Grant Tisdale knew that he was about to exorcise a lot of demons for he and his Allen Eagles teammates.
The Eagles senior quarterback and Ole Miss commit ran for gains of 3 yards and 18 after The Woodlands wide receiver Malik Johnson had dropped a fourth-down catch to force a turnover on downs. Then Tisdale took two knees to run out the clock as Allen outlasted the Highlanders, 31-24, in a Class 6A Division 1 regional Saturday at McLane Stadium.
“It felt good to get a little revenge, because it left a sour taste in our mouths two years ago,” Tisdale said. “We didn’t really need any motivation. We knew what we had to do coming out. We knew that they were going to be a well-coached team.”
The Woodlands (9-4) had been the last program to beat Allen (13-0), which fell behind 20-3 in the state semifinals two years ago. That victory propelled the Highlanders to their second state championship appearance where they lost to Lake Travis.
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Allen faced another late-game challenge for the second consecutive week in a row after the Eagles rallied from behind to end Rockwall’s season a week ago in the second round of the playoffs.
This time around, it was a long interception return on the final play of the third quarter by KJ Willie and a 2-yard touchdown run by Grant Robinson less than two minutes into the fourth quarter that helped Allen to extend its winning streak to 29 consecutive games.
Willie intercepted The Woodlands quarterback Ben Mills and returned the ball to the Highlanders 5 which led to Robinson’s short-yardage touchdown for a 31-17 Allen lead with 10:44 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“We needed a big stop,” Willie said. “I was just really watching the coaches. I wasn’t really looking at the formation. I checked off their formation and looked straight at the sidelines. They ended up changing the play. I just made a big defensive play.”
The Woodlands did get a 2-yard touchdown run from Bryeton Gilford to cut the deficit to 31-24 with 7:40 remaining but it was a dropped pass by him with the Highlanders facing 4th and 6 from their own 37 that allowed Allen to take over and run out the remaining 2:39 on the game clock.
Allen returns to Waco next Saturday for a 2 p.m. kickoff in the state quarterfinals against the Waco Midway/Klein Oak winner at McLane Stadium.
It was only fitting that this game featured a lot of ebbs and flows which included a blocked punt by Allen’s Keith Johnson that led to a 35-yard field goal from James Griffith for a 3-0 first-quarter lead for the Eagles as well as a blocked field goal by The Woodlands’ Kennedy Stewart to keep it a one-score game, 24-17, late in the third quarter.
The Woodlands took its only lead, 7-3, on a play in which Donovan Ford, a 6-foot-2, 310-pound offensive lineman, recovered a Highlanders fumble in the end zone, just six seconds into the second quarter.
It took a while for Allen’s offense to get going. Allen had just one first down and 31 yards in the first quarter. The Woodlands, meanwhile, had 98 yards over that span of play.
The biggest turning point between these two Class 6A powerhouses came late in the second quarter.
Fabrizio Pinton booted a 31-yard field goal to tie the score at 10 with 1:21 remaining but Allen just needed 66 seconds to answer that score with Bryson Green catching a fade pass on an 8-yard touchdown throw from Tisdale for a 17-10 Eagles lead.
Tisdale completed 9-of-18 passes for 146 yards with 116 of that total being caught from senior Theo Wease who had a 42-yard reception in the Eagles’ final-minute drive in the first half to set up Green’s TD catch.
“We knew that we had to go down and put up some points because we knew that it was going to be a dogfight in the second half and for four quarters,” Tisdale said. “We knew that we had to execute on every play and we did.”
Allen rode the momentum of Green’s catch into the second half where the Eagles received a 64-yard touchdown run by Celdon Manning on their first play from scrimmage for his second TD of the day and a 24-10 lead. Manning had 10 rushes for 92 yards.
“We knew that it would be a big game,” Allen coach Terry Gambill said. “It came down to some key moments. I thought that we were really focused, had a great week of preparation.”
Offensive player of the game: Wease came up with several catches in the clutch for Allen and he went on to lead all receivers with his 116 yards.
Defensive player of the game: Willie’s long interception helped to restore Allen’s two-touchdown lead at 31-17 following Robinson’s scored early in the fourth quarter.
Unsung hero of the game: Manning had two touchdown runs that helped Allen’s offense to get on track after a slow start.
What’s next? Allen will return to McLane Stadium next Saturday for a 2 p.m. kickoff against the Waco Midway/Klein Oak winner. The Midway/Klein Oak game was still being played at the time of print.