Chapel Hill's defense steps up in big spots

The Chapel Hill defense made some crucial stops against Alvarado on Friday, including forcing three second-half turnovers to seal the win. (Jaime R. Carrero | Tyler Morning Telegraph)

ARLINGTON — Throughout the playoffs the Chapel Hill offense came through with late game heroics and clutch scoring drives.

On Friday night, the Bulldogs defense came through in the biggest moment of all.

Chapel Hill held Alvarado's star runner in check and came through with three turnovers in the fourth quarter to pull out a 20-19 victory in the Class 3A Division I state championship at Cowboys Stadium.

We pride ourselves on stepping up when we need to,” said the game's defensive MVP, Bulldogs senior defensive back Avery Henderson, who had a team-high eight tackles and an interception. “We made big plays. Defense wins championships. Offense wins games to get to the championships. Offense did that and we went into the championship and the defense won it.”

Chapel Hill denied Indians running back Wayne Onderdonck room to run for most of the game. Onderdonck came into the championship game with 2,887 yards and 28 touchdowns on the year but finished Friday night with 108 yards, or about half his usual output.

They were fast,” Onderdonck said of the Bulldogs. “They fly to the football. They're disciplined, they're strong, they're well-coached. You can never take that away from a team. They work hard; you can tell they work hard in practice. They wanted it. They wanted it more than we did, apparently.”

The Bulldogs defense undoubtedly wanted it, and they went out and got it.

After Alvarado pulled to within 20-19 on a 1-yard score by Onderdonck, the Indians opted to go for the lead with a two-point coversion. Miscommunication led to a snap before Indians speedster Tyler Bates, a receiver in behind center, was ready. Chapel Hill sophomore Joseph Clark ran down Bates, who scooped up the fumbled snap but was dragged down before a play could develop.

The Bulldogs offense managed two more first downs the rest of the game, putting the burden on the defense to come through.

Senior defensive back Deaveron Dean forced and recovered a fumble by Onderdonck with 6:50 to play.

We had to stop them because if we didn't we would go home crying,” Dean said. “That was our mindset. We had to stop them. We've done that all year, so we just kept doing it.”

Henderson came through with his interception on the following drive. On second-and-10, Alvarado quarterback Kenny West lofted a ball toward midfield, where only Henderson and two teammates were lurking. Henderson jumped highest and grabbed the ball.

I said I gotta go get it, I gotta be a receiver right now,” Henderson said of his pick with 5:38 remaining.

After the Bulldogs offense turned the ball over on downs at the Indians 24, West hooked up with Bates for a 46-yard reception to the Chapel Hill 35. A play later, senior defensive back Jay Reagan forced a fumble from receiver Austin Ellinger with 1:58 to play. Bulldogs sophomore Wesley Thompson was the first to the loose ball.

They don't usually turn the ball over that much,” Dean said. “Our defense was very determined so we came up with those turnovers.”

Alvarado had one more shot to score when Chapel Hill punted with 12 seconds left, but Henderson tracked down Bates on the return as time expired and the Bulldogs were champions.

It was nerve-wracking, but I had faith that we were going to pull through,” said Bulldogs senior linebacker Kevin Garcia, who had seven tackles and a sack. “Of course they had big plays but I had faith in my teammates.”

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