Texline Noel Lozano tries to get by Graford defender Collin Roberts during the UIL Class 1A state championship game at San Antonio’s Alamodome on Saturday. [Matthew Smith/ For Press Pass Sports]
SAN ANTONIO— A quest of a back-to-back state championship fell short for Texline though the setting of something magical once again was there for a storybook finish in the Alamodome.
A year ago, William Luther hit a step-back 3-pointer from 25-feet with under 10 seconds to play that gave the Tornadoes a thrilling 54-53 win over Slidell to claimed the program’s second state title.
This time around, the heroics were there but the shots didn’t fall in the final minute for Texline as Graford pulled off a 42-39 dramatic win for its first UIL Class 1A state championship Saturday morning.
“It was the type of game you expected,” Texline head coach Coby Beckner said. “As a fan this had to be fun to watch. It’s just a tough feeling when you’re the coach. You feel like you let your team and the community down.”
As expected from a championship Saturday, the contest came down to the final seconds following huge sways of momentum from each team in the second half.
Graford (37-3) controlled much of the third quarter before a cold shooting Texline team woke up with an 11-3 run to end the stanza. The Tornadoes trailed 28-22 with under two minutes to go in the third before Luther made a layup, followed by consecutive 3-point buckets from Elias Espino and Stratton Potter giving Texline its first lead, 33-28.
The Tornadoes built a 36-31 lead only to see the Jackrabbits quickly tie the ballgame, 36-36, on a Christian Shea 3-pointer, and a Teagan Ford layup with at the 5:16 mark of the fourth.
Texline’s last gasp before another costly cold streak came from post Noel Lozano, who knocked down a 3-ball to put the Tornadoes back on top 39-36 with 4:06 left. Little did Texline know that’d be its final points of the championship.
Graford battled back taking over for good on a coast-to-coast layup from Marc Mathews at the 2:09 mark giving the Jackrabbits back the advantage 40-39.
Texline had two possessions down the stretch, but Stratton Potter missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 57 seconds left, and Luther missed a 3-point attempt from the right wing 11 seconds to go.
“We beat a really good Texline team,” Jeff Bell said. “All year we’ve had a tough schedule. Even when we got down, we knew had to face adversity, and we know never look at the scoreboard and keep our habits the same.”
Marc Mathews was named Tournament MVP for Graford scoring 14 points, pulling down five boards with four steals.
Graford’s defense gave Texline fits. The Jackrabbits held the Tornadoes to 36 percent shooting, while keeping Lozano out of the paint limiting the 6-foot-7 post to six points, two 3-pointers, and one rebound. Graford also took away guards, Espino, Potter and Angel Herrera, who combined for seven points.
“We knew how good they were on offense,” Bell said. “We feel like we have the best defense in the state. We feel like defense wins championships, so teams aren’t going to score 80 or 90 points on us.”
Beckner echoed Bell’s comments.
“They play tremendous defense,” Beckner said. “I thought we played great defense also. But they are as sound as you are going to find. Give them credit they had a great game-plan.”
Texline’s William Luther skies for a layup against Graford during the UIL Class 1A state championship game in San Antonio’s Alamodome on Saturday. [Matthew Smith/ For Press Pass Sports]
Playing in his final game of his illustrious career, senior William Luther left it all on the court for Texline. Last year’s hero of the state tournament, and one of the Texas Panhandle’s best carried his team scoring 25 points despite the loss, adding six boards, nabbing seven steals. Luther ends his career in very rare air. One of the best to ever put on a Texline uniform finished his run with over 2,000 career points, over 1,000 rebounds, 500 assists and 250 plus steals.
“Will has done some remarkable things,” Beckner said. “Not many players have done what Will has done in his career. He has given us everything he’s had. That’s who Will is. We’re going to miss him dearly, and Noel (Lozano). Those are the two seniors we’re losing and they were so impactful for us.”
Texline ends another tremendous year at 34-4, carrying the No. 1-ranking from November to the final game of the season. This Tornadoes program is 61-8 over the past two years with two appearances in San Antonio. Something that makes Beckner proud to be a part of.
“I’m blessed to have the players we have,” Beckner said. “I’m blessed to have the administration I work for, and the community we have. This loss doesn’t define this team. Basketball doesn’t define them. These are great young men that are caring. We had a lot of pressure to get back. That is going to serve these young men well in the future when they are adults. They’ve learned how to manage everything thrown at them. I’m so proud of them, and I love every one of them.”
For a complete look at the UIL Class 1A state championship boxscore, please visit https://www.uiltexas.org/files/athletics/state-basketball/boxscores-boys/22bb1af.htm