EUNICE – Heading into their Class 3A State championship game against Eunice, the Capitan Tiger football team was looking for some payback.
Earlier in the regular season, the Tigers suffered their only loss of the year to Eunice, a 41-0 thrashing in which Capitan couldn’t defend against the pass.
In Saturday’s championship game, it was a different story, but not different enough. A poor third quarter saw the Cardinals take advantage of Capitan miscues and take a 34-13 victory.
It’s Eunice’s first State title since 2000, and one that Ken Stevens and his team will savor after facing a determined Tiger team.
“I knew they would come out ready to go. They have a lot of heart,” Stevens said of Capitan. “We didn’t expect anything less from them and we knew we’d get the best they had.”
While the Cardinals (13-0) may have won in convincing fashion in the end, it wasn’t easy to start. Capitan had come to play.
That was evident from the beginning. After Capitan got the opening kickoff and drove to midfield, they had to punt.
Eunice then had an incomplete pass before fumbling it away at the Cardinal 10, and the Tigers were in business.
It may have taken four plays from scrimmage, but Price Bowen finally punched it in from four yards out to give Capitan the 6-0 lead.
It turned out that would be the only lead the Tigers would have, but the game was competitive throughout the first half.
Really, the big problem was turnovers. Capitan gave the ball away five times, including a fumble after they had driven deep into Cardinal territory.
“That’s the big thing here,” said Capitan coach James Weems. “They had some turnovers, too, but then we just ran out of steam.”
Capitan (11-2) had to make most of their yards without the benefit of Stephen Ellison at running back, who went out of the game on the Tigers’ kickoff from their first score with a knee injury.
In his stead, Bowen had to pick up the slack, racking up 144 yards on 24 carries.
Eunice, meanwhile, was relying on the run quite a bit, because the Tigers had figured out how to defend the Cardinal pass.
“In that last game, they were playing us cover-zero, they didn’t have any safeties back. We have a little too much speed to play us like that,” Stevens said. “This game, they changed up their defense and it took us a little bit of time and adjust to what they were doing.”
The run worked well enough for Eunice, as it got the Cardinals down field enough to get a pair of touchdowns by Mason Caperton and Juan Sosa, while Pit Kramer added a 31-yard field goal to give his team a 17-6 lead at the break.
Then came the third quarter, and things got ugly.
It was particularly ugly for Capitan, as the Cardinals scored on two long pass plays to Sosa and Tari York to pull away.
It didn’t help the Tigers that flags started getting thrown seemingly indiscriminantly. After a fairly clean game, there were 14 infractions called in the third quarter alone.
That included a surreal Capitan drive which saw them get a first-and-goal at the eight, only to get pushed back all the way to midfield thanks to all those penalties.
That included one flag that negated a rushing touchdown by Bowen.
Despite all of that, though, the Tigers were able to eventually score on a 13-yard pass to Jacob Smith on fourth down to salvage the quarter.
After that, the only score the rest of the way was a 22-yard kick by Kramer.
“Small school football is what it is. You start with the best players on the field and hope you still have them in the end,” Weems said. “It was tough to see that scoreboard in the fourth quarter, but the kids played hard, and they had a great season.”