ABILENE — Going into each game every week, Abbott has what it calls a magic number.
That’s the number of points it wants its defense to limit its opponent to. The Panthers’ coaches must have had a premonition this week.
“I overheard Kyle (Crawford) and Cooper (Thornhill) talking about it, that the magic number was 30,” Abbott coach Terry Crawford said.
Abbott’s gritty defense hit that number on the head, and its offense did the rest in a 40-30 victory over Crowell to claim its first-ever state championship — a Class 1A Division I title — and deny the Wildcats their third straight crown at Shotwell Stadium Saturday.
Both teams’ defenses controlled the first half, and Crowell took a 14-8 lead into halftime, thanks in large part to stopping the Panthers twice inside its 10-yard line and another time at the 12.
But that’s when the Panthers went back to basics.
“It was just going back at halftime and saying, ‘You know what, let’s go back to old school,’” Crawford said. “We got inside there and had a chance to punch it in there a couple times, and we didn’t because we got whipped. So let’s go back to doing the whipping.
“It was simple. I took the play card and put it in my back pocket and said we’re going on instinct and guts, and challenging the guys to whip the guy in front of them.”
The Panthers came out of the locker room with a four-play drive for a touchdown to move in front, recovered an onside kick and needed six plays to score again for a 24-14 advantage before Crowell ever had an offensive snap in the second half.
Cade Ramsey scored both of the touchdowns during that stretch from 7 and 2 yards out, and he finished with 135 yards and three scores on 30 carries to earn the game’s offensive MVP honor.
“That’s what we know. That’s what we started out doing, and that’s how we finished it,” Ramsey said. “It’s just smash-mouth football. The person head-up with you, you’re going to whip his tail. That’s what we did. We went out there and did it.”
Abbott (13-2) is known for its power offense, but the Panthers did just as much damage through the air in this one.
Zane Cooper was 12-for-17 for 216 yards and two touchdowns, a 27-yarder to Truston Berger for the Panthers’ first score of the game with 2:27 left before halftime and a 15-yarder to Kyle Langford on that made it a 38-30 Abbott lead with 9:09 to go. Berger caught four passes for 120 yards.
“We can throw the ball. Nobody thinks we can, but we just prefer to run the ball,” Crawford said. “Hats off to Zane Cooper. Zane had a big game. This is Zane’s first year to start, and he sat back there and learned and learned, film study, film study, film study. This year he said, ‘All right, I’ve got my opportunity. Coach is telling us when we get the opportunity to make the most of it.’ That young man got it done.”
The Panthers missed the extra point after Cooper’s latter TD pass, so Crowell (10-4) had the ball back with a chance to tie it up. Josue Loyola ended those hopes once with a sack on fourth down that set Abbott up with the ball at the Crowell 11.
The Wildcats’ defense was up to the challenge, however, and stuffed Langord for no gain on fourth-and-goal from the 2 for another opportunity to know the score. This time, Abbott’s defense took matters into its own hands and spilled Daniel Clark in the end zone for a safety.
“That was big,” Abbott senior Jacob Pavelka said. “I felt like we were going to get it, and I was excited. I saw (the play was) sweep away, and I was coming. But they already had him by the time I got there.”
Pavelka was the first Panther on the scene for most of the day, and that’s why he was named the game’s defensive MVP.
He and the Panthers surrendered 268 yards of total offense and rebounded after Clark made the opening statement with a 47-yard touchdown run on the second play of the game. Clark finished with 112 yards and two touchdowns, and Tristen Hayes threw for 118 yards but Langford picked him off late in the first half to set up the Panthers’ only score before halftime.
“Jacob is as good at practice as he is on a game field, and I want young kids to understand that,” Crawford said. “He deserves it. That kid deserves it, and I’m so happy for him.”
There was still 5:23 remaining after Abbott recorded the safety, an eternity in any game when a team is staring a championship in the face, but especially in a six-man game when a play could go the distance at any moment.
But the Panthers stopped the explosive Wildcats two more times, the last of which came when Clark managed only a yard on fourth-and-3 from the Crowell 38. With only 22 seconds left on the clock, the Panthers knew the championship was theirs and the sideline erupted in celebration.
“(I was thinking) stop crying before anybody sees me,” Ramsey said. “That was the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life. We made history, won state my senior year to go out with a bang. There’s nothing better than that.”
Abbott has been on the doorstep of winning an elusive state championship before, most notably in 2012 when it dropped the title tilt to Throckmorton.
But the Panthers finished the job this time.
“It’s special, and I’ll stick to my guns and what I’ve said from the get-go — this game is not going to define our program,” Crawford said. “Our program is about developing men that go on and become great husbands, and it’s not going to change.
“Now my prayers are going to be for humbleness, because it’s easy to get ahead of yourself when you win one of these. I’ll be in church tomorrow morning, and my prayers and my church’s prayers will be for us to just keep on doing what we’ve done.”