TOMBALL — Like Mike Tyson said, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.
A week after taking down top-ranked Carthage, China Spring took one in the kisser early against West Orange-Stark.
Turns out, the Cougars had a plan for when they got punched in the mouth.
China Spring bounced back from an early deficit and controlled the final three quarters on the way to a 31-14 victory over West Orange-Stark on Friday night at Tomball ISD Stadium.
Cougars quarterback Major Bowden had a hand in giving the ball away three times in the first half. But when all was said and done, Bowden had piled up 284 rushing yards and three touchdowns to lead China Spring to a victory in the Class 4A Division II Region 3 final.
“We just got off to a little rough start,” Bowden said. “We knew we had confidence in the game plan and we would persevere. We talked about it before the game that we’d face adversity this game. We’ve never really faced it all year. The way we bounced off the adversity was really good.”
Bowden knows a little bit about bouncing and persevering. On two of his three touchdown runs, the quarterback looked like he would hit the turf within a few yards of the line of scrimmage.
West Orange-Stark appeared to have Bowden wrapped up and/or bumped to the ground at least three times on one run in the fourth quarter. Instead, Bowden stayed on his feet and kept going all the way for a 44-yard touchdown.
The score put China Spring in front by 17 with 5:40 left in the fourth quarter.
“I had a few times I thought I was going to go down,” Bowden said. “I just kept on going. I knew that kind of secured the deal.”
The Cougars (14-0) have made “1-0” their mantra. By tacking on another 1-0 week, China Spring advances to the state semifinals to play Cuero at 7 p.m. on Friday at Kelly Reeves Stadium in Round Rock.
It will be the Cougars’ first trip to the semifinal round since 2016 when Carthage edged China Spring at The Star in Frisco.
China Spring has now ended West Orange-Stark’s season for the second consecutive year. The Cougars defeated the Mustangs, 35-22, in the second round in 2020.
Early on, West Orange-Stark (11-2) seemed ready to exact some revenge.
China Spring gave up two fumbles and an interception in the first half, but the Cougars’ defense minimized the damage by holding WOS to seven points by the break.
The Mustangs took the initial lead after defensive back Dontrey McClain recovered a fumble on an option pitch from Bowden to running back Kyle Barton. WOS took advantage of the takeaway by constructing a 10-play, 74-yard march.
Mustangs QB Keyshawn Robinson put his team on the doorstep of the goal line by connecting with Nicholas Crosson for a 30-yard gain to the China Spring 3. On the next play, WOS running back Elijah Gales crossed into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Gales, however, left the game later in the first quarter with an apparent arm injury and returned to the sideline in the second quarter with his left arm in a sling.
The Mustangs had two more chances in Cougars territory in the first half following another option fumble and an interception. But the China Spring defense didn’t surrender even a first down on either occasion.
“We call it Code Blue when there’s a sudden change,” Bell said. “Hit the field running. Incredible. Our defense was phenomenal. West Orange-Stark had a really good offense and our defense played really well.”
The Cougars tied the score early in the second quarter. Bowden, who had been chiseling yards out of the middle of the WOS defense, headed up the gut again and then bounced outside to his left.
The China Spring QB squirted into open field and then shifted gears to run 72 yards for an equalizing touchdown.
“It was an inside run. I just kind of ran into one of our O-linemen,” Bowden said. “I just spun out and it opened up. It was huge for the momentum part. It broke the skunk, so we knew we were in the game.”
The China Spring players went to the halftime locker room with the turnovers possibly flushed from their minds and a lead to their credit.
Cougars kicker Thomas Barr capped a 17-play drive at the end of the second quarter by drilling a 36-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. The kick produced points at the end of a march that started at the China Spring 4-yard line and consumed the final 7:09 of the half. It put the Cougars up 10-7 as the bands took the field.
Barton, who finished with 100 rushing yards on 19 carries, put China Spring in position to extend the lead in the fourth quarter. He ran a wheel route and hauled in a pass from Bowden. Barton rambled to the WOS 2 before he was brought down. Two plays later, heavy package running back Dawson Exline plunged into the end zone for a TD that put the Cougars in front, 24-14.
By that point, China Spring was in control and had long since forgotten about the early hiccups.
“I trust our guys. Our coaches trust our guys,” Bell said. “It’s so out of character to be doing stuff like (turning the ball over). After we calmed down, we kept the faith. That’s one thing we’ve built our entire season around is just trust.”