Nazareth went toe-to-toe with favored Happy until the Cowboys used a strong third quarter performance from their defense to take the Region I-1A Division I championship, 56-16, at Younger Field in Tulia Friday night.
The victory propels Happy (12-1 overall) into its second straight UIL state semifinal appearance, and fourth in seven years. The Cowboys will now await Saturday’s Rankin-Westbrook from Region II.
“We talked at halftime about eliminating the mistakes and getting back to playing Cowboy football,” Happy head coach Stacy Perryman said.”
Perryman’s team took to heart his message. With Happy leading only 24-16 at half after a competitive opening two quarters, Nazareth took the second half kickoff looking to tie this game up. That’s when quarterback Will Young tried to hit Kayle Rogers down field, but Camden Sperry ran under the pass for an interception. Two plays later, Happy found breathing room thanks to Tryce Johnson breaking loose for a 65-yard sprint to the house that extended the Cowboys lead to 32-16.
On the following possession, Happy forced a fumble that was recovered by Sperry and the Cowboys made the most of the turnover as Sperry, playing his quarterback role on offense, hit Quay Hodges from 22-yards and all of a sudden, the Cowboys were in complete control up 40-16. Disaster continued for the Swifts soon after as on the ensuing possession Young’s swing pass was picked off by Kyton Johnson at the Nazareth 20-yard and returned for the score putting Happy up 48-16.
“We let them have momentum in the first half,” Perryman said. “We got back to our basics, and I was very pleased with the effort in the second half. The defense was lights out. We can stop the run and then we made some adjustments in the secondary and played a lot better.”
Much different from the first meeting between the District 2-1A Division I rivals where Happy dominated Nazareth 40-6, the Swifts had given themselves an opportunity playing a solid first half.
In the first quarter, Nazareth (10-3 overall) had tied the game, 8-8, after a Brett Heischmidt 21-yard touchdown run. Then down 24-8, the Swifts kept pace when Young found Luke Schulte on a 44-yard strike cutting the deficit at 24-16. However, four total turnovers were too much for the Swifts to overcome.
Tryce Johnson led Happy piling up a game-high 179 yards rushing on 21 carries while making six tackles on defense. Sperry was 4-of-9 passing for 84 yards tossing two touchdown passes and had an interception on defense. Hodges caught both touchdown passes from Sperry and finished with 58 yards receiving. Young was impressive for the Swifts going 9-of-17 for 138 yards and two TDs as the Cowboys limited Nazareth’s workhorse Schulte to only 48 yards on 16 carries.