Decatur edges Bridgeport in state 7-on-7

By Brady Keane, for the Messenger | Published Friday, June 29, 2018.
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After forcing a three-and-out on Decatur’s opening possession and striking first with a short touchdown pass from Jadon Maddux to Milton Iniguez, Bridgeport looked to have all the momentum in the first round of the Division II State 7-on-7 championship bracket Friday morning.

But the Eagles quickly re-gained control.

Behind a 45-yard touchdown strike from Roman Fuller to Shay Dubois, Decatur rallied and came away with a 40-32, back-and-forth victory over the Bulls.

Decatur running back A.J. Martinez scampers into the end zone during the Eagles’ 40-32 victory over Bridgeport at the state 7-on-7 tournament. Photo by Brady Keane.

“That’s just us,” said Decatur head coach Mike Fuller. “We do a pretty good job in real football games of coming back from being down. That’s a testament to the way our kids compete. They don’t get too down or too high about anything. Our mantra is ‘next play’ and that’s the way we roll.”

The matchup provided somewhat of a revival of the Battle of Big Sandy, which has been played 98 times since 1921. The two schools will not play each other in the fall.

But after both teams won their pool at the state tournament Thursday afternoon, the Bulls and Eagles renewed their rivalry in the first round of the Division II championship bracket.

“Other people talk about that more than we do,” Wilson said. “We played three games [Thursday] and one [Friday] and our kids gave everything they had in all four. This game was no different than the games [Thursday].

“We’ve kind of moved on and are just worrying about ourselves. But I was proud of our guys. They played really, really hard.”

After Decatur took its first lead with the long touchdown from Roman Fuller to Dubois, the teams exchanged blows on each possession through the remainder of the first half. Bridgeport took a 25-20 lead on a pass from Maddux to Drew Carstens with about three minutes to go, but Decatur jumped ahead 27-25 just before the intermission on a pass from Roman Fuller to Dayne Chapman.

There was more defense from both teams in the second half, as the Eagles came up with a huge turnover when Jackson Carroll hauled in an interception with about eight minutes left in the game.

Carroll’s interception set up the final go-ahead drive for Decatur as Roman Fuller found AJ Martinez out of the backfield to make the score 40-32.

Decatur’s Jackson Carroll hauls in an interception to help seal the Eagles’ victory over Bridgeport at the state 7-on-7 tournament. Photo by Brady Keane.

Roman Fuller, who has the reins of the offense with all-state quarterback Wilson Hicks not participating in 7-on-7, was impressive throughout the day after getting off to a slow start on the opening possession.

“I thought he did a great job,” Mike Fuller said. “One of the best things about 7-on-7 is the quarterbacks have to call their own plays. They have to think situationally and look at who to attack. All day [Thursday] and this [Friday] morning, he’s been accurate and getting the ball out quick.”

For Bridgeport, Maddux and wide receiver Nolan Hernandez led the way with a number of key connections that kept the team in the game. Hernandez had a touchdown in the first half and also hauled in a number of deep passes that set up scores from the red-zone.

“He had a great game and a great tournament,” Wilson said of Hernandez. “He has been similar to a lot of our guys in that he’s improved so much and worked really hard. He’s a good receiver and everyone saw that. I’m really proud of our kids and our coaches for where we are now. We just have to keep getting better for the real thing.”

Decatur advanced to take on Melissa in the second round of the championship bracket but fell 42-34, finishing with a 4-1 record for the weekend. Bridgeport went 2-2 over the two-day weekend.

Both teams will now shift their focus to preparing for the regular season. The Bulls open the year at home against Pilot Point on Aug. 31 while the Eagles travel to Kennedale for their season opener.

“It was kind of ironic that we came all the way to College Station to play a school that’s just 10 miles from us,” Mike Fuller said. “It’s not the Battle of Big Sandy – it’s just summer 7-on-7. But I think it was fun for both sides and they competed well.”

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