CROCKETT — Around the state of Texas on Friday night, some folks might have looked at Twitter and saw China Spring was way ahead of No. 4 Jasper in a bi-district game.
But if upset alerts went up, they got the wrong idea.
This was no upset.
China Spring controlled the game from the first quarter through the end and claimed a 45-19 victory over the fourth-ranked Bulldogs at Crockett ISD’s Monte Jack Stadium.
The Cougars (8-2) finished third in District 9-4A Division II and therefore met Jasper, which was second in 10-4A D-II. But China Spring was ready for the challenge.
“From the very beginning we knew it was very possible to win this game,” China Spring running back Emmanuel Abdallah said. “We came out and left everything on the field. We didn’t want to put ourselves in a situation where we were under pressure or anything like that. We all worked hard. Every single person.”
Abdallah rushed for 245 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. Cougars quarterback Major Bowden added 155 yards and three more TDs on 21 carries as the duo fueled the China Spring offense.
By running past Jasper (8-2), the Cougars advance to the area round to play second-ranked West Orange-Stark. China Spring coach Brian Bell said after the game that the time and site had not been discussed with the Mustangs.
“I was just trying to beat these guys,” Bell said, referring to Jasper.
China Spring delighted its fans, who made the two-hour journey into East Texas, with a series of big plays in the first half and surged ahead 31-6.
After Cougars kicker Karson Coe put his team on the board with a 34-yard field goal midway through the first quarter, Abdallah extended the lead to double digits.
On a first down from the China Spring 45, Abdallah found wide open field through a hole around the left side and dashed 55 yards, leaving the Jasper defense behind him.
Although the Bulldogs answered with a 62-yard TD drive to cut the lead to 10-6, China Spring came right back with another huge momentum turner.
Bowden took the ensuing kickoff at his 10-yard line and found a seam in the Jasper kick-cover team. He reached the Bulldogs’ 24 before they caught him. Two plays later, Bowden scampered 18 yards for a touchdown.
“That was a big boost for us,” Abdallah said. “That really got us all going. That’s what big plays do and (Bowden is) a big-time playmaker.”
The China Spring defense did its part by corralling the dynamic Jasper running game. Linebacker Coltin Locking and defensive end D’Marion Alexander each had tackles for losses. The Cougars, plus penalties, kept the Bulldogs behind the chains for much of the first half.
The Cougars came up with a fourth-down stop inside their own 35 late in the second quarter and it appeared they might take a 17-6 lead to the break.
But China Spring caught Jasper on its heels and added two more touchdowns in the final 1:05 of the second quarter.
Abdallah broke loose for his second long run of the half, a 59-yard touchdown, on the second play of the Cougars ensuing possession.
“I was just trying to get in the half,” Bell said. “Emmanuel popped another big one. You call plays to be conservative sometimes and when you have No. 2 (Bowden) and No. 8 (Abdallah) in the backfield, you’re really blessed as a play caller.”
China Spring kicked off deep and forced a fumble, which Brayden Faulkner recovered at the Jasper 27. The Cougars had 42 seconds to try to turn the takeaway into points, but they only needed 27.
On almost an identical play to his earlier TD run, Bowden ducked through the middle of his offensive line and scrambled 17 yards for the score.
“That was just a dream come true to have that 14-point swing like that,” Bell said. “It was huge for our confidence going to halftime.”
Jasper finally ran out the second quarter on the first play of its next possession, then the China Spring fans gave their team a loud ovation on its way to the locker room with a 25-point edge.
Abdallah and Bowden combined for 249 rushing yards in the first half. Abdallah ran it 12 times for 153 and Bowden gained 96 on six totes.
China Spring won the opening coin toss and deferred to the second half. That meant the Cougars got the opening kickoff of the third quarter and they made the possession count.
China Spring marched 88 yards in 11 plays and Abdallah capped the drive with a 16-yard touchdown run. That put the Cougars in front 38-6.
The China Spring defense kept Jasper’s playmakers bottled up for most of the night. Bulldogs running back Carl Limbrick finally got loose for a 38-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter, but it was his only run of longer than 13 yards. He finished with 151 on 26 carries.
“Our kids came out ready to play, trusting their keys early,” Bell said. “They maintained that focus and that’s what we talked about all week. They were going to throw a lot of stuff at us, but we just had to stay disciplined. I thought our defense played really well tonight.”