SOUTHLAKE -- After five long years Southlake Carroll football is back where its fan base believes the Dragons belong -- in the state championship game.
The Dragons are undefeated at 15-0, but it has been a long, strange trip back to the title game. Carroll has trailed in four of its five playoff games, including a 17-0, first-half deficit against Arlington Bowie.
The Dragons' most recent heroics came last week when they won despite trailing undefeated Dallas Skyline by 10 points with less then two minutes remaining.
"I think it's just all of us trusting in each other that the next guy is going to get it done," quarterback Kenny Hill said. "Having faith in our team, knowing that no matter what that we have a chance to win the game."
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The Dragons also overcame a huge personnel loss when leading wide receiver Peyton Williams went down early against Skyline with a leg injury. Williams, who caught 92 passes for 1,155 yards and eight touchdowns, will miss Saturday's Class 5A Division I state final against Fort Bend Hightower at Cowboys Stadium.
"Peyton is a great leader and teammate, he produced a lot for us," receiver Sabian Holmes said. "With him going down we need everyone to step up, take over their role and be at their best."
Hill still has Holmes on the outside as a major threat. Senior Tyler Barnes is expected to step into Williams' position. Other receivers, including David Stroope, Corey Kemp and Ben Sego, will get more opportunities. Sego is the Dragons' third-leading receiver with 25 catches and, given the chance, has shown the ability to make plays.
"I'm so disappointed for Peyton because I know the investment and the leadership and what he's provided this team," coach Hal Wasson said. "But he'll be the first one to tell you that you just have to be resilient through the adversity and take on another role. It's kind of symbolic of this team all year, one guy goes down and another guy steps up."
One player who has stepped up for the Dragons during their postseason run is sophomore running back A.J. Ezzard, who rushed for 119 yards and a TD against Skyline. Much was expected from Ezzard this season before an injury hindered the young player's growth early on.
Ezzard has rushed for more than 100 yards twice in the playoffs and is averaging almost 5 yards per carry.
"He takes a lot of the running pressure off of Kenny," Wasson said. "He got nicked up in the first day of pads and missed eight weeks. He's continually improved, and without a doubt his presence is huge, not only for running, but in protection as well."
The Dragons know they will probably face more adversity come Saturday against a talented Hightower squad, yet believe their resiliency will help add some more hardware to Carroll's tradition.
"It's an honor, honestly, to be in the state championship. It's something I've dreamed about since I was a little kid," Hill said. "I remember growing up watching Chase Daniel, Chase Wasson and all of those guys play in the state championship, and now for me to play in it is something very special. I'm going to remember it for the rest of my life."
Jarrett Johnson, 817-390-7760