SHELDON — No matter when El Campo’s season ended, Charles Shorter knew he would be proud of the way the group played this season.
Shorter and the Ricebirds came up short in Friday’s Class 4A, Division I area round game against Kilgore, losing 27-24 at Panther Stadium, but while Shorter and the Ricebirds were disappointed with the result, they were proud of what they were able to do in their season.
“This was a special season because it’s the last time I’ll be out here with my brothers and my cousins running the ball,” Shorter said. “They’re all my family, especially those two other running backs. They meant so much to me.”
Kilgore came out strong in the first quarter, scoring on its opening drive on a 13-yard pass from Dalton McElyea to Donovan Atkins.
“This was the hardest team we’ve faced all year, at least since Calhoun,” said senior quarterback Cullen Braden. “Those turnovers and mistakes including by me really hurt, and it just didn’t go our way.”
The Bulldogs scored again in the second quarter on an 8-yard run from Trayveon Epps before El Campo scored on a 92-yard run from Rueben Owens. But Kilgore answered back with a 14-yard pass from McElyea to Cade Pippen and El Campo trailed by 14 at the half.
“Really, both sides of the ball on both defense and offense, they came out ready to play, and we weren’t ready,” Shorter said. “I’m not sure what it was, but we should have prepared better and practiced more.”
El Campo trimmed the lead again in the third quarter on a 1-yard run from Johntre Davis, but two field goals from Chris Baldazo in the fourth quarter sealed the game for the Bulldogs.
“It’s been an amazing team and a special season,” Braden said. “I’m happy that I was able to be the quarterback for this team and help lead this team. It was a great season. It didn’t end how we wanted, I wish we could have won, but that’s life sometimes.”
Shorter ended the night with three catches for 26 yards and two carries for two yards. Owens had 114 yards rushing and a touchdown and Davis had 36 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Epps carried the ball 22 times for 99 yards and a touchdown. McElyea threw for 174 yards and two scores, and Cade Pippen had five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown for Kilgore.
“These seniors meant a bunch to me,” said El Campo head coach Wayne Condra. “Just the effort that they gave all year long. I couldn’t have asked for better. It was a great group of kids.”
Despite the loss, Condra thought the team showed determination throughout the game.
“That’s their Ricebird pride,” he said. “They kept fighting, and it’s something we have to just keep building on going into the offseason. There’s some things we need to work on to be a better football team, but that was something I was very proud of.”
After playing his last snap for the Ricebirds, Shorter wanted to leave the younger players with a message.
“Continue to fight,” he said. “Continue to fight and go get a state championship.”