 3-(-1), Nic Shimonek 18-106, Team 2-(-12). S: Darien Lopez 15-79, Michael Rollert 7-(-8), Damon Evans 5-13, Elijah Cross 1-7, Chance Campbell 6-115, Brett Castillo 1-5, Team 1-(-24).
Passing — M: Shimonek 15-26-1-146. N: Rollert 0-8-1-0, Lopez 0-1-0-0.
Receiving — M: Raleigh Seilheimer 1-6, Mikey Muncy 6-48, Jonathan Harrison 2-21, Sterling 1-29, Will Burnham 5-71. S: none.