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4th to Final Four: Decatur beats Hereford to reach semifinal

By Reece Waddell | Published Thursday, December 6, 2018
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When Decatur’s regular season ended Nov. 9 with a loss to Gainesville, the Eagles dropped to 4-6, entering the playoffs as the fourth seed from District 4-4A I.

“If you had asked me week three or week four, there is no way I’d tell you — we wouldn’t even be in the playoffs,” said senior receiver Beau Bedford.

Determined to make something of its season, Decatur turned in a dominant performance against District 3-4A champion Dumas in the bi-district round. The Eagles followed that up by dispatching Andrews to claim an area title and then took down 4-4A nemesis Hirschi in the regional round.

Messenger photo by Joe Duty.

What started as an unimaginable playoff run quickly morphed into a storybook season. On a frigid night at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, the Eagles wrote their next chapter.

For the first time since 1988, Decatur advanced to the state semifinals, knocking off Hereford 38-28 Thursday to claim the 4A Division I Region I crown.

“I couldn’t be happier for these kids,” said Decatur coach Mike Fuller. “Not only do they have a story for themselves with how it all happened this year, they can build and draw on this when they’re 50 or when they’re 30, when things are going rough. They can draw on this and know it’s never over. You can always show up the next day and get a little better. I couldn’t be prouder.”

Messenger photo by Joe Duty.

The 2018 team joins the squads of 1975 and 1988 as the only Decatur teams to qualify for the state semifinals. Decatur has never reached the state final.

The Eagles will play the winner of Argyle and Waco La Vega at 4 p.m. Friday (Dec. 14) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington in the 4A Division I semifinal.

“We really gelled together at the end of the season, came all the way out here, and look,” Bedford said. “Four teams left in Texas, and we’re one of them.”

Decatur jumped out to a 21-0 lead, turning a Layton Harris interception into a three-yard touchdown run by junior Gunner Ragsdale. He finished the night with 73 yards and three scores on 21 carries.

“He’s a strong runner. He gets tough yards,” Fuller said. “There weren’t many yards out there that were easy.”

Hereford scored 14 straight points to end the first half, pulling to within a touchdown on a 46-yard catch and run by Andrew Lucio.

The Whitefaces had a chance to tie or take the lead on their opening possession of the second half but were forced to punt after a sack by Hunter Johnson on third down.

Messenger photo by Joe Duty.

Decatur then chewed up nearly nine minutes before settling for a 30-yard field goal by Armando Benitez to extend its lead to 24-14.

Hereford never got any closer.

Benitez intercepted a pass on the Whitesface’s next drive and Landry Phipps sealed the win with Decatur’s third interception late in the fourth quarter.

“If we wouldn’t have gotten those three turnovers, we probably would have lost,” Harris said. “We picked each other up and got back in it after halftime. We knew if we came out and competed we could win the game.”

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