COLLEGE STATION — Melissa’s strong showing at the Division 2 State 7-on-7 tournament ended on Friday with a 39-27 loss to Pleasant Grove in the quarterfinals. It was the Cards’ only tourney loss after five-straight wins. Melissa swept its pool play slate on Thursday with victories over Wimberly, Crockett and La Vega then stacked wins against Hitchcock and La Feria before facing Pleasant Grove. PG’s Hawks also topped the Cards in the 2018 semifinals.
This year’s two-day tourney at Veteran’s Park and Athletic Complex in College Station featured not only the expected June heat but a cooling two-and-a-half-hour weather delay on Thursday. All 32 Division 2 teams began single-elimination bracket play on Friday morning and Sunnyvale eventually prevailed 34-27 over PG in the finals.
The 2019 Cards were led for a fifth-straight year by co-head coaches by Paul Anderson and Fred Lewis.
“Overall, I think it’s a great success,” Anderson said of this year’s campaign. “This is a tool for Friday nights. We struggled, but we got a lot of reps in. We came together as a team, started playing well with each other. I think it’s going to turn into a positive.”
Lewis noted the team’s leadership council, started this year by new Melissa head coach Matt Nally.
“These guys are really buying into that,” Lewis said. “I’ve seen some leaders step up. … They’ve grown tremendously this weekend.”
Nally was on-hand to observe all the action along with much of his staff. A good group of Cardinal fans made the trip as well. Melissa’s Mom Sandwich Crew — Junie Monroe, Tami Hayes and Mary Keever — again piled on the PB&J and turkey sandwiches while Tami and husband Ryan Hayes kept everyone hydrated.
Texas State 7-on-7 is a private organization with no ties to the UIL. High school coaches may not coach their school’s 7-on-7 teams or stand on the sidelines during games. For the uninitiated, 7-on-7 is one-hand touch football played on a 45-yard field. Quarterbacks have four seconds to throw the ball. No pads or worn but this year, for the first time, state tourney players were required to wear soft-shell helmets. The games consist of 20-minute halves with a running clock and 10-minute halftimes. Below are recaps of Melissa’s six contests at College Station, starting with pool play on Thursday.
Cards 47, Wimberly 28
Melissa had little trouble in besting its first opponent in the 94-degree heat on spanking-new artificial turf. Quarterback Brendon Lewis connected with Deuce Gilmore crossing in the end zone for the Cards’ first score and Ezra Monroe supplied the point-after catch.
Wimberly’s first drive was thwarted by Chance Mapps’ last-second tip of a deep ball and a Monroe break-up over the middle, and Melissa quickly struck again. Lewis’ deep ball to Chase Mapps went to the Texans’ 3-yard-line and from there Lewis found Tyler Burton crossing left-to-right in the end zone for another TD. Burton’s point-after catch in the left corner pushed the Cards’ advantage to 14-0.
Chanse Holliday ended Wimberly’s next drive with an end-zone interception. Lewis’ ensuing deep ball to a wide-open Burton got Melissa to the Texans’ 2. Gilmore soon had his second touchdown pass, this one over middle, and with Antonio Robinson’s point-after grab Melissa led, 21-0, with eight minutes left in the half.
In going for his second end-zone pick on Wimberly’s next possession, Holliday came down on his left knee and was helped off the field. The knee was iced and he did not return.
The Texans scored a play later on a short toss over middle and, with a 2-point conversion, trailed, 21-8, with two minutes left before the break. That was plenty of time for a Brendon Lewis-to-Chase Mapps TD in the left flat, and Keever’s point-after catch boosted the Cards’ lead to 28-8 at halftime.
Wimberly cut the deficit to 28-14 early in the second half, but Melissa slapped back with Burton’s second TD reception.
Another Texans’ score was quickly answered by Melissa, this time with a throw to Keever over the middle, and with five minutes to go the Cards led, 40-21. Wimberly hit for one more TD with two minutes left then, as time ran short, Lewis found Robinson open for Melissa’s final touchdown. Keever gathered in the point-after throw to close it out.
“We got some stops, a couple of interceptions, that I think changed the momentum of the game,” Anderson said.
Said Fred Lewis, “The offense came out with the mindset to execute and take what’s given by the defense - instead of trying to force big plays. It goes against our M-O at times, so I was glad to see us be patient. … [Brendon] saw a couple of big ones, he took advantage of them. He’s looking real solid right now.”
Cards 34, Crockett 14
After an extended lightning delay — and torrents of cooling rain — play resumed around 5:45 p.m. Crockett scored on its first possession, tossing the ball high into the end zone to a 6-foot-5 receiver who easily pulled it down. Lewis came back with a deep strike down the right side to Antoine Turner for 6. Monroe’s point-after catch over the middle put Melissa on top, 7-6.
The Cards’ Carlos Branch then flipped with field with a pick and soon Burton snagged a TD in the left flat for a 13-6 Melissa edge.
The Bulldogs challenged Branch again, this time with a long throw to the goal line — and Branch made them pay again. After Lewis’ TD toss down the middle to Robinson was erased by a 4-second call, Lewis found Branch for the score. Chase Mapps hauled in the point-after in the left flat and Melissa led, 20-6.
Burton’s second TD of the game, on a crossing pattern in the back of the end zone, put Melissa in control. Lewis hit Robinson in the right flat for the point-after and the Cards led, 27-6.
Crockett found its big man for a touchdown once more and, with a 2-point conversion, Melissa’s lead was 27-14 with 10 minutes left. Lewis closed it out with a double-pumped shot to Monroe over the middle and Chase Mapps’ point-after catch made it 34-14.
“You kept thinking they were just going to out-jump us,” Anderson said. “But Carlos did a great job. That second big kid they had, Carlos had two interceptions off of him. I think that kind of took the wind out of their sails.”
“I think I counted four of their seven that were over six feet tall,” Fred Lewis said. “And two of those four were over 6-4. Yeah, they were some big boys. … Carlos played an awesome game. He didn’t care about his height. Carlos said, ‘I’m playing this corner over here. This is my corner.’”
Cards 13, La Vega 12
A rare 7-on-7 defensive struggle awaited in the night cap — and Melissa’s D would come up big. But first, La Vega — who downed the Cards in the playoffs last fall before winning state — stopped Melissa’s first drive with an end-zone pick. And one play later, the Pirates went up, 6-0, with the deep ball.
Then after a stop by each team, a tough endzone pass interference call on Chance Mapps gave La Vega new life with first-and-goal at Melissa’s 1. Braylon Brown tipped away the Pirates’ first-down try over the middle then an apparent TD was called back due to a 4-second call. Keever then batted down the third-down attempt into the end zone and La Vega’s fourth-down pass was dropped.
All told, the Pirates came up empty on seven-straight plays from inside Melissa’s 3-yard-line.
After the break, the Cards got a stop then marched downfield for a short touchdown toss to Monroe. Robinson nabbed the point-after and Melissa led, 7-6. Before La Vega could answer Branch stepped in front of a pass to the right flat and took it to the house, his third interception of the day. The point-after failed, but the Cards led, 13-6 with six minutes to go.
The Pirates bounced back with a short TD toss over the middle but, with time running short, the point- after throw to tie sailed out the back of the end zone.
Melissa then ran out the clock.
“La Vega came out swinging,” Fred Lewis said. “They came out like they really wanted to win that game. … Carlos with that pick 6, that put us over the top. That was awesome. Not the same as Friday nights, but still a little sweet redemption [in beating La Vega].”
“That was pretty special,” Anderson said. “It’s really important when you can hold a team to 12 points in 7-on-7. We struggled offensively there to begin with but the defense really stepped up. … It’s a good start for tomorrow.”
Said Branch of the Cards’ three-game sweep in pool play, “It felt good knowing all the practice that we got to make it here … and that I had a big influence for our team going 3-0 today. We knew what we were going against. We were ready and prepared for them. We did our thing.”
“We played to our full potential each game,” Brendon Lewis said. “When we play like that, I don’t think anyone can stop us. … It was a little sweeter because we lost to [La Vega] in the playoffs. It was good beating them. … I knew [La Vega] had athletes so I wasn’t going to try to force anything, throw it deep.”
Asked about the Cards’ play so far, Nally said, “Something we’ve been emphasizing all spring, and the kids have just adopted it, is a brotherhood and a fight through adverse situations. That’s something that they’ve done through pool play. … All 7-on-7 season, our defense has played phenomenal. And you can see that when our offense is on, we’re tough.
“Tomorrow in bracket play … endurance is going to be a factor. I’ll give a shout out and huge endorsement to our PC [Performance Course]. They’ve done an unbelievable job for our kids this summer, getting them into condition.”
Cards 34, Hitchcock 27 (OT)
In Friday’s bracket play-opener, Hitchcock’s Bulldogs crawled out of 20-0 hole and led, 27-20, with six minutes to go. But that’s when Melissa’s Lewis clutched-up and fired deep down the left side to Chase Mapps for a must-have TD. Monroe then laid out for the crucial point-after catch and, with two minutes left, the score was knotted at 27. Overtime would decide it.
Melissa got the ball first in OT and on third down Lewis found Turner in the back of the zone for the go-ahead score. Lewis came back to Monroe for the point-after — and Monroe once again stabbed it, flying low across the middle.
Needing to score now or head back down I-45 toward Houston, Hitchcock saw its first try fall incomplete and its second throw batted down by Monroe at the goal line. A third-down attempt sailed out the back of the end zone and the Bulldogs eyed their last chance. On fourth down, Hitchcock’s QB threw to his right into the end zone where Turner knocked the ball away. Ball game.
Melissa built its 20-0 lead on TD strikes to Turner, Burton and Monroe, with point-after grabs by Chase Mapps and Burton. Hitchcock trailed, 20-7, at the break but scored on its first second-half possession. Two interceptions, one for a TD, then aided the Bulldogs’ push to a 27-20 lead.
“We didn’t play to our potential in that game,” Anderson said. “But there at the end when we needed to, Brendon was calm and collected and made a great pass to Chase. Ezra made a great catch [for the tying extra point] and the defense did what they had to.”
Said Fred Lewis, “Chase rose to the occasion, took care of business. That was really big for our confidence. I think that’s what sparked us.” As for Monroe’s two point-after catches, Lewis said, “He was determined. He said, ‘We are not losing this game.’”
“We worked too hard for this for us to just bow down to the other team,” Monroe said. “I knew I had to step up and our team was going to step up and we were going to get the job done. … You’ve just always got to think about the next play.” Monroe also stopped a first-half Bulldog drive with an end-zone interception.
Asked about his game-changing late TD grab, Chase Mapps said, “I called the audible and just kept running full speed.”
Cards 28, La Feria 21
Melissa rallied from a 21-7 second-half deficit to send La Feria’s Lions back to the Rio Grande Valley sooner than they’d hoped.
The Cards scored on their first possession when Young took a pass in the right flat and stutter-stepped past a sure touch to reach the end zone. Chase Mapps’ point-after catch on the left side made it 7-0.
La Feria replied quickly with a deep ball to back of end zone and the extra point to tie. The Lions soon threatened again but Braylon Brown batted away one pass in the end zone and Monroe’s interception ended the drive a play later.
Midway thru the first half, the Cards had moved to La Feria’s 7-yard-line and on fourth down Burton made a great move in the left flat to get to pay dirt — but a 4-second call erased the score.
Monroe ended the Lions’ next drive with another pick, this one a deep ball tipped by Chance Mapps, but La Feria would eventually go up, 13-7.
On the final play of the first half, Chase Mapps’ apparent deep-ball TD was taken away by a late push-off call on Mapps.
The Lions opened the second half with a touchdown and 2-point conversion to lead, 21-7. A second Melissa TD - this one to Young - was then nullified by penalty. Lewis bounced back with a scoring toss to Chase Mapps over the middle and the Cards trailed, 21-13.
After Ashton Mitchell-Johnson knocked down a pass in the end zone to end La Feria’s next push, Lewis found Burton open in the right flat for another touchdown. Needing two points to tie, Lewis looked again to Burton, who dove head first toward Lewis at the goal line for the catch.
The Cards’ defense then got a stop and Burton soon took a pass over the middle and outran everyone to the goal line. The point-after to Robinson in the back of the end zone gave Melissa a 28-21 advantage with under four minutes left. The Cards’ D stuffed La Feria’s final drive and time soon expired.
“No panic in them,” Fred Lewis said of his charges. “They just continue to fight.”
As for his two second-half TD dashes, Burton said, “We just noticed that their defense was playing a little lazy. We saw mistakes and flaws that we took shots at.”
Caden Hayes was Melissa’s snapper throughout the tournament, a position that doesn’t get much attention in 7-on-7. By this point in tourney play, he’d snapped well over 100 balls. Hayes said it was nice to not get crashed down on after each snap — like on Friday nights. “You can look at the ball and everything,” he laughed.
Hayes added that the offense stayed up in this one as the D did its work. “We just tried to hype everyone up, get everyone excited, and uplift the people that were out there playing.”
Pleasant Grove 39, Cards 27
Touchdown passes to Monroe and Robinson had Melissa up, 13-7, midway through the first half but the Hawks recovered with a short pass over the middle to lead, 14-13.
Next, a deep ball to Chase Mapps down the right side had Melissa in business at the PG 8. Rolling to his right, Lewis found Robinson open in the end zone for his second TD catch of the game. The point-after try failed and the Cards led, 19-14, with six minutes left in the half.
A tough interference call on Turner in end zone soon gave PG a first-and-goal from Melissa’s 1. Two plays later, the Hawks punched it in with a quick toss over the middle. Keever picked off the point-after try and PG led, 20-19.
Melissa drove back down and was poised to go ahead just before the break when the Hawks rang up the
play of the game — a pick-6 the other way for a 26-19 lead as time ran out.
The Hawks got the ball to open the second half and added another TD. Now down, 33-19, Lewis answered with a deep ball to Monroe in the right corner. A 2-point conversion throw to Chase Mapps in the same spot drew Melissa to within 33-27 - and the Cards needed a stop.
But a play later PG fired back with a long ball to lead, 39-27. As time slipped away, a deep TD throw to Robinson was nullified by a 4-second call. The Hawks intercepted Melissa’s next long-distance try and the Cards’ run was over.
“It was enormous for them,” Fred Lewis said of PG’s pick before halftime. “We had gained some momentum. … They’re really, really disciplined. They run routes really well. They are a choice route offense. Whatever we take away they have a counter for it.”
“They played together as a team,” Young said of the Hawks. “Their QB, he was focusing the whole game. He talked to his team, he started talking to us. They were a good team. I’m not going to lie. … I’m glad we made it this far.”
Said Keever, “The overall experience for the team is what it’s worth. It’s more about the team bonding. It’s 7-on-7 - not real tackle football. We’ll be fine when it comes to the fall.”
“PG is an unbelievable football team,” Nally said. “They’ve got a great program. You could kind of sense … the gas coming out of our kids. But the one thing I loved about it was the fight. They didn’t give up. That’s a big deal for me. And our leadership is where we want it to be.
“In bracket play you saw kids come up in clutch situations - and it’s multiple kids coming up in clutch situations. That makes me feel that we’re going in the right direction with the program. I thought the kids played well. I was really proud of them.”