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Eagles make return flight to 7-on-7 state tournament

After going 4-0 at the Brownwood state qualifier tournament last weekend, the Decatur Eagles have earned their second consecutive trip to the Division II 7-on-7 state tournament June 27-28 at College Station’s Veterans Park and Athletic Complex. SUBMITTED

Following back-to-back runs to the 4A Division I state semifinals, the Decatur Eagles will contend for a summer state title for the second straight season.

With four wins at the Brownwood state qualifier tournament last weekend, the Eagles punched their ticket back to the Division II 7-on-7 state championship tournament, scheduled for June 27-28 at Veterans Park and Athletic Complex in College Station. 

“It’s pretty big for us to be going to the state tournament again this summer,” Decatur coach Jonathan Ross said. “I honestly don’t know if Decatur’s ever gone back-to-back years — from what we’ve been able to see, that hasn’t happened. Our team has a new look than it did last year. We had a lot of new faces when we started practicing back in February.  We only have three returning starters on both sides of the ball, which means there’s 11 new guys on the team. We’ve come a long way over the last four months, and I’m really excited for these kids to get down to College Station and compete against some really good, strong programs.”  

Decatur opened Pool D play at the Brownwood SQT with a 32-0 shutout win over Comanche. The Eagles added wins over McGregor (33-19) and Jim Ned (34-22) to win the pool and advance to the state qualifying round. 

In their final matchup, the Eagles secured a state tournament berth with a 27-6 win over Ponder. 

“This style of football is really geared more towards offense, but I’m very happy our defense only gave up five touchdowns in four games last week,” Ross said. “We were able to get ahead by two or three scores early in each game, and really pressured the other team by forcing them to try to play catch-up. With the offense keeping the pressure on, it allowed our defense to play a little more loose. Both us and Ponder were 3-0 coming into the last game, and I’m pleased with the way we were able to shut them down.”   

Decatur’s roster at the Brownwood SQT included Chase Berg, Sam Cannon, Rylan Cavasos, Caden Cobb, Cayden Forrest, Jacob Garcia, Keaton Goode, Abram Graham, Lane Hesteande, Deven Moreno, Wesley Morton, Alex Pantoja, Andrew Ramirez, Jed Ross, Kyle Swift, Kyser Swift, Gage Terrell, Michael Trammell and Jayce Watson.

Ross said the team’s leaders are quarterback Jed Ross (2023: 68.3 passing percentage, 2,820 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, five interceptions) running back Abram Graham (2023: 1,128 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns),  wide receiver Chase Berg, linebacker Lane Hesteande (2023: 110 tackles, 13 tackles for losses, four pass breakups, three sacks, three fumble recoveries) and wide receiver/defensive back  Cayden Forrest.    

“We’ve really tried to lean on our senior leadership and those guys who are starting for 11-man football in the fall,” Ross said. “They’ve brought a good tone over into 7-on-7 this year… Throughout our tournaments, we’ve had moments when the offense or the defense carried us to wins. But last weekend was really when we had everything clicking at the same time.”   

During the 2023 season, Decatur coach Steve Huff led the Eagles (10-5) to the team’s second straight unbeaten District 4-4AI crown. Decatur earned playoff wins against Dumas (45-14), Andrews (56-14), Lubbock Estacado (52-21) and Brownwood (38-35) before falling to Anna (38-27) in the fifth round — marking the second consecutive season the Eagles have been knocked out in the state semifinals by the eventual state champion. 

Ross credits the Eagles’ run during the fall as a catalyst for the 7-on-7 team’s success. 

“Looking back at the Brownwood game, a lot of people point back to it because we had the ball with 1:20 left in the game, and we went 87 yards down the field for the score,” Ross said. “That’s a 7-on-7 drive on display. Playing 7-on-7 during the summer prepares your team for those types of situations during the regular season. It was so routine for these guys that those guys never flinched in that moment — they had that experience to lean on.”

The pool lineups for the Division II 7-on-7 state tournament will be released one week before the event. After finishing in the quarterfinals in last year’s tournament, Ross believes the Eagles have a chance to bring home the top prize.  

“We’re going to play it one game at a time,” Ross said. “We want to get in a good spot in pool play to give us a good seed for the second day. We’ve played a couple of select tournaments this year to prepare us for the speed we’re going to see, and we did pretty well in those tournaments. If we can focus on the team in front of us, I think we  should have a good weekend.”  

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