FURIOUS FINISH: Mraz, Academy rally back from 11-point deficit in fourth to defeat nemesis Yoe 32-28
Updated: Oct 15, 2021
CLUTCH PERFORMER: Academy trailed Cameron Yoe 28-17 with 7 minutes remaining Friday night at John Glover Stadium, but sophomore quarterback Kasey Mraz threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Zane Clark, a 2-point pass to senior Darion Franklin and a go-ahead 25-yard TD pass to junior Scout Brazeal to help lift the Bumblebees to a 32-28 homecoming victory over the Yoemen. Mraz was 18-of-24 passing for 251 yards and ran for a game-high 68 yards with a 3-yard score in the first quarter as Academy (6-1) moved to 2-1 in District 11-3A Division I. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY – Going into Academy’s homecoming football game Friday night at John Glover Stadium, sophomore quarterback Kasey Mraz and his Bumblebees teammates were well aware of their lack of success against Cameron Yoe in recent years.
“None of us in my sophomore class have beaten Cameron. I don’t think the juniors and seniors have, either,” Mraz said afterward. “And we didn’t like that, so we just wanted to make a statement.”
And what a drama-filled statement it was.
Academy went from leading the District 11-3A Division I showdown 17-14 at halftime to trailing Yoe 28-17 with 10 minutes remaining.
However, Mraz threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Zane Clark and a 2-point pass to senior Darion Franklin with 6:49 left, then a crucial fourth-down stop by Academy’s defense set up Mraz’s 25-yard, go-ahead touchdown strike to junior Scout Brazeal with 2:59 remaining to complete a flurry of 15 points in a 3:50 span.
And when the Yoemen’s last-gasp deep pass from midfield fell incomplete in the final seconds, the Bees finally could celebrate their 32-28 victory over Yoe in a tense, back-and-forth classic.
“It was very challenging. We knew it was going to come down to the last play. Our only goal was to just fight until the end, and that’s what we did. We have a really hard-headed team,” said Brazeal, the standout wide receiver whom Yoe had limited to two receptions for 33 yards before he caught the decisive touchdown pass from Mraz.
“Our team has a tight bond. We never put our heads down. It’s just go time,” he added. “We never had a thought in our mind that we were going to lose. It was just straight, ‘How are we going to come back and how are we going to finish?’”
Academy second-year head coach Chris Lancaster said he saw no panic or frustration from his Bees after touchdown runs by seniors Fabian Salomon and Phaibian Bynaum propelled Yoe to a 28-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“We still knew we had plenty of time on the clock, and our kids just needed an opportunity,” Lancaster said. “And we did what it took.”
After Academy went 4-0 in non-district play but lost 34-17 at home to defending champion Lorena in the league opener, the Bees have recorded consecutive close victories over McGregor and Yoe to improve to 6-1 overall and 2-1 in district.
Academy is aiming for a higher finish in the district standings this season after getting the league’s No. 4 playoff seed last year and falling 61-26 in the first round to eventual state runner-up Hallettsville.
“We as a program are learning how to win games that we’re supposed to on paper, and then we’re trying to find a way to get a signature win or two for the belief factor,” Lancaster said. “And I think this was one of them.”
Said Brazeal: “We have to win games like this to come in the place that we want to.”
COMING THROUGH WHEN IT COUNTS: Academy junior wide receiver Scout Brazeal had only two catches for 33 yards in the first 45 minutes Friday night against Cameron Yoe, but his 25-yard touchdown reception from sophomore quarterback Kasey Mraz with 2:59 remaining was the go-ahead score and the Bumblebees earned a 32-28 homecoming victory over the Yoemen in a District 11-3A Division I duel at John Glover Stadium. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
In the first year of successful head coach Rick Rhoades’ second stint with Yoe, the Yoemen shook off an 0-4 non-district record against a loaded schedule by hammering Caldwell 70-0 and blasting Milam County rival Rockdale 60-23 in last week’s annual Battle of the Bell to produce a 2-0 start in district play.
However, the Yoemen (2-5, 2-1) – 37-19 home winners against the Bees last year – couldn’t maintain their momentum against Academy after seizing an 11-point lead a minute into the final period and threatening to put a damper on the Bees’ homecoming festivities.
“I’ve got full confidence in these kids and I’m just watching them grow up,” Lancaster said. “Defensively we did an outstanding job, and we had seven sophomore starters on offense – seven. It’s awesome.
“It was just a great venue tonight, and my heart goes out to our Little River-Academy community and the support they showed us. It was awesome. On homecoming that was great for our young people to see that.”
The left-handed Mraz was 18-of-24 passing for 251 yards with the fourth-quarter touchdowns to Clark and Brazeal and no interceptions, and he admittedly ran more than he expected to as he recorded a game-high 68 rushing yards on 13 carries, including a 3-yard TD in the first quarter for the game’s first score.
“The touchdown to Scout, I knew he was going to win that. I think it was the outside linebacker and he can’t guard Scout 1-on-1,” Mraz said. “And Zane Clark, he’s fast. It was a little bit of a bad ball, but he still made a play on it. He’s an athlete. He’s going to catch it.”
Said Brazeal about first-year starter Mraz: “That dude’s a player. There’s not another quarterback that I want throwing me the ball. He’s a great player and he’s family to me, a little brother.”
Academy and Yoe traded scores throughout a well-played first half.
The Bees drove 74 yards on the game’s opening possession, with Mraz keeping off left tackle for a 3-yard touchdown before senior Blake Bundy’s extra point gave them a 7-0 lead. The Yoemen responded with a 62-yard TD drive that senior quarterback Ryan Muniz (20-for-36 passing, 243 yards) capped with a 4-yard rush before the first of Angel Martinez’s four extra points created a 7-7 tie with 7 minutes gone.
Mraz’s crossing pass to Franklin for a 19-yard gain keyed Academy’s next possession, a 64-yard march that concluded with junior Brayden Bartlett’s 1-yard touchdown rush for a 14-7 Bees advantage 1½ minutes into the second quarter.
Undeterred, the Yoemen then moved from their 10-yard line to the 49 before Muniz scrambled to his left and fired a deep pass down the left side to wide-open junior receiver Pharrell Hemphill, who backpedaled into the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown and a 14-14 deadlock 6:39 before halftime.
A 32-yard field goal by Bundy, his eighth three-point kick this season, pushed Academy back into the lead at 17-14 with 3:49 left until halftime. Kason Goolsby returned the ensuing short kickoff to the Bees 45 before Yoe swiftly marched to the 12. But with one minute remaining, Muniz’s pass to the left side was intercepted by junior linebacker Lane Ward near the 5 and Academy carried its three-point edge into halftime.
The second half provided a different story, because the Yoemen shut out the Bees for the first 17 minutes of it. Yoe picked up four first downs on the half’s opening possession before Salomon – his team’s top tackler at linebacker – pushed behind his linemen for a 2-yard touchdown run to give the Yoemen their first lead at 21-17 5½ minutes into the third period.
Academy drove from its 39 to Yoe’s 19 on the ensuing possession, but a third-down rush lost 2 yards and Lancaster decided against having the accurate Bundy attempt a 38-yard field goal. Brazeal appeared to catch Mraz’s crossing pass for first-down yardage, but the officials ruled it incomplete for a turnover on downs.
“I’m going to question myself. I went for it there on fourth down instead of taking the points to make it 21-20,” Lancaster said. “I called a play that we went over, and we just didn’t make the play. It was there, but we didn’t make the play. It happens.”
Ja’Quorius Hardman’s effective punt return gave Yoe possession at Academy’s 42 with 11 minutes remaining in the fourth, and Bynaum ran off left tackle for 22 yards before a personal foul on the Bees moved the ball to the 10. Bynaum (13 carries, 61 yards) then sliced through the middle for a 10-yard touchdown that extended the Yoemen’s lead to 28-17 with 10:43 left.
In a difficult situation and with an opportunity to get down and doubt itself, Academy refused to do so.
“In the locker room we just really concentrated on finishing the game,” Mraz said. “Our senior class, a guy like Darion Franklin, he stepped up. (Sophomore lineman) Jake Jones is a very good leader when we’re down and he’s just good at keeping us alive.”
Facing third-and-6 at the Bees 34 with 7½ minutes remaining, Mraz passed to Franklin for 12 yards before they connected on a 17-yard toss to the Yoe 42. After a pass interference penalty moved the ball to the 27, speedy running back Clark beat his defender on the left side of the end zone and made an acrobatic catch of Mraz’s pass for a 27-yard touchdown. Franklin then snared Mraz’s 2-point pass to the right side to pull Academy within 28-25 with 6:49 to play.
“The one thing I love about Kasey is he doesn’t overanalyze stuff. He just plays ball. He’s a ballplayer. He doesn’t get caught up in the moment,” Lancaster said about Mraz. “I can love on him or I can chew him out, and he doesn’t get rattled. That’s why he’s a perfect fit for me as a play-caller. He’s a perfect fit for this community and he’s a person who can handle whatever you put on his shoulders.”
An extremely strange play then went Yoe’s way. After Ward’s aggressive tackle of kickoff returner Goolsby forced the Yoemen to start the ensuing possession at their 11, Muniz’s punt from near his goal line was blocked by Bees sophomore Cartier Nealy. However, Muniz alertly grabbed the ball out of midair, ran toward the left sideline and gained 7 yards to narrowly give Yoe a fresh set of downs.
But on fourth-and-inches from the Yoe 31, Academy’s strong, well-timed defensive swarm stopped Bynaum for no gain and a game-changing turnover on downs with 3:58 remaining.
When the Bees reached the 25, Brazeal – who entered the game with 34 catches for 724 yards and six touchdowns – had a good feeling about how he matched up against his slower defender. Brazeal was interfered with in the end zone almost exactly where Clark made his touchdown reception a few minutes earlier, but he made the athletic, go-ahead TD catch anyway before Bundy’s extra point gave Academy a 32-28 lead with 2:59 remaining.
“When I lined up, I saw that I might have a little advantage,” said Brazeal, who had been covered well by defensive back Hemphill for most of the evening. “I hadn’t been catching the ball a lot tonight and hadn’t had a great game, but plays like that . . . I had to keep fighting through it and I finally found one that I could get ahold of.”
Yoe’s kickoff returners had hurt Academy's coverage crew with several change-of-direction handoffs, but on the ensuing kick Bartlett chased down Hemphill and dropped him at the 3, forcing the Yoemen to go 97 yards for the touchdown they needed.
“They were ripping us on kickoff returns,” Lancaster said, “but we came out in the second half and won that battle, I thought.”
With Yoe in desperation mode, Muniz completed passes to Jaidyn Sanchez and Bynaum to convert a fourth down and a third down, respectively. But on fourth-and-4 from the Yoemen’s 49 with 12 seconds left, two Academy defenders had excellent position on Muniz’s deep pass down the middle and it fell incomplete, allowing the Bees and their fans to celebrate a long-awaited victory over nemesis Yoe.
“Cameron came in here and I know they were 2-4, but go check their offense and the points they’ve been putting up. That’s a heck of a job by (defensive coordinator) Eddie Dewbre and our defensive coaching staff,” said Lancaster, whose squad lost leading tackler Ward to an upper-body injury during the fourth quarter.
Brazeal, who's also a starting safety and got solid secondary help from safety Bundy and cornerbacks Alex Lawton and Trey Vargas, was not surprised by the grit the Bees displayed during their fourth-quarter comeback.
“This year we have a group of kids that’s very special. Our bond is more than what I’ve ever been a part of at Academy,” Brazeal said. “We’re super-tight here and we all fight to the end. This year we fought our hearts out and we finally did it.”
Academy will play at Caldwell (2-4, 0-2) next Friday before its home finale at Glover against Rockdale (4-3, 2-1) in two weeks.
“We need to go in there with the same mentality,” Mraz said. “This game is a great win, but we need to keep kicking some stinking tail.”
DISTRICT 11-3A DIVISION I FOOTBALL
ACADEMY 32, CAMERON YOE 28
Yoe 7 7 7 7 – 28
Academy 7 10 0 15 – 32
Academy – Kasey Mraz 3 run (Blake Bundy kick), 7:21.
Yoe – Ryan Muniz 4 run (Angel Martinez kick), 4:47.
Academy – Brayden Bartlett 1 run (Bundy kick), 10:31.
Yoe – Pharrell Hemphill 51 pass from Muniz (Martinez kick), 6:39.
Academy – Bundy 32 field goal, 3:49.
Yoe – Fabian Salomon 2 run (Martinez kick), 6:33.
Yoe – Phaibian Bynaum 10 run (Martinez kick), 10:43
Academy – Zane Clark 27 pass from Mraz (Darion Franklin pass from Mraz), 6:49.
Academy – Scout Brazeal 25 pass from Mraz (Bundy kick), 2:59.
First downs: Yoe 18; Academy 21.
Rushes-yards: Yoe 26-118; Academy 33-112.
Passing yards: Yoe 243; Academy 251.
Completions-attempts-interceptions: Yoe 20-36-1; Academy 18-24-0.
Offensive plays-total yards: Yoe 62-361; Academy 57-363.
Punts-average: Yoe 2-26; Academy 1-41.
Fumbles-lost: Yoe 1-0; Academy 1-0.
Penalties-yards: Yoe 5-60; Academy 10-83.
Rushing – Yoe: Bynaum 13-61, Muniz 10-37, Kason Goolsby 1-18, Salomon 2-2; Academy: Mraz 13-68, Clark 11-34, Bartlett 7-13, Franklin 1-2, team 1-(-5).
Passing – Yoe: Muniz 20-36-1-243; Academy: Mraz 18-24-0-251.
Receiving – Yoe: Hemphill 3-103, Goolsby 11-61, Jaidyn Sanchez 3-48, Trayjen Wilcox 2-20, Bynaum 1-11; Academy: Franklin 7-105, Brazeal 3-58, Bundy 4-43, Clark 2-36, Alex Lawton 1-14, Luke Tomasek 1-(-1).
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