STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
The Burnet Bulldogs are back at the state 7-on-7 football tournament for the 10th time in 11 years, and they earned the spot in dramatic fashion at their own qualifying tournament May 25.
With 50 seconds left in the championship contest and trailing Brownwood 40-39, Burnet quarterback Matthew Tippie found receiver Jaxon Denton in the middle of the end zone.
Denton bobbled the ball as Lions defenders did everything they could to keep him from catching it. But Denton kept his concentration, grabbing hold of the ball as fell to the ground with the horn sounding an end to the contest.
The win puts the Bulldogs in the Division II state tournament, which is Thursday-Friday, June 27-28, in College Station.
To head coach Jerod Rye, the victory means much more than qualifying for state. Since becoming Burnet’s head coach in December 2018, Rye has emphasized mental toughness in his players to better handle the ebb and flow of a game. It paid off in the win over Brownwood.
The Bulldogs knew they had no more than three plays remaining late in the game against Brownwood. Tippie hit receiver Luke Kiser for 15 yards on one of the plays then told receivers to head to the end zone with 10 seconds left.
That’s where he found Denton for the game-winning score.
Rye saw the win as testament to how his players have developed mentally.
The next step, he said, is strengthening their basic situational awareness on the field, such as down and distance, time on the clock, and what kind of score is needed.
“I feel like that will carry over to the fall: learning situational football and how to communicate and how important they are to winning games,” the coach said. “We want to focus on the situational aspect every single down.”
In the May 25 tournament, Burnet went 2-1 in pool play, beating Gatesville and Jarrell but losing to China Spring.
Brownwood won its pool with victories against Midlothian Heritage, McGregor, and Fredericksburg.
Rye commended Tippie, who was the starting quarterback the final three regular season games in 2018, for his mental growth and understanding of the position.
It also helps that Blaine Burkhalter, who didn’t play in every game in 2018 due to injury, is healthy, which forces defenses to contend with both him and Denton. When only one of them is lined up at receiver, defensive backs have a tendency to double team him.
The state tournament will be held at Veterans Park and Athletic Complex, 3101 Harvey Road in College Station.