In a season that has been full of up-and-downs for the Sealy Tigers, the regular season ended on the best possible note for a team: earning a spot in the playoffs.
After blowing a 16-point lead the week before against Bay City, Sealy’s playoff hopes relied on a win over the West Columbia Roughnecks and a Brazosport victory over Needville. A Brazosport victory would give them second place in the district and ensure Sealy would advance to the playoffs due to multiple tiebreakers.
The Tigers started off with good field position after Kevon Keese took the game’s opening kickoff to Sealy’s 47-yard line and junior running back Ivan Bolden breaking off a 46-yard run on the very next play. Garret Zaskoda delivered a strike to Justin Eckhardt on the next play to score the game’s first touchdown just 28 seconds into the first quarter.
After the Tigers successfully converted a two-point try, the Tigers defense managed to hold the Roughnecks to just a field goal on their first possession of the game. After a three-and-out by Sealy, West Columbia would drive all the way down to Sealy’s 38-yard line but a fumbled snap on third down forced a punt with the first quarter coming to an end.
West Columbia seemingly caught a break when their punt pinned Sealy at the two-yard line and the tension in the stadium palpable as Zaskoda took the snap in the shotgun formation.
“I kept telling my offensive line and receivers that if they did their job [on that drive] then I’d do mine and we’d make it happen,” Bolden said.
He delivered on his promise as he followed up a short gain by Tyrek McNeese on a screen play with a 10-yard run that gave the offense more breathing room along with a first down. After several big gains on passes to Eckhardt and McNeese, the Tigers managed to get to the opposite 24-yard line before a sack dropped them to the 35.
Zaskoda delivered a strike to McNeese on a go route on the very next play for the touchdown to put the Tigers up 16-3 with just under eight minutes left in the half.
West Columbia shut down any thoughts of a blowout with a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first play of their next possession to go down by seven points after Sealy blocked the extra-point attempt.
Both offenses would close out the half going three-and-out with Eckhardt and sophomore Reece Novicke sacking West Columbia’s quarterback to end the half.
After Sealy forced a three-and-out by West Columbia to open up the second half, a muffed return attempt by the Tigers on the punt gave the Roughnecks the ball on Sealy’s 19-yard line. The defense held strong as a Will Ford tackle for a loss and a subsequent sack forced Columbia to settle for the field goal attempt which was no good.
The Tigers drove down the field from their own 25-yard line to score on a short Bolden run roughly four minutes later to go up 22-9. After West Columbia took it into Sealy territory, the Tigers defense stayed true to the “bend but don’t break” mentality they have lived by this season.
Sealy forced a four-and-out by the Roughnecks and a third-down run by Bolden with a deep catch by Eckhardt on the next play put Sealy at the opposite 35-yard line as the third quarter came to a close.
Eckhardt would catch his second touchdown of the game just over a minute into the fourth quarter and Zaskoda would hit receiver Jared Kainer on the two-point try to put the Tigers up 30-9.
After several close games were lost by Sealy this season, a sense of uneasiness began creeping into the stadium after a pass interference call pushed West Columbia up to midfield and scored on a hitch-and-lateral play to make it 30-16.
The sense only grew as the Roughnecks got a pick-six on the next drive to pull within a touchdown with 8:40 left in the game.
“I came into the huddle [after that] and just told my team that it’s not going to happen again not after last week and dropping some close ones earlier this season,” Eckhardt said. “We just had to keep our foot on the pedal and not point fingers and just keep looking at the next play.”
The Tigers did just that as they responded on the next drive by traveling to the Roughnecks’ 31-yard line and Bolden capping it off with a run of the same distance to pull away 37-23.
“Coaches told me to do it for the seniors and none of us wanted this to be their last game so I did what I could to make it happen,” Bolden said. “It made me feel really great being able to put the game in the hole like that.”
The Roughnecks gave their final try to keep the game close as they drove down the field and a trick play on third down put Sealy inside Sealy’s 10-yard line. After forcing West Columbia to fourth-and-six at the seven-yard line, it all came down to one play when head coach Shane Mobley called a timeout.
“Coach told us that if they’d try a rollout pass and they’ll try to cut block you so if they pass it then put up your hands and block it and that’s exactly what happened,” Eckhardt said with a laugh. “I was like dang, Coach Mobley really called that.”
Eckhardt’s batted down pass sealed the game for the Tigers as Bolden ran out the clock to end the game with a final score of 37-23. At that point Brazosport was up more than 20 points over Needville to all but ensure Sealy was going to make the playoffs.
After embracing his teammates and taking one last walk across the grass field before it is replaced with the new turf one with his fellow seniors, players and non-players, Eckhardt reflected on making the playoffs as not just a senior but a leader on the team as well.
“We dreamt about this since August and this was our goal and with this district, whoever makes it out they’ll make a run for sure,” Eckhardt said. “Losing these close games all season just made us more hungry and I’m just so excited to be here right now.”
Mobley said one of the keys to winning the game was the team’s health.
“We were finally healthy tonight and we got some more of our kids back and suited up so hopefully by next weekend, we’ll be 100 percent healthy,” Mobley said.
The Tigers will take on North Forest High School on Friday with kickoff scheduled for 7:30 at Bellville High School for a neutral site to open up the playoffs.