Bucks fumble away title

Travis Ruckman (No. 20) and Aaron Fellows (No. 27) take down Friona's Jacob Bautista during the Area Championship on Nov. 23 in Andrews. 

“That was the first game I've gone into and played where both teams didn’t say a word of trash talk,” senior quarterback Aaron Fellows said. “We both played the game how it was supposed to be played. It was a clean, physical football game.”

The ride stopped on Saturday in Andrews for the Fightin’ Bucks. This week was different than all the previous ones as Alpine tried to make history on a bright afternoon at the Mustang Bowl. Yet the school’s first Area title since 2001 eluded them in a 36-21 loss to Friona.

“We had been talking about opportunity all year, and we let it slip by a little bit,” said Fellows after his team fumbled the ball away three times on Nov. 23. “There’s nothing we can do to go back and change time.”

Both teams exchanged three-and-outs early before the Chieftans mounted the first successful drive of the game, and led 7-0. The Bucks responded with an 80-yard drive to tie the game in the second quarter.

Looking to gain a lead before halftime, Alpine fumbled the ball away in its own territory. The result was another Friona touchdown as they took momentum into the locker room with them. They put a much longer drive together at the start of third quarter, and were up 20-7 with less than 20 minutes remaining on the clock.

Two more Bucks fumbles, including one less than 15 yards from the end zone, kept points off the board for Alpine. Yet they still climbed to within six early in the fourth quarter. Lots of heroes have emerged this season, but wide receiver Josh Haze has been as big as any of them. He had six catches for 94 yards on Saturday.

“I wasn’t really close with Josh before this season started,” said Fellows. “Now I view him as a little brother. We taught each other a lot.”

A Haze reception at midfield helped set up Diego Monclova's 39-yard touchdown run with seven minutes left in the game. It narrowed the score, but proved to be the final points Alpine would put up in 2019.

Friona played well, completing 70% of its passes, and collecting almost 200 yards on the ground in their first Area Championship game in 10 years. A critical third and 15 completion kept one of their scoring drives alive. With their kicker suddenly injured, they converted on three fourth downs during a fourth quarter drive that salted away the contest with 2:45 left to play.

After Fellows found seven different open receivers for the Bucks on Nov. 23, he finally went back to where it all started for him. As sophomore Jayden Canaba took the final snaps of the ballgame, Fellows got to be a wide receiver one more time.

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