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top story Miracle

Photo by Jay Plotkin

A Pflugerville defender sacks Baker Mayfield as Shaun Nixon blocks nearby in the biistrict loss Friday to Pflugerville.

By Jay Plotkin

Contributing Writer

There will be no sixth consecutive state football championship for Lake Travis High School.

Sophomore receiver Grant Foster caught senior quarterback Baker Mayfield’s last-second Hail Mary pass but couldn’t get a foot down against the back of the end zone, and the Cavaliers saw their 2012 season and two state-record streaks come to an end at the hands of Pflugerville, 23-20.

Lake Travis had won 30 playoff games in a row dating back to 2007, a streak that coincides with the school’s five straight state championships over that same time. All of Lake Travis’ championships came at the 4A level. The Cavaliers sought their first title at the state’s highest classification this year.

Following the loss, the players had great difficulty coming to terms with the result. Many sat on the field, tears streaming down their faces. Many didn’t head to the locker room until after hundreds of similarly shocked fans saluted the senior class with cheers of “Thank you, seniors.”

In the moment, those cheers offered little consolation.

“This is the worst feeling I’ve ever felt, the whole weight of five years of perfection,” Mayfield said. “Some good things have to end, and it ended right now, and it’s nothing that we wanted.”

It will likely take time for the Cavaliers – both players and students — to fully come to grips with their emotion. After all, none of the students currently at the high school had seen a football season end without a state championship.

The streak began with an improbable run through the 2007 playoffs. The Cavaliers, coached by Jeff Dicus, lost to Westlake in the season’s second week and didn’t lose again. After a 9-1 regular season, the Cavaliers beat New Braunfels Canyon 37-7 to open the playoffs, demolished second-ranked Calallen 45-14, overcame a slow start against Beeville Jones to pull out a 57-43 win and then upset highly-ranked and historically decorated Highland Park 36-34 at Baylor’s Floyd Casey Stadium.

Dicus left following the season, and Chad Morris arrived from Stephenville to lead the Cavaliers to state titles in 2008 and 2009. Morris’ teams won all 32 games they played. Led by USA Today Player of the Year Garrett Gilbert, the 2008 team rolled through the playoffs, winning every game by at least 17 points. The 2008 team beat Longview 48-23 for the title, and in the process Gilbert became the state’s all-time leading passer.

After Gilbert graduated, Michael Brewer and Andy Erickson stepped up in 2009, as did an improved defense. The season hinged on a second-round playoff game against Cibolo Steele. Led by all-state running back Malcolm Brown, the Knights led Lake Travis for much of the game. The Cavaliers rallied to take a 27-20 lead and then had to hold on as Brown charged the Knights toward a potential winning score. On fourth and goal late in the game, the Cavaliers stopped Brown, popping his helmet off in the process, to escape with the win. The Cavaliers went on to defeat Longview 24-17 to win the third title.

Morris left to become a college offensive coordinator following the season, and Hank Carter – Morris’ defensive coordinator – took the program’s reins.

With many of the 2009 key players back, Carter and the Cavaliers had high expectations. The team had won 46 consecutive games, a streak that eventually reached 48 before a 14-10 loss to Aledo. Carter’s first team struggled with injuries to key players. All-state receiver Connor Floyd broke his leg against Westlake and missed 12 games before returning in the playoffs. Brewer missed three games before returning. While the 2010 Cavaliers lost the district title – a 35-21 setback to Cedar Park ended a 48-game district win streak that dated back to 2004 – they got revenge on the Timberwolves, winning a memorable 21-20 decision in the regional championship game and cruising past Denton Ryan two weeks later to tie Sealy and Celina as the only schools who have won four titles in a row.

The 2011 Cavaliers, thanks to Mayfield’s emergence following an injury that robbed Colin Lagasse of his quarterback duties, cruised through the regular season. The quarterback threw for six touchdowns to exact revenge on Aledo with a 63-35 win. They overcame Cedar Park to reclaim the district title and again to win the regional title before beating Waco Midway 22-7 to become the only Texas school to win five straight state titles.

Realignment moved the Cavaliers from 4A to 5A this season, and a litany of injuries robbed the team of both talent and depth. Yet Lake Travis still won the 15-5A title, beating Westlake in a memorable 14-11 comeback. And even when Pflugerville took a 23-20 lead with 46 seconds left Friday night, many felt Lake Travis had one more miracle up its sleeve to keep its streak alive.

While he realized that the streak of championships would end at some point, Carter couldn’t quite grasp the reality on the field Friday night. The players weren’t ready to look at the whole of their accomplishments either. The moment remained too fresh.

“A lot of them are upset and they are gonna be,” Carter said. “And I’m upset for them, too. I feel like, as a head coach, I should have found a way for us to win this ball game. And they are coming up telling me how sorry they are. They have nothing to be sorry about. They played so hard, which is what it’s all about. We just couldn’t put it together tonight.”
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