Some tell us, “Winning is everything.” Many—including myself—don’t realize the phrase is running toward its own finish line.
Supreme evidence of its pending demise arrived under a Blue Moon in the closing hours of August. What was everything for the beleaguered and badgered Llano High football Yellow Jackets—1-9 in 2011—were heart, soul, perseverance, and a spirit that translated into one of the most disappointing, and, yet, grandest near-misses in school history: Wimberley 27, Llano 26.
“We fought and fought,” said Craig Slaughter, not long after his LHS career was 48 minutes old. “I did not want the mentality of our team to be ‘we’d be the Washington Generals against the Globetrotters.’ Our goal is not to lose to the good teams and beat the bad ones.”
The Texans bussed into town with a 15-game winning streak and state championship rings, and they needed all but 96 seconds to take the last lead of what was one of the greatest gridiron battles ever waged at Llano Stadium.
The first three and a half quarters delivered more drama than Shakespeare, but the final result was written with six minutes to go. Llano was up 26-21, and Layton Rabb, solid at quarterback, and Isaac Hutto combined for a huge eight-yard gain and a first down at the Wimberley 40—the problem was a penalty nullified the play and eventually the possession, and the Texans would get a final chance to avoid a major upset.
Zach Morgan, one of many who was sensational on defense, sacked Colton Cerday, and Wimberley faced third and nine at its own 40.
Cerday answered with a 15-yard pass to West Lambert; The talented Kolby Kelley followed with a 23-yard run, then soon after 14 more to get the ball to the four, and he scored from the one. It was the Texans’ only TD of the second half. Their pride and winning streak were in front by one with 1:36 on the clock.
“I thought we’d score,” said wide receiver Wil Siegenthaler. He was almost right. Rabb led his teammates to the Wimberley 34, but no closer.
“Llano played their butts off,” declared the long-time Jackets’ assistant coach, Shawn Cockerham, now the defensive line coach for the Texans. “We feel very fortunate to come out with a win.”
Llano folks concurred. Players and coaches unabashedly said, like offensive coordinator, Jarrett Vickers: “I feel like we outplayed them.”
“The kids have come a long way,” observed Slaughter, who has known the boys all of four months. He also acknowledged, “We must turn the page and recharge the battery.”
Reed Jones, the Wimberley starting QB until he was sidelined at the half for Cerday because of an injured rib, ran 34 yards for the first score with just under three minutes to go in the opening quarter.
Rabb, who was 13-of-23 for 183 yards, threw 25 yards to Siegenthaler and 10 to Hutto to the 16. Rhett Brooks burst his way to the one, and Matthew Center began a remarkable “career in a quarter” with the tying touchdown. 19 seconds were gone in the second period.
Llano was actually in contention in a game for the first time since visiting Taylor in early October 2011.
Rabb and the offense continued their torment of the Texans. A screen pass to Brooks—a play promoted by Vickers—netted 30 yards to the 26. Then Layton, with an arm exercised through the genes of his dad, Russell, and brother, Preston, floated the ball to Center, who was more open than Prince Harry. “We practice it so much,” said Matthew. “There was a mismatch in the middle, and we took advantage of it.”
26 yards and a score and a 14-7 Llano lead.
Wimberley’s Cameron Morris responded to that with a 67-yard kickoff return that set up a two-yard run by Kelley.
Morgan, the punter, contributed the next big play for the Jackets. A high snap sent him under siege inside his own 10. He got the boot off, and a roll helped it come to rest at the Texans’ 40!
A couple of plays later, that man Center jumped the route of a screen-pass attempt by Jones, and Matthew went 40 yards to the end zone. “He had a monster night,” asserted Slaughter. “What did he have, eight or nine touchdowns?”
No, just three—all in the second period and all in different ways.
It was 20-14 with 4:39 left in the half, but Jones found Cameron Swisher by himself for a 14-yard TD, and Wimberley led 21-20 at intermission.
“We let them know we’re here to stay,” noted a soft-spoken Ryan West, who made plenty of noise on defense.
In the third quarter, Llano put together the go-ahead, 61-yard drive that was highlighted by a 14-yard pass to the 6’3” Hutto and 27 yards to the 6-2 Center. Rabb plunged home from the one. A two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Jackets, with 1:40 to go in the third, were still not awake from the impossible dream and owned a slight upper hand, 26-21.
A Storey Tatsch sack, ruined by a questionable penalty elsewhere on the field, was the signature moment in a fierce defense that stopped Wimberley until its winning march.
“There aren’t words to describe (our effort),” said defensive coordinator Clint Easley. “We told them to go toe to toe, and they did.”
“We’re sending a message that Llano is back,” insisted Siegenthaler, “and we mean business.”
“This is such a memory for our kids,” claimed Slaughter. “It’s a turning point for our program. If good ever comes out of a loss, this is it.”
“We’re here to show we’re not going to be stopped by one game,” West advised.
“Everybody was against us,” Hutto stated on the turf moments after this colossal matchup was a new member of history. “We came out fighting like it was just another team.
“We’re going to get ‘em good, get ‘em the next game. We’ll take care of it.”
Most Jacket fans believe—by crafting a magnificent struggle—their team has already taken care of plenty.