CUERO – Moments after a Jourdanton player cradled an El Campo pass in his arms, the final seconds ticked off the clock at Gobbler Stadium.

As time expired, the Ricebirds’ bid for a third state 7on7 tournament appearance in four years disappeared in a 28-20 loss to the Indians in the final of the Cuero Division II state-qualifying tournament.

But El Campo coach Wayne Condra was proud of his team’s performance on a blazing hot Saturday.

“These young guys came out here and gave a great effort,” Condra said. “We played four games, and in two of them we were behind at halftime. We battled back and had a chance to win. One, we did, and one, we had a chance at the end. It’s one of those deals where we build on that and keep getting after it.”

The Ricebirds went through pool play unbeaten, defeating Navarro, Cuero and Ingleside.

They capped their pool performance with pick-sixes by Tanner Oldag and Jacob Lopez, and Griffin Croix returned a conversion attempt for two points.

“That’s the one thing we’re taking away from all this,” Condra said. “Defensively, we’ve gotten a lot better. That’s been a key for us.”

El Campo missed out on the playoffs last season and will attempt to build on what they’ve learned in 7on7.

“Just like the connections between the QB and the receivers,” said junior Nathan Willis. “Everybody on the field gets that connection. We’ll take this to the actual field when we put pads on.

“We’re determined,” he added. “It was a tough year. We had a lot of new people, but we’ll get it back.”

A learning experience

Cuero’s bid for a third straight state-tournament berth fell short.

The Gobblers lost their pool games to Ingleside, El Campo and Navarro.

“It was an opportunity for our kids to come out and compete against other teams and learn about what they’ve got to do at their position and how to play together,” said Cuero coach Travis Reeve. “There were some good things that we did. We take it as a learning experience and move forward going through our normal progress during the summer.”

The Gobblers have a number of new players at the skill positions who are still learning their roles.

“We just keep practicing and coming up here in the summer and working out and catching balls and stay working,” said sophomore Cavan Smith. “It’s going to be hard, but we’re going to find a way to come back and fight through where we’re at right now.”

Smith is already looking forward to putting on the pads next season.

“It’s going to be a big difference,” he said. “Our linemen and our linebackers …We just play better when we have pads on. We’re physical.”

Safety first

El Campo’s Willis was worn out from the heat but happy to have escaped a possible injury.

He came down on the turf after catching a pass but was protected by the soft-shell helmets the Ricebirds and other teams wore.

“I personally like them,” Willis said. “I had a catch where I hit my head on the ground, and it helped me a lot. It probably would have been a lot worse.”

The helmets will be mandatory beginning with this year’s state tournament, scheduled for June 27-28 at Veterans Park & Athletic Complex in College Station.

“I think it’s a great addition,” Condra said. “Anytime you have guys running across the middle unprotected, I think it’s a big plus.”

“I think anything that adds to safety for kids is a good thing,” Reeve added. “I think it’s a good addition.”

Mike Forman is the sports editor of the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or by email at mforman@vicad.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeforman21

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Mike Forman is the sports editor of the Victoria Advocate. He has worked at the Advocate since 1982. He has a bachelor's degree from SMU and a master's degree from UCLA.

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