Ballinger holds off Crane 35-34 in bidistrict showdown

Charles Bryce
San Angelo Standard-Times
Zach Canada, center, prepares to make a tackle for Ballinger during a playoff game against Crane at San Angelo Stadium on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.

Sophomore sensation Zach Canada scored three touchdowns and senior quarterback Carter Arrott played great on both sides of the ball as well, leading the Ballinger High School football team to a wild 35-34 upset against Crane in a Class 3A Division II bidistrict playoff Friday night at San Angelo Stadium.

Ballinger, the No. 4 seed in 2-3A, improved to 6-4 and advanced to the area round next week against Abernathy. That game will be 7 p.m. Thursday in Andrews. Crane, the 1-3A champion, finished 8-3.

"I've been coaching a long time and I've never been so proud of a group of kids and I'm glad I'm their coach," Ballinger head coach Chuck Lipsey said. "They just played lights out and we kept telling them that if we could keep it close, we could win it in the end.

"Crane's got a good football team, but we told (our players), 'Leave everything on the field tonight and if you leave everything on the field, we've got a chance to win if it comes down to the wire.' We were able to get them offsides on that last (Golden Cranes series on second-and-goal from the 9-yard line) and I knew if were able to get that one down, we were going to be able to win the ballgame. I've never been so proud of a bunch of kids in my life."

Nakia Villarreal (50) chases down the opposing quarterback for Ballinger during a playoff game against Crane at San Angelo Stadium on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.

Canada, a running back/linebacker, opened the scoring with a 27-yard fumble return in the first quarter. He caught a 9-yard TD pass from Arrott in the third and scored the game-winning TD on a 5-yard run in the fourth.

The sophomore finished with 59 yards rushing and one TD on nine carries.

"He ran well and played good defense tonight," Lipsey said of Canada. "For us to be able to beat Crane, it wasn't just Carter by himself and it wasn't just Canada. It was an overall team effort, all three phases of the game, and we were able to put it all together and get the one-point win."

The Golden Cranes took a 34-28 advantage with 11:43 left in the fourth on an 11-yard TD pass from quarterback Jaxon Willis to Pacen Smith. The conversion run failed.

Briley Clinton (2) makes a tackle for Ballinger during a playoff game against Crane at San Angelo Stadium on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.

Just over three minutes later, Canada's third TD with 8:30 left made it 35-34 Ballinger.

But the Golden Cranes wouldn't go down without a fight in this back-and-forth battle.

Crane drove down to the Ballinger 4-yard line and two plays later the Cranes were facing fourth-and-goal from the 10.

Ballinger linebacker Nathan McDuffee made a game-saving interception in the end zone and the Bearcats were able to run out the clock from there.

Markus Castleberry (55) blocks a kick for Ballinger during a playoff game against Crane at San Angelo Stadium on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.

Arrott ran for a team-high 114 yards and one TD on 18 carries. He also completed 7 of 11 passes for 81 yards and one TD. He was picked off once by Willis.

"I've been coachg a long time and pound per pound, he's the toughest kid I've ever coached in my life," Lipsey said of Arrott. "He elevates the play of everyone around him. I think that's what he did tonight on both sides of the ball. It's a pleasure to coach this whole team. I'm proud of the coaching staff and I'm proud of everything."

Arrott's elbow was dripping with blood after the game, a testament to his toughness.

Noah Peacock (3) makes a tackle for Ballinger during a playoff game against Crane at San Angelo Stadium on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.

"It was awesome," Arrott said. "As a 4 seed going into the playoffs and all, everyone's doubting on you. Something that was awesome at the pep rally, Ballinger used to be known as the 'Ants,' because they're not the biggest and they're not the strongest, but they'll get after you and they'll keep on attacking.

"That's what we were. We've been out-sized with them and Llano, but we just got after them and beat up on them and got the win. I think that's something that carries us is how much heart we have."

McDuffee ran for 100 yards on 10 carries, including a 48-yard TD in the second quarter. 

Willis was 13 of 21 passing for 255 yards and four TDs, and he was picked off once by McDuffee. The Crane QB also ran for a game-high 115 yards and one TD on 12 carries. 

Smith caught three passes for 95 yards and the two scores for the Cranes.

The longest play of the game was a 72-yard TD pass from Willis to Smith in the second quarter.

Crane fumbled three times and Ballinger recovered all of them.

The Bearcats lost their only fumble.

Crane head coach Jeff Cordell was emotional after the season-ending loss.

"Our kids, from Week 1 to right now, have fought in every ballgame," Cordell said. "It hasn't always gone our way. Hats off to coach Lipsey. They're not your typical 4 seed. That quarterback is a difference maker and they made plays when they needed to make plays.

"I'm extremely proud of our kids and proud of the coaching staff. I appreciate the community and their support this season, and our administration. It's always tough at this stage of the game. Unless you win it all, you're going to have heartbreak."

Ballinger 35, Crane 34

Ballinger    7    7    14    7 -- 35

Crane    0    20    8    6 -- 34

SCORING SUMMARY

First Quarter

B -- Zach Canada 27 fumble return (Briley Clinton kick), 1:17 remaining

Second Quarter

C -- Jaxon Willis 9 run (kick failed), 11:55

B -- Nathan McDuffee 48 run (Clinton kick), 10:14

C -- Pacen Smith 72 pass from Jaxon Willis (Willis run), 10:01

C -- Oliver Cervantes 21 pass from Willis (run failed), 0:09

Third Quarter

B -- Carter Arrott 47 run (Clinton kick), 11:06

C -- Trevor Owens 13 pass from Willis (Tyus Sanchez pass from Willis), 6:47

B -- Canada 9 pass from Arrott (Clinton kick), 1:36

Fourth Quarter

C -- Smith 11 pass from Willis (run failed), 11:43

B -- Canada 5 run (Clinton kick), 8:30

                            Ballinger    Crane

First downs        16                17

Rushes-yds        37-273        27-185

Passing yds        81                255

Comp-att-int        7-11-1        13-21-1

Punts-avg            2-36            1-57

Fumbles-lost        1-1            3-3

Penalties-yds        5-50        7-60

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing -- Ballinger: Carter Arrott 18-114, Nathan McDuffee 10-100, Zach Canada 9-59. Crane: Jaxon Willis 12-115, Bryan Galindo 12-63, Trevor Owens 1-4, Oliver Cervantes 1-2, Pacen Smith 1-1.

Passing -- Ballinger: Carter Arrott 7-11-1 for 81. Crane: Jaxon Willis 13-21-1 for 255.

Receiving -- Ballinger: Beau Perkins 3-47, Martin Quiroga 1-17, Zach Canada 1-9, Nathan McDuffee 1-6, Trey Matschek 1-2. Crane: Pacen Smith 3-95, Oliver Cervantes 5-51, Manuel Aranda 2-49, Bryan Galindo 1-36, Trevor Owens 2-24. 

Interceptions -- Ballinger: Nathan McDuffee. Crane: Jaxon Willis.

Records -- Ballinger is 6-4. Crane finished 8-3.