CUSHING — An outstanding season ended in disappointing fashion, but Pawnee has a lot of which to be proud in 2019.
In the end, T.J. Roberts rushed for 132 yards and three touchdowns, while also adding a receiving score, to help lead Cashion to a 34-16 victory over Pawnee in the Class A state semifinals Friday night at O’Dell Field.
No. 1-ranked Cashion (13-0) advances to the final for the first time since 2015 and is seeking its first title since 1981. They will face No. 6 Ringling, which defeated No. 2 Rejoice Christian.
“It’s a huge deal,” Cashion coach Lynn Shackleford said of reaching the state final. “When you coach in a small town, when you grow up in a small town, things like this is what defines you a little bit. It would be awesome (to win it).”
For No. 3 Pawnee (13-1), which led 16-14 early in the second quarter, it was a heartbreaking end. The Black Bears were making their first appearance in the semifinals since they won their only state championship in 2004.
“Overall, the kids did well all season long, we don’t have anything to hang our heads on,” said Pawnee coach Russell Cook, with tears streaming down his face. “These seniors brought back Pawnee football. They’ve laid the foundation, and we’ll just build on it year after year from here on out.”
Blake Skidgel ran for 115 yards and a touchdown, and Trevor Mitchell gained 71 yards and a TD rushing for Pawnee, the District A-5 champions.
“We have a lot of good kids, those guys that run the ball did a great job for us,” Cook said. “Cashion’s a good team, they came out and they played better than us tonight. They deserved the victory.”
Pawnee went ahead 16-14 on the second play of the second quarter when Skidgel broke free for a 52-yard touchdown run and Mitchell ran in the 2-point conversion.
After both teams punted, including a Pawnee drive that chewed 7:36 off the clock, Cashion went back on top with just 24.4 seconds remaining, as Roberts plunged into the end zone from 9 yards out. A failed 2-point conversion left the Wildcats with a 20-16 advantage heading into halftime.
“Momentum switched there late in the second when they went and got a touchdown right before half,” Cook said. “I think that was the biggest difference in the game. They jumped all over it.”
When Pawnee couldn’t capitalize on the opening drive of the third quarter, turning the ball over on downs at the Cashion 39-yard line after grinding another 6:11 off the clock, Cashion answered again. The Wildcats pushed their lead to 26-16 when Ben Harman connected with Roberts on an 11-yard TD pass with 2:46 left in the third.
Roberts sealed the victory for Cashion with 4:12 left with a 7-yard run.
“I thought TJ ran the ball really well, I thought his vision was really good,” Shackleford said. “We did a good job of blocking the front line and kind of letting him pick and choose where he wanted to go. I thought he played his best game of the year tonight.”
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