Demarr Hayes with a bone-jarring hit for Waco La Vega
Decatur’s fantasy run through the Class 4A Division I playoffs hit a big dose of reality on Friday at AT&T Stadium.
The Eagles finished fourth in District 4-4A, but jelled to make it through four rounds before Waco La Vega brought Decatur back to earth in a 53-0 drubbing in the semifinals.
“I hate it for them on how it ended tonight, but like I told them I wouldn’t be any more proud of them if they had won,” said Decatur head coach Mike Fuller, whose team finished 8-7 on the season. “We played a great team and what they’ve accomplished and what they went through to come here; you think about going into the playoffs and knowing to have a winning season you have to make the semifinals and we did it.
“Nobody wanted it to end like this, but they’ll wake up tomorrow or Monday and realize they accomplished something that not many people can do.”
La Vega (13-2), ranked No. 4 in the final Associated Press Class 4A state poll, will face No. 3 Liberty Hill (13-1) in the championship game at 3 p.m. Friday, back at AT&T Stadium.
Pirates’ running back John Richards set the tone early, scoring 53 seconds into the game. Richards carried all three times on the 74-yard drive, ripping off runs of 14, 21 and the final 39 yards to give La Vega a 7-0 lead.
Richards finished with 197 rushing yards on 10 carries and scored La Vega’s first three TDs. The senior darted up the middle 50 yards for a 14-0 lead with 4:47 left in the first quarter and his 19-yard scoring run on the first play of the second quarter gave the Pirates a 20-0 lead.
“It was a normal day for the offense,” said Richards, who left the game after the first series of the second half. “We do it every day. We work hard in practice and compete on game day, and stay together as a team.”
Decatur moved the ball on its first possession, starting at its own 25, but the Eagles fumbled the ball away after a big hit and recovery by Demarr Hayes for the Pirates at the La Vega 41 yard line.
The Eagle’s second drive ended the same way. Daylon Williams’ hit jarred the ball loose and La Vega’s Jordan Rogers recovered at the Pirates’ 47 with 5:21 left in the first quarter.
“We did something we haven’t really done in a long time; we fumbled the ball and dropped some passes,” said Fuller. “We just didn’t execute very well against a team like that. We knew they were going to be the best defense we’d face.”
La Vega’s defense was dominant. Decatur lost 3 of 4 fumbles and was forced to punt 7 times. The Eagles deepest penetration into Pirate’s territory was to the La Vega 37 yard line on a 5-yard run by Gunner Ragsdale. After an incomplete pass, a penalty and a 7-yard loss, the Eagles had to punt with 6:27 left in the first half.
Ragsdale led Decatur with 37 yards rushing on 13 carries, but the Eagles picked up only 12 yards on the ground in 25 tries and had 146 total yards. Decatur quarterback Roman Fuller, the coach’s son, completed 19 of 37 passes for 134 yards.
La Vega quarterback Ara Rauls III also had a stellar, efficient night for the Pirates.
Rauls rushed 4 times for 99 yards and threw for 146 more with 8 completions in 10 attempts, accounting for two scores. His 30-yard TD run gave La Vega a 33-0 lead with 1:23 left in the second quarter. A 72-yard scoring pass to Josh Hamilton with 5:05 left in the third quarter gave the Pirates a 46-0 lead.
Six different La Vega players scored touchdowns for the Pirates, who reached the championship game in 1951, 2008, and won the state title in 2015.
“It means a lot to go back there because last year we ended our season short,” said Richards, who was on the 2015 title team and last season’s team that lost a close game in the semifinals to Carthage. “This is my senior year so it feels great to back to state. We’re very hungry to win a state title.”
“They truly embodied what we preach all the time,” said Fuller on his 2018 team. “They have that next play mentality. We have a phrase ‘what’s the most important play in football’ and it’s the next one, and it’s also the next game, next series and they’ve been able to put the noise aside and the past behind them and focus on what’s ahead.
“That’s what I’ll remember about them.”