Tie broken

Coach G, Knights pull historic comeback in fourth quarter to win 17th annual Taco Shack Bowl

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Tie broken

THREEPEAT: The Knights hoist the Taco Shack Trophy after winning the annual game 21-20. Photo by Gregory James

THREEPEAT: The Knights hoist the Taco Shack Trophy after winning the annual game 21-20. Photo by Gregory James

THREEPEAT: The Knights hoist the Taco Shack Trophy after winning the annual game 21-20. Photo by Gregory James

THREEPEAT: The Knights hoist the Taco Shack Trophy after winning the annual game 21-20. Photo by Gregory James

Game Footage by Sam Martinez, TX Athletes. Reposted with permission.

Gregory James, photo editor

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Photo gallery images by Ian Clennan, Risa Darlington-Horta, Zoe Hocker, Gregory James, Bella Russo, Stella Shenkman and Dave Winter.

Many people doubted that the McCallum varsity team could be ready to perform in the 2018 Taco Shack Bowl.

The naysayers pointed to the loss of starters on both sides of the ball to graduation, most of the team’s standout players. For that matter, the team’s coaching staff is filled with new faces or old faces in new roles.

It was a lot of change to negotiate before they even took the field in a real game. On Thursday, however, the Knights proved the doubters wrong. They not only beat the Anderson Trojans, 21-20, they overcame a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit. Even when they were down two touchdowns well into the fourth quarter, and even when Anderson drove 96 yards to the McCallum 1-yard line threatening to go up three scores in the fourth quarter, the Knights found a way to prevail over the Trojans for the third year in a row.

BREAKING THROUGH: Cole Davis runs the ball for a huge gain for the Knights that would set up a 16-yard Darius Lewis touchdown. Photo by Bella Russo.

The Knights offense was led by junior quarterback Cole Davis and senior running back Jalen Sutton. The two combined for 288 yards rushing. Davis tallied 150. Sutton’s 88 yards included two touchdown runs, the first to take the lead in the first quarter and the second to regain the lead in the fourth quarter. With contributions from senior Tino Depaz with 39 yards and junior Darius Lewis, who scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 16-yard run, the Knights offense ran effectively all night long. The passing offense was less prolific as Davis completed three of seven passes on the night for 76 yards passing. All in all, McCallum won the total yards game with 369 yards to Anderson’s 289.

“When we were down at halftime, and everybody in the locker room was saying ‘We have to pick it up. This is our time to comeback,'” I thought that was a turning point in our game,” Sutton told The Shield after the game. “We should be fine for next week [against Lehman at House Park on Friday]. We’ll be practicing extra hard this week. We’ve got little things to fix but we can fix them.”

When we were down at halftime, and everybody in the locker room was saying ‘We have to pick it up. This is our time to comeback.’ I thought that was a turning point in our game.”

— running back Jalen Sutton

On the defensive side of the ball, the Knights turned the Trojans over on downs several times and forced three fumbles. The game turned on one of those fourth down stops. With Anderson up 13 and facing fourth and goal inside the McCallum 5-yard line, the defense was literally pushed to the brink of defeat. A three-touchdown lead deep in the the fourth quarter would have put the game out of reach.  But instead of yielding, the Knight defense came up huge, stopping Anderson on the 1-yard line on fourth down and ending a 96-yard Anderson drive one yard short of success.

From the 1, the offense drove 99 yards in a length-of-the-field drive that culiminated in Lewis’s touchdown. On the next drive, the Mac defense, created a turnover on a fumble recovery that proved equally essential to the win. On yet another fourth-down conversion attempt by the Trojans, quarterback Carsten Groos handed the ball off to running back Rivas Wheatley, and Connor Boggs got through the offensive line to sack strip the runner and Charlie Pecina dove on the ball giving McCallum possession deep in Anderson territory. The subsequent McCallum drive culminated with Sutton’s 16-yard run and Trinidad de la Garza’s third successful point-after kick that provided the winning margin in the game.

TACO SHACK COMEBACK: Darius Lewis poses as he scores a touchdown to bring the Knights closer to Anderson making the score 20-14 in the fourth quarter. Photo by Bella Russo

“I knew this stop would be big and I was accountable to give it my all,” Pecina said. “Once I saw the ball the ball pop out of my opponents hands I didn’t think, I just jumped and laid out on the ball. I was thinking I that I had to give my 100 percent for my brothers, for my team because I knew the person next to me and our whole team was giving it their all.”

I knew this stop would be big. … Once I saw the ball pop out of the opponent hands I didn’t think, I just jumped and laid out on the ball.”

— defensive end Charlie Pecina

This season the Knight’s slogan is “Carry the Torch.” After the historic 14-1 season last year the Knights program is looking to carry on the success for McCallum football.

“I compare it to the Olympics,” Coach G told The Shield. “One person gets to light the torch on national television, but there are many people that people don’t know about that carry the torch along a leg of the journey. I tell the guys that although their leg of the journey at McCallum football may not be as glorious as last year’s group, but it’s just as important. They have to pass on the tradition to next year’s guys as well.”

The phrase is also personally significant for Gammerdinger, who is quite literally picking up the torch handed to him by departed head coach Charles Taylor, who left the program to become the head coach and athletic director after the 2017 season ended.

Winning the Taco Shack Bowl certainly is a strep forward to carrying the torch as it extended McCallum’s win streak in the series to three. The series between the team now stands at 9-8 in McCallum’s favor. The Taco Shack tradition goes back 17 years to the inaugural game back in the fall of 2002. McCallum and Anderson had been playing each other as district opponents before the Taco Shack Bowl was created, but each year the fighting between the students got worse and worse.

“There was a lot of drama on and off the field between Anderson and McCallum,” Taco Shack owner Orlando Arriaga said. “It escalated where it was getting out of hand, so a mother from Anderson came to me and asked me if I had any ideas how to make this game a positive thing, because one year a small fight had broken out after one game.”

That’s how the Taco Shack Bowl was started. It was a way to take all the fighting and anger and turn it into a fun and sportsmanship driven game. The idea took two years to get off the ground so that it could be approved by all the principals, get the trophy, find a stadium, and get approval by UIL. It was a long process but now it is a vital part of every AISD football season.

CARRY THE TORCH: The Knights huddle up and listen to Coach G as he talks about the game. Photo by Gregory James

Over the years the Taco Shack has had many memorable games. Like in 2004 when the Knights won their first Taco Shack 42-21, or in 2008 when the Knights, just like this year’s game, took the series lead (at the time 4-3) with a 43-42 win over the Trojans. For Orlando Arriaga, however there is one game that stands out in his mind as the most memorable Taco Shack.

“The first game is the most memorable because of all our hard work two years out, and watching that ball get kicked off into the air the first time. That was really a lot of work behind the scenes that got the taco shack bowl kicked off.”

The game was important for the Knights as they are now 1-0 on the season. Coach Gammerdinger said before the game that the win would be important momentum wise for the team and the team that got it would have a lot of momentum going into week 2. The Knights  face Lehman next at House Park, Friday at 7:30

“We played well for our first actual game with new coaches and with a young team,” Charlie Pecina said. “The takeaway from this game is that it doesn’t matter how many more players the other team has or if they are bigger, if you have more heart its going to be a good and close game.”

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