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high school football Marshall comes up short

December 22, 2018

ARLINGTON — A silver medal was wrapped around a clothes hanger holding Drew Conley’s No. 3 jersey after Friday night’s Class 5A Division II state final.

Fort Bend Marshall didn’t quite finish what it set it out to do, but it still took one last opportunity to honor Conley.

Aledo’s star running back Jase McClellan along with the program’s championship resolve bested Marshall 55-19 in the Class 5A Division II final at AT&T Stadium.

Playing with heavy hearts following last week’s death of Conley, a senior safety, Marshall (15-1) was trying to become just the second Fort Bend ISD team to win a state title. The funeral for the 17-year-old Conley was held Wednesday.

The Buffs instead watched Aledo (16-0) match history with an eighth state championship in front of 26,155. That feat ties the record as the Bearcats join Katy, Southlake Carroll and Celina with eight titles.

“We love Drew,” Marshall coach James Williams said after the game. “These guys came together as a team and a family to get it done. Things didn’t go our way tonight, but I’m still proud of them.

“They’re still champions. They did it for Drew upstairs.”

McClellan’s 21 carries for 149 yards and three touchdowns helped keep the pressure on a Marshall offense that couldn’t come up with enough big plays this time. The Buffs rode into this game off a few heart-stopping playoff wins.

Marshall played far from a clean game early on but kept pace despite McClellan’s first-half efforts.

It helps that Marshall linebacker Jerrell Mayweather’s forced fumble fell into the end zone, where defensive lineman Frank Miller fell on the ball for a score.

The extra point was missed — Marshall has had problems in the kicking game — but the play and subsequent 7-6 first-quarter deficit kept things from getting out of hand early.

Marshall’s speed also helped. That was always going to be the case. Devon Achane averaged 9.6 yards per carry in the first half, punishing any Aledo lapse by outrunning defenders. Malik Hornsby’s zone reads found some success, too. He scored on a 2-yard touchdown run for a 14-12 Marshall deficit after the missed two-point conversion.

Jake Bishop’s fourth-down throws made all those efforts futile. The Aledo quarterback hit Hampton Fay for 23 yards on a fourth-and-13 from the Marshall 27. McClellan finished the drive later for a 2-yard run and 21-12 mid-second-quarter lead.

There was another fourth-down throw, this time a screen pass to McClellan on fourth-and-4 from the Marshall 22. McClellan followed his blocks and shed some tackles of his own for the touchdown.

In between those plays, Aledo’s defense corralled Marshall’s big-play offense enough. After the first fourth-down conversion, Aledo forced a three-and-out on a Marshall drive that went for minus-6 yards.

After the second fourth-down conversion, Hornsby gave Marshall a chance, tossing a 51-yard pass to regional final hero Dalevon Campbell just as halftime approached.

The drive was halted and Aledo outscored the Buffs 27-7 in the second half.

Hornsby said there were chances to flip momentum on Marshall’s side but the Buffs couldn’t piece it together.

“As a team, we didn’t,” Hornsby said. “Just speaking for the offensive side, we didn’t capitalize when we needed to. Left our defense in a hard situation. That’s the offense’s job. I take responsibility for that.”

This was all compounded by Oklahoma commitment McClellan, who spent much of the night powering through Marshall defenders. He gained 111 of his yards and scored all three of his touchdowns in the first half.

Hornsby was 6-of-14 for 129 yards and one 49-yards touchdown pass to the junior Achane. Hornsby’s transfer to Marshall from Houston Austin this season placed a bright spotlight on the program. He missed four games, having to wait for University Interscholastic League clearance.

But when the junior got it, he made an already good Marshall team great. He’ll return next year as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country.

After the game, Aledo coach Steve Wood embraced Williams. Wood knew what Marshall had been through. He’s hoping this is the start of a friendship between he and Williams.

“He’s been such a gentleman,” Wood said. “We talked on the phone. We dealt with things. I talked to him about what he had been through and what his team had been through. It’s such a tragedy. He is a class guy and does a great job coaching, too.”

adam.coleman@chron.com

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