Thursday night’s key District 2-5A Division I showdown between Amarillo High and Caprock at Dick Bivins Stadium proved, literally, that all things must pass.
And when Mason Graham and Amarillo High did that, Caprock simply couldn’t do much about it.
Graham, a senior who had shown signs of being a top-notch passer in his third year on the varsity, had a game for the ages. He threw for what has to be a school-record seven touchdown passes to lead the Sandies to a 56-20 win over Caprock which gave them their first district win.
In the third quarter in particular, Graham and Amarillo High (3-3, 1-1 in district) torched Caprock (4-2, 1-1) through the air to break open a competitive game. Graham threw three big-play scoring passes to Connor Haelzle and Jameson Garcia, both of whom had over 100 yards receiving.
“We just had to take what we had with the simple stuff and Connor Haelzle and Jameson Garcia are some of the finest receivers around,” said Graham, who completed 20-of-31 passes for 357 yards and no interceptions. “When there’s chances to throw it down the field, I’m going to take those. They did a really great job of making me look good for sure.”
It was leagues away from what Graham and the Sandies did in their much-anticipated district opener the week before against another crosstown rival, Tascosa. Amarillo High never really got in the game and lost 45-10.
With a short week to get ready for a crucial game and even their district and season records, the Sandies had to respond quickly against the Longhorns, and they did. While Graham and the receivers may have gotten the spotlight, the biggest difference in the game may have been the five turnovers forced by Amarillo High’s defense, while the Sandies didn’t turn it over once.
“We had a hard time stopping them in the first half,” AHS coach Chad Dunnam said. “We were pretty porous defensively. We didn’t panic. We felt like we had to tackle better and get off blocks. Fortunately, during that time, our offense was moving the ball effectively.”
It was a surprisingly offensive first half, but three Caprock turnovers played a part in Amarillo High taking a 28-20 halftime lead.
The action started after Caprock forced a three-and-out by Amarillo High on the first possession. Caprock mounted a ground-oriented drive and cashed in on an 8-yard scoring run by Jamel Acosta-Lewis, the first of his two touchdown runs in the first half, for a 6-0 lead.
Amarillo High then scored touchdowns on the next three possessions, and Graham was just getting started.
The Sandies answered the first score by Acosta-Lewis with a 1-yard run by Graham for a 7-6 lead. Caprock responded with a 9-yard run by Kadrian Hernandez to make it 13-7.
Just 19 seconds after the Hernandez score, the Sandies took the lead for good in the first half on a 53-yard scoring strike from Graham to Jameson Garcia to make it 14-13. That was the first of three scoring passes between Graham and Garcia.
“This was a big week for us to bounce back and we were just really focused on getting back after (Tascosa),” Graham said. “I was really proud of how our whole team handled it.”
Both teams rolled up over 200 yards of offense in the first half. The difference was Amarillo High had two interceptions and recovered a Caprock fumble on a kickoff to set up a touchdown.
That might have taken a toll on a Caprock defense which had been solid through the first five games, as the Longhorns had only 58 yards of offense in the second half.
“We turned the ball over more than we have all year,” Caprock coach Dan Sherwood said. “You can’t win against a good football team doing that. Credit Amarillo High for coming out and getting those explosive plays in the second half. It doesn’t matter if it’s a win or a loss, the sun’s going to come up the next day and you have to move on to the next opponent.”
After forcing a Caprock punt to start the second half, the Sandies seemed to smell blood in the water. On their first two possessions of the second half, Graham hit Haelzle for scores of 33 and 35 yards respectively to boost the lead to 42-20.
Haelzle had a game-high six catches for 139 yards. But Graham didn’t forget about Garcia, as he hit him for a 24-yard score in the third quarter which pretty much put away the game.
Garcia finished with four catches for 111 yards.
“A great job by the quarterback, but when you make plays like that it’s a team effort,” Dunnam said. “It starts with the offensive line. They’ve got to give the guy some protection and the receivers have got to go get open and the quarterback’s got to put the ball where the receivers can make a play.”
Caprock’s Abdulai Dorley ran for a game-high 103 yards on 13 carries.