Evan Ward took a little ribbing from his Lorena teammates about his escalating fame this fall.
The other Leopards said there were now only 22 — his number — hours in a day and all those Lorena fans really just showed up to watch him play.
But Ward earned it.
When he darted into the end zone from 5 yards out for the game-winning score — his sixth touchdown of the night — with 11 seconds remaining to boost Lorena to a 49-42 victory over Mexia.
Midway's Charles Kelly (left) earned Defensive Player of the Year after collecting 135 tackles and four sacks. Lorena's Evan Ward was named Offensive Player of the Year after a dominant performance in the final eight games of the season, when he rushed for 1,250 of his 1,473 yards and scored 24 of his 31 touchdowns. (Rod Aydelotte photo)
Wildcat back propelled Leopards to regional final with 1,473 rushing yards, accounted for 32 TDs.
Defensive Player of the Year posted 135 tackles, INT, 2 fumble recoveries, 4 sacks, 2 blocked kicks.
When he tossed a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Tito Dejesus that lifted the Leopards to a 13-10 victory over Center in the second round of the playoffs.
And finally, though the Leopards couldn’t overcome eventual state champion Carthage, when he dove to rescue a touchdown catch from the grasp of two defenders to tie the regional final game at 21 in the fourth quarter.
By making plays everywhere — and helping the Leopards to a 10-4 record and the Class 3A Division II Region III final — Ward has also earned the Super Centex Offensive Player of the Year honor.
“He was a leader and how Evan went, we went,” Lorena coach Ray Biles said. “It was something he embraced and our kids embraced it because he was a captain. Through those last eight ballgames he went very well.”
While Ward’s season statistics — 1,473 rushing yards, 687 receiving yards and 31 combined touchdowns — show a solid year of work, he was even better from the middle of October through the fourth round of the playoffs. In those eight games, Ward rushed for 1,250 yards and 20 touchdowns, caught 26 passes for 303 yards and four touchdowns, completed four of six passes for 53 yards and, of course, the game-winning touchdown to Dejesus.
His performance in that span came as a result of a shift in Lorena’s offensive game plan following a district-opening loss to Connally.
Up to that point, Lorena deployed Ward at quarterback in a wildcat scheme mostly when the Leopards moved inside their opponents’ 20. But Biles and his staff decided going into the second district game that it was time to unleash the wildcat all over the field.
“We lost a ballgame when he didn’t have enough touches,” Biles said. “Well, if he’s one of our top cats, we’ve got to get him the ball. What do we have to do to get him the ball? Well, this is one way we could make sure he had the ball in his hands.”
The new game plan succeeded because of how well the scheme, the Lorena offensive line and Ward’s ability to find open space worked together.
“I was kind of questioning them at first,” Ward said. “But it started working and the linemen started blocking with all they had. The blockers got after them, they put people on the ground, they did what they had to do and I just ran it.”
Ward claimed the Offensive Player of the Year award over a talented and productive group of quarterbacks, including Central Texas’ leading passer, Brian Bell of China Spring, and excellent dual-threat QBs Trae Davis of Mexia, Randy Price of University and Matt Hicks of Reicher.
Defensive Player of Year: Charles Kelly, Midway
Opponents could watch film and tell themselves that Midway’s Charles Kelly wasn’t big enough to be intimidating at 5-foot-11, 210 pounds.
But he changed a lot of that thinking at the line of scrimmage.
Over the past two seasons, Kelly stood out as the beating heart of a stellar defense that helped Midway win a district championship and capture four playoff victories in one of the best eras in program history.
Kelly, this season’s Super Centex Defensive Player of the Year, constantly filled the right holes and stopped ball carriers at or near the line of scrimmage.
“He’s a throw back to Dick Butkus,” Midway coach Kent Bachtel said. “Just tough.
“He’s probably average size for a high school linebacker, but you overlook a lot of heart there. He’s extremely strong and he lives in that weight room. And he sees it developing and plays hard.”
Kelly, a first-team Super Centex selection in 2008, came back with another elite season. He posted 135 tackles, recovered two fumbles, intercepted a pass, blocked two kicks and registered four sacks.
Perhaps even more impressively, in a district stacked with defensive talent, Kelly earned the District 16-4A Defensive MVP honor.
“I got a lot of compliments from opposing coaches that he was the toughest guy on the field,” Bachtel said. “I don’t guess you’re the MVP unless they’re impressed.”
Toughness made a difference at the point of impact, but Kelly’s greatness came from his ability to get there.
Bachtel points out that Kelly has a high-A average in the classroom and that definitely translates to the field. The Midway senior linebacker played with a sharp combination of abandon and intelligence.
“When you stutter step, you get blocked up,” Kelly said. “You just go with your first instinct and work off everything. Usually, if you’re going 100 miles-per-hour the play isn’t a bad play.”
Kelly edged out fierce competition for the Defensive Player of the Year honor. Other top candidates included Belton defensive lineman Zac Sakaria, La Vega linebacker Lamar Williams, McGregor safety Cruz Chaires and Lorena safety Chandler Snodgrass.
Second-year Indians coach directed turnaround from 1-9 campaign in 2008 to third round of playoffs in 2009.
Coach of the Year: Ronnie Wilson, Riesel
Most folks could look at Riesel’s number of returning starters at the beginning of this campaign and assess that the Indians would be better than their 1-9 record of 2008.
But Riesel coach Ronnie Wilson knew his team better than that — well enough to know that they would be more than just a little improved.
“I saw some things in the offseason,” Wilson said. “This is my 16th year as a head coach and you learn to see signs that there’s hope there. We had some chemistry going with the kids.”
In Wilson’s first season at Riesel in 2008, a young team struggled to stop opposing offenses and dropped nine of 10 games.
However, with a better defense helped by an extremely efficient ball-control offense, Riesel posted an 8-4 mark and traveled to the third round of the 1A Division I playoffs.
By guiding his team to that turnaround, Wilson has been named the Super Centex Coach of the Year.
Riesel returned nine starters on both sides of the ball, but the Indians faced a steep hill when it came to learning how to win. Wilson said his highlight of the fall was watching his players gain momentum.
“I wish people could’ve been in the locker room as we started winning some ballgames and seen their confidence level increase,” he said. “This was a unique group of kids. I felt like if we were going to turn it around this could be the group.”
Wilson won Coach of the Year in a very tight four-way race, edging out Lorena’s Ray Biles and McGregor’s Tim Seward, who took teams picked fourth in their district by the Tribune-Herald to the fourth round of the playoffs, and Reicher’s Mark Waggoner, who led the Cougars to their third straight TAPPS Division III state championship.
Took over starting QB role in seventh game, Bulldogs didn't miss a beat in reaching regional final.
Offensive Newcomer: Keith Reineke, McGregor
McGregor sophomore Keith Reineke grew up playing running back and learned along the way to love defense more than offense.
But when Bulldogs quarterback Dylan Ripley suffered an injury midway through the season, Reineke suddenly had the role of quarterback on an undefeated team thrust upon him.
To the delight of McGregor fans, though, the Bulldogs didn’t skip a beat with Reineke under center. After passing for 767 yards and six touchdowns, rushing for 467 yards and four scores and helping McGregor reach the 2A Division II Region II final, Reineke has earned the Super Centex Offensive Newcomer of the Year honor.
Reineke admits he never expected to be taking the snaps for the Bulldogs, but he adjusted.
“When I first went in I was real nervous,” Reineke said. “Once I started getting more confident with myself it became a little bit easier, but I still had those nerves that I always will have.”
When Reineke took over, McGregor was already 5-0 and led Crawford, 10-0, in a key 16-2A game. The sophomore helped the Bulldogs stay ahead of the rival Pirates, then contributed to a Bulldogs team that would reach 13-0 before falling in the regional final.
“Whenever he came in, he started out playing not to make mistakes,” McGregor coach Tim Seward said. “We wanted to make sure he ran the offense, but then he evolved into a quarterback that was able to make big plays.”
Sparked Leopards defense with 138 tackles, 10 tackles for losses, 9 QB pressures, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble.
Defensive Newcomer: Jakob Coker, Lorena
On the first day of two-a-days, the Lorena coaching staff slotted sophomore Jakob Coker as a starting inside linebacker.
It didn’t take long for Coker to do what the Leopard coaches believed he could do on Friday nights.
“If they bite when they’re puppies, you don’t have to worry what’s going to happen when they’re a big dog,” Lorena coach Ray Biles said. “The winners are going to find ways to perform, and that’s kind of where he is.”
Coker finished the season with 138 tackles, 10 tackles for losses, nine quarterback pressures, three sacks and a forced fumble. In doing so, he earned the Super Centex Defensive Newcomer of the Year award.
“The first quarter of the first game, I could tell that something was different,” Coker said about his varsity debut. “I was fully cured by the end of the first quarter.”
Biles wasn’t surprised that Coker adapted quickly. The coach, having seen Coker’s work habits in the offseason, expected the sophomore to be a key cog on a stellar defense.
“When he came in to do extra reps, they were right,” Biles said. “You grow to expect stuff like that out of people like that. He’s always had a lot of ability and he’s just wired for it.”
TRIBUNE-HERALD 2009 SUPER CENTEX FOOTBALL TEAM
Offensive Player of the Year: Evan Ward, Lorena
Defensive Player of the Year: Charles Kelly, Midway
Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Keith Reineke, McGregor
Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Jakob Coker, Lorena
Coach of the Year: Ronnie Wilson, Riesel
Quarterbacks: David Ash, Belton; Cody Feight, Bosqueville; Steven Townsend, Cameron; Demeris Randolph, Chilton; Dalton Vannatta, Clifton; Chane Lynch, Crawford; Jake Truss, Gatesville; Caleb Holbrook, Groesbeck; Jasenio Anderson, Italy; Greg Mason, Itasca; J.D. Gooch, Riesel; Ernesto Flores, Rosebud-Lott; Kelvin Anthony, West
Running backs: Mantraze Landrum, Chilton; Mike Armstrong, China Spring; Stanley Barnes, Connally; Bryce Murphy, Crawford; Alex Shaw, Dawson; Desmond Guy, Itasca; Julian Young, McGregor; Eric Wallace, Riesel; Matt Walker, Robinson; Derrick Davis and Lache Seastrunk, Temple; Cyrus McKenzie, Troy
Receivers/tight ends: Kevin Thornton, Belton; Sul Ross and Jordan Hawkins, Bruceville-Eddy; Brandon Freeman and Tommy Anderson, Cameron; Daniel Post, Crawford; Nick Renfro, Dawson; Ross Wallace and Garrett Johnson, Gatesville; Stephen Ruen, Groesbeck; John Isaac, Italy; Levi Norwood, Midway; Josh Wrzesinski and Matt Pineda, Reicher; Jarrod Hall, University
Offensive linemen: Taylor Barnes, Bosqueville; Bryce Duncan and Tyler Bullard, Crawford; Trevor Carr, Dawson; Caleb McKamie, Gatesville; Jaime Olvera, McGregor; Will Johnson, Mexia; Trent Hughes and Dylan Carmody, Reicher; Casey Stripling and Ethan Langdale, Riesel; Dylan Redding, Robinson; Travis Pitrucha, Temple
Kickers/punters: Jack Rhoades, Cameron; Collin Cranfill, China Spring; Dirk Gerhardt, McGregor; Garrett Washington, Temple
Defensive linemen: Tim Bower, Belton; Jeffrey Drymalla, Bremond; Brock Jacobs, Crawford; Daniel Shead and Cody Collums, Hico; Peyton Fisk and Dylan Brown, McGregor; Jacob Beachum, Mexia; Nick Martinez, Reicher; Corey Pavelka, Riesel; Nich Crosswhite and Jesus Rodriguez, Temple; Xavier Mitchell, University; Cameron Terry, Waco High
Linebackers: Pat Martin, Axtell; Tyler Vail, Belton; Ty Morgan, Cameron; Dillon Dumas, China Spring; Dalton Bynum, Clifton; Justin Crow, Connally; Johnathan Whatley, Crawford; Tyler Kimbriel, Dawson; Kyle Cortines, Groesbeck; Tony Turrubiartes and Dylan Turner, Hico; Dustin Shilling, McGregor; Shakiel Randolph, Midway; Alex Shead, Riesel; Austin Pomykal, Rosebud-Lott; Chris May, University; Tristan Eche and Jacob Davis, Waco High; Kolten Fletcher and Landon Lochridge, Whitney
Defensive backs: Brandon Bordovsky, Axtell; Ryan Rekieta, Bremond; Craig Madkins, Connally; Jeffrey Proctor, Mexia; Jacob Hoeffner, Midway; Rami Tamimi, Reicher; Chris Gipson, Dillon Hightower and Colton Callaway, Whitney
Offensive newcomers: RB Alex Sikes, Hico; WR Derrian Kennerson, Whitney
Defensive newcomers: FS Alex Sikes, Hico; CB Kierian Wilson, McGregor