ARLINGTON – After Crawford’s 23-20 loss to Refugio in the Class 2A-Division I state championship game, there were plenty of things you could quantify when it came to the game, which was an instant classic by any measure.
There was Refugio’s Diego Gonzales hitting the game-winning 18-yard field goal with eight seconds left.
There was Crawford’s Garrett Dutschmann’s thrilling, 44-yard touchdown catch-and-run to tie the score at 20-20 with 4:36 left in the fourth quarter.
There were the 29 wins between both teams.
But it was the one thing impossible to truly gauge that Crawford coach Delbert Kelm wanted to focus on after the Pirates played in the state championship game for just the third time in school history, and this time against a team littered with Division I talent and bigger than Kelm’s team at almost every position.
“My guys might not be quite as big in stature, but one thing you can’t measure is the size of that heart,” said Kelm, choking back tears. “I told my guys afterward that I was disappointed for them, but I’ll never be disappointed in them.
“If you’ve ever followed the Crawford Pirates over time, you know they’ll fight you tooth and toenail. We expected nothing less and they gave us nothing less.”
For Refugio (15-1), the win capped the careers of a group of seniors who were playing in their third state championship game in four years following losses in 2013 and last season to Canadian.
Refugio quarterback Jacobe Avery rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 80 yards and one touchdown to earn the game’s Offensive MVP award. Refugio senior linebacker and UTEP commit Kobie Herring, Jason Herring’s son, was named Defensive MVP.
“I came to Refugio when these guys, including my boy, were just little third graders,” Jason Herring said. “We laughed together, we cried together, we fought for this together … I’m as close to this group of kids as any football players I’ll ever coach.”
After Crawford tied the score at 6-6 after a 21-yard touchdown pass from Gage Pearson to Cade Johnston with 1:40 left in the second quarter, Robert Ortiz set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Avery with 36 seconds left by returning the kickoff after Crawford’s score 77 yards. Trailing 13-6 at halftime, Crawford (14-2) opened up the second half with a 2-yard touchdown run by Dutschmann for a 13-13 tie.
Refugio answered back with a monster drive, eating up 7:29 to go ahead 20-13 on a 17-yard touchdown run by Avery with 6:19 left in the fourth quarter.
On Crawford’s next drive, Pearson snuck the ball over the tips of several Refugio defenders to Dutschmann for a screen pass, which he bobbled for a second, reeled in and took off for a 44-yard touchdown run, shaking off a Refugio defender at the 10-yard line and spinning his way into the end zone to tie the score with just over four minutes left.
“After that touchdown, it seemed like the energy changed,” Crawford wide receiver/defensive back Jeff Ward said. “It was just a hard-fought game, back and forth and back and forth … they just executed more than we did at the end.”
Refugio drove from its own 25 to set up Gonzales’ game-winning kick, its final two drives eating up almost 12 minutes of clock.
“They’re a big, physical team,” Kelm said. “I’m sure that took its toll on us at the end, but you say we missed a tackle or they missed a tackle here or there, well I look at it like somebody else made a play.”
Pearson was 6-of-12 passing for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Coby Smith led Crawford’s defense with 11 tackles, while senior linebacker Lucas Steinkamp added 10 to bring his season total to 212 tackles.