ARLINGTON – Not a single current Cuero player was alive in 1987 when the Gobblers won their third state football championship.
But every one of them has been reminded of the feat virtually their entire lives.
This year’s Gobblers earned their place in future conversations by bringing home a state championship of their own.
Cuero overcame a halftime deficit and claimed a 40-28 Class 4A, Division II state final win over defending state champion Pleasant Grove before a crowd of 12,784 on Friday at AT&T Stadium.
The Cuero Gobblers are UIL Class 4A, Division II state champions for the first time since 1987. pic.twitter.com/04JvDkPevz— Rey Castillo (@reycastillo361) December 21, 2018
“It feels great,” said Cuero coach Travis Reeve. “I’m so happy for our team and our community. The 31-year state championship drought is over. It couldn’t have happened a better way. We just thank God that he blessed us in this way.”
The Gobblers (15-1) were led by a record-breaking performance from Jordan Whittington, who was named the game’s offensive and defensive MVP.
Whittington, who signed with Texas on Wednesday, set a state finals record by rushing 28 times for 334 yards and scored all six of Cuero’s touchdowns.
Whittington also caught three passes for 43 yards and one touchdown. He led the Gobblers with 11 tackles, including five unassisted stops.
“We just went into the game with the mentality they’re not going to beat us,” Whittington said. “‘We didn’t come this far just to come this far.’ That was our quote the whole week.”
Whittington broke the overall finals rushing record of 325 yards set by Johnathan Gray, of Aledo, in 2010 and the Class 4A record of 311 yards set by Eric Dickerson, of Sealy, in 1978.
Having three touchdowns called back hasn’t phased Cuero’s Jordan Whittington. Whittington has followed with a score on each review. His recent coming on a 19-yard run to give Cuero a 40-28 advantage over Pleasant Grove with 2:54 left in the 4Q. He now has six TD. #UILState pic.twitter.com/2oPB43faDK— Rey Castillo (@reycastillo361) December 21, 2018
“Those are great players,” Whittington said. “I actually looked up to Johnathan Gray when he was in high school. He went to Texas. I don’t know if they’re going to see this. But I want to say I respected them.”
Whittington earned the respect of the Hawks (13-3) by scoring on runs of 69 – on Cuero’s first play from scrimmage – 54, 1, 12 and 20 yards.
He also caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from Michael Barta on the final play of the first half.
Second time’s the charm: Jordan Whittington @J_Whitt3 converts again on a 26-yard TD pass from Michael Barta. Kick no good. Pleasant Grove 21, Cuero 20 at the half. #UILState pic.twitter.com/huH1jBqkE8— Rey Castillo (@reycastillo361) December 21, 2018
Two of Whittington’s touchdown runs and his touchdown reception came on the next play after apparent touchdowns had been nullified by replay.
“They replayed it, and I guess it wasn’t what it was,” Whittington said. “Go back and make it happen: That was my mindset and theirs, too.”
Cuero overcame deficits of 7-0 and 21-7 and took the lead for good on Whittington’s 1-yard run with 9:43 left in the fourth quarter.
“We do a Boot Camp in January, and we go until we have a perfect day,” Reeve said. “A perfect day doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes; it just means you overcome them and you stay together and you give unbelievable effort. That’s what our kids did today. It wasn’t clean. It wasn’t always pretty. But, boy, was I proud of how our kids fought, and they earned the victory.”
The Gobblers were able to slow Pleasant Grove’s offense, which racked up 271 yards in the first half, in the final two quarters.
The Hawks had 88 yards in the second half, 46 yards of which came on a throwback pass from running back Bruce Garrett to quarterback Ben Harmon to set up their final touchdown.
“We did have to make some adjustments,” said Cuero defensive coordinator Zach Linscomb. “They had showed us some sets and schemes that we he hadn’t seen going in. It’s a credit to our kids. We made some adjustments, and we got them on the field and made them, and it was the difference.”
Whittington lined up in the wildcat formation and carried the ball on 21 of the Gobblers’ 38 plays in the second half, gaining 144 yards and scoring three touchdowns.
“I had a conference call with the Fox Sports people early in the week, and they asked me if I had a touch count for him,” Reeve said. “I said it depends on the situation. In this game, he had the hot hand. As you get into a game, you kind of get a feel for what’s working, and tonight, obviously, he was a man on a mission for us, and to his credit and our team’s credit, they saw it through to a win.”
Cuero kept the ball for 8 minutes and 20 seconds to start the third quarter but had a Whittington touchdown nullified by a holding penalty and turned the ball over on downs.
But the Gobblers scored on their next three possessions, while the defense forced Pleasant Grove to punt and stopped the Hawks on downs before sealing the win with an interception by Deondre Lang.
“That’s a football team right there,” said Pleasant Grove coach Josh Gibson. “They’ve got a superstar (Whittington) right there, but all those guys did that thing together. He might be one of the best playmakers that’s going to be seen here this weekend.”
Cuero could not help but look back before boarding the bus for the ride home at a season filled with adversity that ended in triumph on the state’s biggest stage.
“It means a lot to us,” said running back Keiran Grant. “It says a lot about all the hard work we’ve done. We couldn’t have done it without everybody on the team. It means a lot to all of us, especially going through adversity at the beginning of the season with Trey’s (Moore) mom, as you can tell; we had DK on the back of our helmets, which represented her in a special way. This is just a special moment for all of us.”
“The game means a lot for me,” added Moore. “Not only for my mom, but it was for us, too. She dreamed of us getting here. For us to win it is an amazing thing. I’m thankful for my team and my coaches and the community that came out today. It’s a great feeling to win it.”
Cuero coach Travis Reeve, right, and his father and former Cuero coach Mark Reeve share a moment after the Gobblers won the Class 4A, Division II state championship. pic.twitter.com/ZClWvK5z1m— Mike Forman (@mikeforman21) December 22, 2018