HUNTSVILLE — Waco La Vega’s defense frustrated Chapel Hill’s high-flying offense all night long.
But as they say, all it takes is one.
Senior running back Andrew Tucker raced 93 yards for a touchdown with less than a minute remaining to put a cap on the top-ranked Bulldogs’ 27-20 triumph over previously unbeaten La Vega on Friday night in their Class 3A Division I regional playoff at Bowers Stadium.
On third-and-four, and seemingly trying to pick up a first down to send the game to overtime, Tucker cut to the outside and outran the entire Pirates defense into the end zone for the game-winning score.
“I just had to believe in my O-line to block for me,” Tucker said. “I had to get in that end zone. I was cramping up, but I had to help my teammates by finishing it off.”
The play came moments after the Chapel Hill defense came up with a fourth-and-goal stop at its own 1 to preserve the tie and set up Tucker’s dramatics.
Chapel Hill (12-0) will advance to the state quarterfinals next week where it will face Navasota (11-1) in rematch from last year. The game is scheduled for Friday at Baylor University Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
“The kids played hard for each other, played tough and it’s a fun group to coach,” Chapel Hill coach Thomas Sitton said while wiping away tears. “I’m just glad I get to spend Thanksgiving with them.”
La Vega, which finished the season at 11-1, held the Bulldogs to 23 points and 130 yards below their season average and came with away with two turnovers.
Tucker finished the game with 164 yards and two touchdowns rushing, while hauling in two catches for 72 yards. Quarterback Avery Saenz was 13 of 21 for 171 yards, and Jay Reagan ran for 58 yards and two scores.
La Vega’s Randy Gober led all ground-gainers with 178 yards on 27 attempts.
The Pirates had the defending state finalists on their heels late in the game, pushing the ball to inside the Chapel Hill 1-yard line with less than two minutes to play.
But on fourth down, running back Randy Gober was met at the line of scrimmage and stuffed for no gain to keep the game even at 20-20, if only for few moments.
“Everybody was down there,” Bulldogs defensive lineman Sir Calvin Wallace said. “It was hot down there. That was awesome, but let’s not do that again.”
Prior Tucker’s game-clinching dash to paydirt, the only other Bulldogs touchdown in the second half occurred on the very first play of the third quarter when Reagan took the handoff and sped 56 yards for a touchdown. The extra-point attempt was no good, but Chapel Hill had its first lead, 20-14, since leading 7-0 late in the first quarter.
La Vega took the ensuing drive all the way to the Bulldogs’ 13, before turning it over on downs. The Pirates defense, however, came up with a huge play by pouncing on a Reagan fumble at the Chapel Hill 18.
On the very next snap, freshman running back Ayorinde Gibson reached the end zone. The PAT was wide-left, keeping the game tied, 20-20.
La Vega dominated the clock in the first quarter, but was stopped twice in Chapel Hill territory.
The Bulldogs, after a three-and-out on their opening possession, took over at their own 30 on their second drive. Chapel Hill faced a third-and-12, but Saenz hooked up with Tucker out of the backfield for a 65-yard completion down to the La Vega 7.
Tucker finished off the drive and put the Bulldogs up 7-0 two plays later on a 1-yard run.
Chapel Hill forced La Vega into a punt on the ensuing series, but Pirates quarterback Marcus Evans connected on a 51-yard pooch punt down to the 5-yard line.
On second down, the snap went over the head of Saenz, who recovered the ball just before it trickled into the end zone.
On fourth down, Nelson Onwuzu’s punt traveled only 17 yards and the Pirates began their next drive inside the Chapel Hill 20. And Javon Arnett evened the game, 7-7, on a 7-yard scoring run midway through the second quarter.
After a first down run on the Bulldogs’ next possession, Reagan fumbled it back to La Vega at the Chapel Hill 20. And on fourth-and-goal from the 2, Evans rolled to his left and hit a wide-open Horne in the back of the end zone to give the Pirates a 14-7 lead with 4:30 remaining in the half.
Chapel Hill calmly marched down the field, using five Saenz completions to move the ball down to the La Vega 2. Reagan capped the 11-play, 67-yard drive with a touchdown to tie the game, 14-14, with 1:09 showing on the first-half clock.
No. 1 Chapel Hill 27, No. 10 Waco La Vega 20
Class 3A Division I Regional Playoff
At Bowers Stadium, Huntsville
Chapel Hill 7 7 6 7 – 27
Waco La Vega 0 14 6 0 – 20
CH—Andrew Tucker 1 run (Tyler Brown kick), :52.
LV—Javon Arnett 7 run (Brian Gonzales kick), 7:56.
LV—Gerald Horne 2 pass from Marcus Evans (Gonzales kick), 4:30.
CH—Jay Reagan 2 run (Brown kick), 1:09.
CH—Reagan 56 run (run failed), 11:49.
LV—Ayorinde Gibson 18 run (kick failed), 9:12.
CH—Tucker 93 run (Brown kick), :57.
First Downs 15 17
Passing Yards 171 57
Comp.-Att.-Int. 13-21-0 5-13-0
Punts-Avg. 5-33.8 5-35.2
Fumbles-Lost 4-2 0-0
RUSHING—Chapel Hill, Andrew Tucker 21-164, Jay Reagan 9-58, Rex Rollins 3-8, Joseph Clark 1-5, Nelson Onwuzu 1-2, Avery Saenz 2-(-7). Waco La Vega, Randy Gober 27-178, Ayorinde Gibson 6-52, Javon Arnett 11-39, Marcus Evans 10-23, Javon Livings 2-5.
PASSING—Chapel Hill, Saenz 13-21-0—171. Waco La Vega, Evans 5-13-0—57.
RECEIVING—Chapel Hill, Avery Henderson 4-24, Onwuzu 3-41, Tucker 2-72, Anthony Kincade 1-16, Tre Allen 1-9, Deaveron Dean 1-9. Waco La Vega, Tyler Baker 2-20, Gerald Horne 2-12, Arnett 1-25.