In a game of big plays, big momentum swings and big stops by both teams, Grace Community came up biggest.
The Cougars pitched a shutout in the first half and held on in the second half for a 28-18 victory over Houston Second Baptist in the first round of the TAPPS Division II state playoffs on Friday at Clyde-Perkins Stadium.
Junior quarterback Christopher Wilhelmi ran for 166 yards and a score while throwing for 162 yards and another touchdown for Grace (10-1), which reached 10 wins for the first time in program history.
The Cougars advanced to face Houston Northland Christian (9-2), which defeated Frisco Legacy Christian 48-14 on Friday.
"We were dog soldiers tonight and we staked ourselves down and played great defense," Grace coach Mike Maddox said. "We were able to move the ball at times but give Second Baptist credit, they played really good defense too."
Grace made three big plays to take a 21-0 lead into halftime in conjunction with lights-out defense.
Second Baptist (6-5) was held to 106 yards in the first half, 35 of it coming on the Eagles' first play, a run by Lynnard Rose.
Rose came into the game with 1,074 yards on the ground, but finished with 45. As a team, the Eagles rushed 27 times for 35 yards.
With the running game ineffective, Second Baptist turned to the passing game in the second half. Of the Eagles' 231 yards after halftime, 288 came through the air as quarterback Zach Heaton finished 16 of 28 for 302 yards with two touchdowns.
The Eagles, coached by former Bullard Brook Hill coach Terry Pirtle, cut the lead to 21-12 with 2:50 left in the third quarter but couldn't come any closer.
Pirtle led the Guard to a state title in 2011 before leaving for Second Baptist, where he's won three district titles in the last three years.
"I'm not going to come back ever again to Tyler," Pirtle joked after the game. "I'm 0-3 and we have not played well any time - no reason to come back. Braum's is not that good, although I enjoy it."
The first big play of the game gave the Cougars an early lead on a 42-yard touchdown run by Wilhelmi midway through the first quarter. The next pivotal play doubled the Grace lead as Josh Spitzer returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown.
"It was a great momentum builder," Maddox said. "It came at a great time."
Grace led 21-0 at the break thanks to a 64-yard touchdown pass to Brady Newman, who was wide open alongside teammate Zach West after the Eagles secondary bit on play action on third-and-5.
The third quarter, however, was a different story, as Second Baptist began airing it out. On back-to-back plays, with a Grace three-and-out sandwiched in between, Josh Newman caught touchdown passes of 54 and 75 yards to pull the Eagles within 21-12. Josh Newman totaled 137 yards on three catches.
Grace bounced back with one more big play to stymie Second Baptist's momentum. On the first play of the next drive, running back Mason Dacus escaped out of the backfield and caught a 58-yard reception with some help from Brady Newman blocking down field. Dacus, who fought through various injuries to rack up 103 total yards, finished the drive with a 1-yard plunge for a 28-12 advantage with 7:52 to play.
"It was big because they had all the momentum at that time," Maddox said. "We needed something. They really had some good lock-down corners and we knew that if we could get him out of the backfield Mason would have a shot.
"Mason's been hurting all week. … It was a great amount of effort, pride and guts to get in there and run that particular route."
Second Baptist pulled within 28-18 with 2:26 to play on a 54-yard pass to Rose in between two defenders on fourth-and-10, but the Eagles never got the ball back as Caleb Wadle, who had two tackles for loss, recovered the ensuing onside kick.
Blake Holbrook, who averaged 39.4 yards on five punts, including three downed inside the 20, also recovered a fumble for the Cougars. Grace also stopped Second Baptist three out of four times on fourth down.
"We knew that they were going to have a surge and they did have a big surge in the third quarter," Maddox said. "I thought our defense just played lights out and several times there on fourth down just came up with big plays. We were dog soldiers tonight."
TAPPS Division II Playoffs
Grace Community 28, Houston Second Baptist 18
At Clyde-Perkins Stadium
Second Baptist 0 0 12 6 - 18
Grace 7 14 0 7 - 28
GRA-Christopher Wilhelmi 42 run (Cristian Hooper kick), 5:31.
GRA-Josh Spitzer 35 interception return (Hooper kick), 11:16.
GRA-Brady Newman 64 pass from Wilhelmi (Hooper kick), 4:08.
SB-Josh Newman 54 pass from Zach Heaton (kick fail), 4:13.
SB-Newman 75 pass from Heaton (pass fail), 2:50.
GRA-Mason Dacus 1 run (Hooper kick), 7:52.
SB-Lynnard Rose 54 pass from Heaton (pass fail), 2:26.
First Downs 11 14
Rushes-Yards 27-35 45-190
Passing Yards 302 162
Comp.-Att.-Int. 16-28-1 8-17-0
Punts-Avg. 4-37.3 5-39.4
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 1-0
Penalties-Yards 3-25 4-25
RUSHING-Second Baptist, Lynnard Rose 19-45, Zach Heaton 3-9, Blake Wertheimer 1-(-3), John Hildreth 2-(-4), Team 2-(-12). Grace, Christopher Wilhelmi 24-166, Mason Dacus 16-36, Josh Spitzer 1-1, Zach West 1-(-2), Team 3-(-11).
PASSING-Second Baptist, Heaton 16-28-1-302. Grace, Wilhelmi 8-17-0-162.
RECEIVING-Second Baptist, Wertheimer 4-52, Ryan Antona 4-18, Josh Newman 3-137, Sam Brown 3-32, Rose 2-63. Grace, Dacus 2-67, Brady Newman 2-63, Garrett Tauscher 2-17, Parker Ary 1-10, Matthew Harris 1-5.