McLean’s Ben Crockett (20) and his teammates celebrate after a big play against Rankin in the state semifinal. [Charla Shults/ Press Pass Sports]
Class 1A Division state championship
McLean Tigers (13-1) vs. Blum Bobcats (12-2)
When: 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington.
On the air: Fans can listen at 1afan.com, Michael McClure (play-by-play), Stephen Reynolds (color commentary).
Or canadiansportsnet.com, Russell Gadbois (play-by-play), Steven Forrest (color commentary)
The coaches: Clint Linman, third year at McLean, 39-3; Chad Thornhill, fourth year at Blum, 41-8.
McLean and Blum open the first of 12 UIL State Football Championship games from six different classifications at 11 a.m., Wednesday, on the grand stage of AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
It’s fitting the two teams open the state championships, considering they opened the season against each other 15 weeks ago on a scorching hot Saturday in Jayton.
The Tigers picked up where they left off last year by downing the Bobcats, 65-38, however, both coaches aren’t taking much stake from that late August contest.
“I think both teams are totally different,” McLean coach Clint Linman said. “The execution level from both teams is quite a bit higher at this point of the season. We’re probably both a little bit more dynamic that we were then. There were a lot of mistakes in week 1 that won’t happen Wednesday.”
Blum coach Cooper Thornhill agreed with Linman.
“They [McLean] are much better but so are we,” Thornhill said. “Our blocking is so much better. Our leadership has changed. Everyone has a leadership role. They’ve taken pride in their job, and everyone is really good at what they do now.”
The Tigers are hoping to claim a second straight Class 1A Division title after winning the school’s first ever state championship last year, though It’s been a much different road.
The Tigers (13-1 overall) suffered their first loss in two years to Balmorhea, 48-35, in week 4, on top of battling adversity throughout the year.
“It’s been harder to get to where we are this year,” Linman said. “We weren’t as big or as deep as last year, but our guys went to work. We’ve been able to gel as the season went a long. We overcame some injuries, we kept fighting, and kept going to practice to get better.”
It does help that McLean returned arguably the best Six-man player of this decade in running back and linebacker Ben Crockett. Crockett has a solid nucleus around him, but it’s Crocket that makes the Tigers roar. Through 15 games, the 6-foot-1, 215 pound bruiser has 2,750 yards on the ground with 59 touchdowns. Crockett’s thrown for 799 yards with 23 touchdowns and leads the team with 99 tackles.
“McLean has a man amongst boys,” Thornhill said of Crockett. “Ben Crockett is the most gifted athlete I’ve ever coached against. He gets to a top speed faster than anyone I’ve seen. He’s powerful, big and he puts every muscle into every play, and leaves it all on the field.”
Blum, the Region III champions, opened the the season with its own adversity. The Bobcats stumbled to an 0-2 start with losses to McLean and Jonesboro.
Ever since, Blum has caught fire, winners of 12 straight games that includes a 52-30 redemption victory against Jonesboro in the state semifinals that punched their ticket to the school’s first state title appearance in 50 years of playing football.
“We were excited before the season started,” Thornhill said. “Then we went 0-2 and had to revamp some things we were doing as a team and coaching staff. We told our guys that we wanted to be great at stuff no one notices. The blocks, the tackles, just do our jobs. Our guys have bought in. They understood it was about discipline. Once we had that, the winning was the byproduct.”
Blum is a team that runs the ball for 247 yards a game. Leading the way is senior running back Coltin Gonzales, who has piled up 2,163 yards rushing with 39 TDs.
“Blum is physical, and they run downhill,” Linman said. “Their backfield is really good, and they throw the ball. Defensively, they bring pressure, so we’ll have to block and run to the football and tackle.”
Tale of the tape
Points per game: 60.1 49.4
Points allowed: 20.4 18.4
Rush per game: 267.6 247.5
Pass per game: 59.5 69.6
How they got here
McLean 65, Blum 38
McLean 75, Groom 27
McLean 67, Johnson County 6
Balmorhea 48, McLean 35
McLean 45, Lefors 0
McLean 53, Happy 6
McLean 59, Baird 12
McLean 66, White Deer 22
McLean 60, Valley 14
McLean 53, Miami 7
Bidistrict: McLean 54, Happy 8
Regional: McLean 54, Spur 8
State quarterfinal: McLean 59, White Deer 12
State semifinal: McLean 97, Rankin 81
McLean 65, Blum 8
Jonesboro 20, Blum 6
Blum 66, Iredell 14
Blum 50, Evant 0
Blum 54, Penelope 26
Blum 66, Medina 19
Blum 68, Aquilla 26
Blum 54, Covington 6
Blum 46, Gholson 0
Blum 48, Abbott 0
Bidistrict: Blum 54, Perrin 6
Regional: Blum 36, Union Hill 16
State quarterfinal: Blum 54, Saint Jo 30
State semifinal: Blum 52, Jonesboro 30