WAYNE — Jackson Dillon accepted all the backslaps and congratulations from the Ringling faithful on Friday night, but the 6-foot-6 senior was so tired he could barely smile — that is, until he lifted coach Tracy Gandy in a bearhug.
They had reason to celebrate. In what surely will go down as one of the greatest comebacks in the considerable history of Ringling football, the fourth-ranked Blue Devils rallied from a 19-point second-half deficit to stun defending Class A champion Wayne 40-33 in a quarterfinal game.
Ringling (11-1) will take an 11-game winning streak into next week's semifinal against Texhoma, while second-ranked Wayne (11-2) had its season end in stunning fashion after surrendering 26 unanswered points to end the game.
“I can't say enough good about the heart and determination of our kids,” Gandy said. “We knew all week coming in that we were in for a 12-round heavyweight championship. Hats off to Wayne — they are an outstanding team. But our kids just kept battling. … I thought the character in our kids showed through.”
Dillon carried 18 times (16 of those in the second half) for 155 yards and three touchdowns and caught two passes for 66 yards. He provided a strong complement to quarterback Taner Richardson, who overcame four turnovers (three interceptions, one fumble) to rush for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries and throw a scoring pass. The Blue Devils rolled up 449 yards of offense.
The Bulldogs also had numerous stars. Louden Johnson carried 17 times for 144 yards and two touchdowns and returned a fumble 52 yards for another score. Charlie Gardner snagged three interceptions and caught a touchdown pass for Wayne.
Wayne trailed 14-13 at halftime but seemingly had the game in hand after scoring three touchdowns in a span of 5:43 in the third quarter. Gardner caught an 8-yard scoring pass from Sam Martin, then Martin found freshman Isidro Ibarra on a perfectly executed 59-yard pass-and-run strike for a touchdown. Richardson fumbled on a fake punt and Johnson returned it for a touchdown and the Bulldogs had a 33-14 lead.
Even so, “we were confident,” Dillon said. “We just had to make stops on defense and work as a team.”
A 63-yard run by Richardson set up a 7-yard touchdown run by Dillon before the third quarter ended. After a Wayne punt, the Blue Devils marched 64 yards and pulled within 33-28 on a 2-yard, fourth-down touchdown run by Dillon with 6:50 left.
On Wayne's first play from scrimmage after that, Johnson fumbled and Ronnie Ward recovered for Ringling at the Wayne 29. Richardson eventually scored on a 1-yard plunge to put the Blue Devils up 34-33 with 2:56 left.
The Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs and Dillon reeled off a 30-yard touchdown run with 1:53 left. Given a second chance, the Bulldogs didn't make it past their own 36 before Richardson intercepted a pass by Martin with 1:34 left.
“That was a huge win for our kids and program,” Gandy said. “We haven't had a win like that in a lot of years.”
Wayne needed just five plays to score after taking the opening kickoff, doing so on a 5-yard run by Johnson. Ringling answered quickly, covering 64 yards in nine plays, capped by a 16-yard, fourth-down pass from Richardson to Landon Lyle.
Johnson put the Bulldogs ahead 13-7 with an 8-yard touchdown run with 9:22 left in the first half, but Martin missed the extra-point attempt.
Ringling went up 14-13 when Richardson broke free for a 60-yard touchdown run and Taylor Pybas converted the extra-point kick with 2:21 left in the half. Wayne trailed at halftime for the first time all season.