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Hill Country Elite finish in top 3 at National Qualifier

CAPTION: Ethan Sanchez of Burnet makes this catch during the tie against the Midwest Grizzlies in the Hill Country Elite’s opener of the D1 National Qualifier in Muskogee, Okla. July 22. Photo by Desiree Bermudez

The Hill Country Elite finished third at the D1 National Qualifier in Muskogee, Okla., July 22-23.

The Elite beat the KC Outlaws from Kansas City, Mo., 24-0 , tied the Midwest Grizzlies of Kansas 7-7, and lost 13-8 to the Wichita Sharks, a team from Kansas consisting of 13 year olds.

“It was awesome,” head coach Ray Gurley said. “We tried to get better and challenged ourselves.”

The Elite features several Burnet and Marble Falls residents. Among the Burnet residents are Jordan Depaz, Edgar Duran, Jayden Heffington and Roswell Vargas. Marble Falls residents are Diego Aguilar, Quincy Rodriguez and Timmy Salinas also play for the Elite.

The contest against the Grizzlies was the most talked about of the tournament.

Trailing 7-0, the Elite drove for the touchdown, which was a seven-yard run by Ethan Sanchez of Burnet with 30 seconds left. Gurley called a timeout to tell the officials his team was going for the win and what kind of play they needed to call. The officials said a two-point play had to be attempted from the five-yard line.

Sanchez was given the hand-off and scored on the two-point run for the 8-7 lead. But the rule was that two-point attempts had to be tried from the five-yard line with a pass, which was pointed out by the Grizzlies. Therefore, officials awarded only one point.

“They protested saying we had to throw,” the coach said. “The director came over and said, ‘The rules say you have to throw it.’ It pulled us out of the championship to win it all. Our boys were pretty upset. In that whole game, we were not playing really well. Our defense was great.”

Following the contest, the Elite went back to its hotel and regrouped.

“We had the rest of the day off,” Gurley said. “We went to the pool and relaxed. We watched a little film. We came out (the next day) and were a whole different team. I think it was a bunch of first-game jitters. Even then at half, we’re down 7-0.”

The Elite arrived refreshed and ready to take on the Outlaws, using its lethal passing attack.

“We came out in the spread, and we started running it to see what they would do,” the coach said. “We started throwing screens and bubbles. They didn’t know how to adjust to it.”

Quarterback Gabe Gurley of Burnet hit receiver Haiden Allen of Burnet for a 31-yard touchdown to start the onslaught. That play forced the Outlaws to change their defense, which allowed running back Angel Ramirez of Fredericksburg to run for a 36-yard score early in the second half for a 16-0 lead. Gurley and Allen hooked up again for a nine-yard touchdown to end the scoring.

The quarterback hit five different receivers en route to completing 12 of 16 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Allen caught five passes for 67 yards, two scores and 2 two-point conversions.

“It’s not all vertical passing,” the coach said. “It can be a run or a pass. When it all comes together, it’s fun to watch. We had time to throw. We did pretty well. Our guys handled it well. We were a step ahead of them. We put in the time. It all kind of clicked.”

Ramirez and Sanchez combined for 118 rushing yards.

“We’ve been looking for another running back,” Gurley said. “We ran two-back stuff. When they keyed on Sanchez, Angel busted a couple of runs.”

As great as the defense played in the opener, the coach commended the unit for how well it performed against the Outlaws.

“In the second game, we put the offense in great field position,” he said. “(The Outlaws) may have had 30 yards of offense. We had good pressure on the quarterback. We were really good.”

The Elite played up an age group when it played the Sharks, the result of scheduling conflicts and the tie. The Sharks won their age division at the tournament.

“They were bigger and stronger,” Gurley said. “They were the most physical team. They knew we were looking for that third game. It was a really good game.”

He credited the Sharks for mixing up their defenses, particularly their secondary. The Sharks showed man-to-man defense on one side of the field and a zone on the other. They also stiffened in the red zone and didn’t let the Elite get to paydirt.

Elite outside linebacker Richard Downey of Liberty Hill picked up a fumble and ran it in for a touchdown. Allen caught the two-point pass from the younger Gurley.

The coach said the Sharks presented a great challenge for his players, who learned plenty from the different blitzes and fronts.

“They mixed it up on us,” Gurley said. “They were bigger, stronger and faster. They were a solid team. They told me we played them tight.”

The Elite will compete in the Who Want Smoke 6 tournament Aug. 5-6 in DeSoto.

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