Unicorn hunting

Football takes down rival New Braunfels, 21-0


Paul Tubridy

Travis McCracken totes the rock against Wagner. McCracken ran for 50 yards this week in relief of injured starter Gabe Hoskins.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

Football cruised to a 21-0 victory against rival New Braunfels on Thursday, moving the team to 3-1 in district play and 5-1 overall.

The Unicorns received the opening kickoff, but after throwing four near-interceptions interspersed between decent gains, quarterback Peyton Driggers’ 4th-and-10 deep shot fell to the turf thanks to a big hit from cornerback Andrew Montalvo.

The Rangers’ first drive was short-lived, however, as the Unicorns ripped the ball from wide receiver Will Strachan on a first-play screen pass.

The Unicorns set up on the Ranger 30-yard line – prime field position – but defensive end Gavin Woods forced a first-play fumble of his own, this one at the expense of running back Ryker Purdy.

The Ranger offense, though, failed to capitalize on their teammates’ defensive success, as the Unicorns forced them into a three-and-out. The absence of running back Gabe Hoskins thrust backups Travis McCracken and Justin Avery into increased roles, which they took a few drives to acclimate to. Overall, the two combined for 73 yards rushing and a touchdown on 18 carries.

The Unicorn offense, which is nothing if not balanced, merged 32 yards rushing and 37 yards passing into a chip shot field goal attempt from the Ranger 11-yard line, which the team’s kicker sliced just left of the uprights. The scoreboard remained at 0-0.

But the Rangers, who had managed just 7 yards between their first two drives, turned it on for drive No. 3. Wide receiver Maverick Freeland opened the drive up with a 17-yard catch, and apparently the Unicorn defensive backs are avid donors to a variety of online charities, because they matched Freeland’s gain by gifting the Rangers a 15-yard facemask penalty. Suddenly, momentum shifted entirely to the Rangers, as Avery and Nutt rushed for 8 and 5 yards, respectively, to close out the first quarter.

The second quarter started with a bang, as Freeland broke free into the land (sorry) of the endzone for a pitch-and-catch, 35-yard touchdown. Kicker Austin Hosier’s reliable leg held true all night, including here, giving the Rangers a 7-0 lead just seconds into the second frame.

That gap widened just three plays later, as David DeHoyos picked off Driggers on the Unicorns’ first second-quarter snap. The home team wasted no time reaching the end zone, as Nutt launched a 42-yard, play-action bomb to wide receiver Zack McDonald. He tripped before crossing the plane, however, giving Avery an opportunity for an easy score. 14-0, Rangers.

The half ended unceremoniously, with three punts and an ill-fated buzzer-beater of a Hail Mary attempt. Notably, Driggers was benched on his team’s final drive of the half after an intentional grounding-unsportsmanlike conduct one-two punch on the previous play, but he returned for the second half.

Speaking of the second half, it was quite uneventful. After each team punted on their opening drive, Freeland made an impressive catch on a beautifully-thrown, 39-yard deep ball from Nutt, who wove 14 yards through the defense for a touchdown on the next play.

That 21-0 lead was one the Rangers would never relinquish. The Unicorns, thanks to an offense that peppered incremental gains around the field, finally made it to the edge of the red zone in the closing minute of the third quarter. But Driggers’ second intentional grounding penalty, paired with a 9-yard sack by defensive end Trey Moore, gave the offense a 4th-and-40 on their own 49-yard line as the clock expired.

They punted to start the fourth quarter, in a move that all but conceded the game. The Rangers punted the ball back after a three-and-out, safety Blake Bowman picked off Driggers, and the teams ran clock from there.

The clear player of the game was Nutt, who turned in the best passing performance of his varsity career, completing nine of 13 attempts for 155 yards passing and a touchdown. Despite being a run-first quarterback, he’s performed well when tasked with creating plays with his arm: his 522 air yards this season rank third in District 27-6A, and he’s the only district quarterback with over 100 yards passing and no interceptions.

Freeland’s contributions shouldn’t be overlooked, either: he paced both teams’ skill players in catches (5), yards receiving (99) and touchdowns (1). Well, that last one was technically a tie.

Regardless, his contributions this season have been invaluable for a Ranger receiving corps decimated by injuries. Freeland’s 259 yards receiving narrowly edge out New Braunfels’ Joseph Cholico (239 yards) to lead all district receivers, and his 16 catches rank second, behind Cholico’s 18, an impressive feat for anyone, but particularly one on a team whose quarterback (Nutt) and running back (Hoskins) both rank among the district’s top four rushers – and McCracken (sixth) is right on the edge of the top five, too.

Next week, the Rangers will take on reigning state quarterfinalist Judson at D.W. Rutledge Stadium, in a matchup that could determine who tops the district’s standing when the curtains close on the regular season in early December. The game will kick off at 7:30 on Friday.