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Bobcats stay tough in face of adversity, on and off field

By BY CLAY WHITTINGTON
Dec. 16, 2011 at 6:16 a.m.
Updated Dec. 17, 2011 at 6:17 a.m.

Jonathan Cantu gets emotional as the Refugio Bobcats celebrate their state title on Friday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

ARLINGTON - Refugio faced adversity off the field all season long.

In the state championship game, the Bobcats finally encountered it on the field. But, more important, they overcame it all.

Refugio was attacked relentlessly for displaying no mercy against its opponents.

Opposing coaches called Bobcats head coach Jason Herring classless. ESPN ran a piece on how he was the most hated man in Texas. Many fans of other teams have called him much worse.

In the months leading up to Friday's Class 2A, Division II championship game against Cisco, the Bobcats reluctantly developed an us-against-the-world mentality. The approach proved beneficial, because, for the first time, their on-field will was tested.

After easily winning their previous 13 games by at least 40 points, including five by at least 70 points, the Bobcats found themselves in a 48-minute battle for the state title.

Not even a seemingly safe 17-point lead with less than 9 minutes remaining was secure.

Cisco rallied to pull within a single point of derailing the Bobcats hopes, but their iron will would not be broken as senior linebacker Jake Heryford recorded a drive-ending tackle on fourth-and-3 before junior Draigon Silvas clinched the victory with a 14-yard run for first down after the Loboes burned their final timeout with 46 seconds left.

"Our motto is, 'We stay linked together,'" Silvas said. "I feel like there were no worries."

On the following play, Refugio quarterback Travis Quintanilla took a knee, giving the Bobcats a 36-35 win and their first state championship since 1982. Just as they had done all season, the Bobcats thrived in the face of adversity.

"Our criticizers have become our motivators," Herring said. "I didn't want it to be that way, but people wouldn't stop talking."

At Cowboys Stadium, the Loboes would not stop playing, giving the Bobcats their toughest test; on the field, at least.

Cisco produced two stops inside the red zone in the first half, and, for the game, the Loboes thwarted six third-down conversion attempts and three fourth-down conversion tries.

It was clear Cisco was not going away. But neither would the Bobcats.

All the detractors who said the team was playing the wrong way in their lopsided victories only served to mentally prepare Refugio for a game like this.

After playing to near perfection en route to Arlington, the Bobcats fumbled the ball six times against Cisco, turned the ball over on downs twice, were forced to commit an intentional safety and even punted once. Not to mention the unusual dropped passes, poor tackling and a third-quarter series when players slipped on three consecutive plays that potentially could have yielded significant yards.

Through it all, they never lost their poise.

"We knew this team was different this year, and we came up with a motto 'stay linked,'" said senior running back Shiloh Whetsel. "Adversity killed us in the past semifinal losses, but when anything bad happened, we just helped each other up and patted each other on the back."

Through all the on-field blowouts and the off-field blowups, not only did the Bobcats walk off the field with a state championship, but left with a bond that can only come with fighting and overcoming the odds together.

It is a bond that will keep the players and coaches linked together forever.

Clay Whittington is assistant sports editor for the Victoria Advocate. He can be reached by email at cwhittington@vicad.com.

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