It was a moment one year in the making — and it was up to Alex Andrade to make sure it was a moment worth celebrating.
Andrade was the kicker this season for the Arlington Bailey Junior High eighth-grade football team. His Rams lost just one game a season earlier: the seventh-grade city championship.
After that lone loss, Bailey coach Luis Lerma predicted to his players that they’d avenge that setback the next season — and that the win would come down to the wire.
Sure enough, that exact scenario developed. Undefeated Bailey was down one point to undefeated Barnett in the eighth-grade city championship at Cravens Field on Oct. 31. Rams quarterback X’avion Brice spiked the ball with seven seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Now, it was Andrade’s turn to attempt a game-deciding 34-yard field goal. Make the kick and Bailey would be undefeated city champions. Miss, and … well, Andrade knew what that would mean.
“I was super nervous when I was kicking it because I was thinking in my head, ‘If I miss it, we lose everything: our undefeated streak, everything that we’ve been fighting for,’” Andrade said.
I was like, ‘All right, just kick the field goal. Don’t over-think it.’ So at the end of that, I just kicked the ball. It was very nerve-wracking.
Bailey Junior High kicker Alex Andrade
Barnett called a timeout before the Rams field goal team could snap the ball. It’s a tactic called icing the kicker. The idea is that the extra time thinking about an impending kick attempt might cause the kicker to waver in his confidence.
But Andrade took the extra time to regain his poise.
“I was like, ‘All right, just kick the field goal. Don’t over-think it,’” Andrade said. “So at the end of that, I just kicked the ball. It was very nerve-wracking.”
It was nerve-wracking for a moment, then it was glorious. The kick sailed through and Bailey, a feeder school for Arlington High, was the 16-14 winner and the 9-0 city champion.
“The game was amazing,” Lerma said. “These guys fought to the end.”
Before Andrade could kick the winning field goal, the Rams, as they did most of the game, had to make a defensive stand. Barnett, a Bowie feeder school, took a 14-13 with a touchdown early in the third quarter.
But middle linebacker Tyler Rousey and the Rams defense stuffed the Bears for the rest of the game. That stifling effort forced an interception with about two minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“I felt like we would stop them,” Rousey said.
Rodney Talton, the team’s starting running back and Brice’s cousin, helped move the offense into field goal range. An error by the chain crew made it appear to be fourth down with 14 seconds left.
Bailey was prepared to attempt a game-winning 37-yard kick at that point. But during a timeout, an official informed Lerma that it was, in fact, second down. The Rams decided to run another play and shorten the length of the field goal.
On the ensuing play, running back Garrett Gardner grinded out three yards. For Gardner, the winning drive actually felt a lot like practice. The Rams often practice the two-minute drill. In that scenario, the offense is tasked with moving down the field quickly and getting lined up for a winning kick.
“This is it,” Gardner said. “This is two-minute drill. This is what we practice all the time.”
Gardner’s poise — and the three yards he gained with time winding down — helped set up the winning play. Andrade’s 34-yard kick was good, but if the try had been from 37 yards out, the outcome might have been different.
“The field goal went through with maybe just an extra yard,” Lerma said. “Getting those three extra yards was huge.”
It was the first city championship for Lerma, who has been head coach at Bailey for four seasons and on the staff for eight. His first eighth-grade group as head coach, which included Kyron White, who’s now a standout safety for Arlington, finished just short of a city title.
“I was always waiting for that next chance to prove that we run a good program here,” Lerma said.
The Bailey volleyball team also won the city championship this season.
Lerma considers his staff, which includes assistant coaches Clint Shaffer, Eric Hernandez, Mark Cooper and Pat Haubold, to be the best junior high coaches in the city, if not the metropolitan area. And the athletes he coached this season were just as rare, he said.
“You’ve got one of the smartest groups that we’ve had here at Bailey,” Lerma said.
The players have the same high regard for Lerma.
“Seventh grade is more trying to impress him. Now, eighth grade, he’s your friend and he’s your coach,” said offensive/defensive lineman Lucas Hernandez. “He’s hard on you, but he encourages you.”
The hard work paid off in the end in the form of a hard-earned city championship. “It’s probably one of the best moments of my life,” Andrade said.