ILIFF -- Even with Dayspring Christian quarterback Kylar Mai rushing for 292 yards and having a hand in five touchdowns, the No. 2-seeded Eagles still needed a late-game defensive play Saturday afternoon to win the 8-man football championship.
Caliche senior quarterback Mitch Davison had his eyes on a potential game-tying touchdown with under a minute to play, but Davison was hit from behind by sophomore Gavin Bicknell at the Eagles’ 11-yard line. The hit jarred the ball loose. Dayspring senior Ty Eichman recovered at the 1-yard line with 22 seconds left to preserve a 35-28 victory for Dayspring.
“When I saw the ball I just wanted to get on it as fast as I could,” said Eichman, who also had a touchdown catch in the championship game at Amory E. Beede Field on Caliche High School’s campus. “I was so relieved after I got the ball. As soon as we got it, I knew we were champions.”
It was the third 8-man state title for Dayspring since 2008. The Eagles (13-0) have had plenty of recent championship game experience, playing for the 8-man final five of the past seven years.
“It was awesome,” said Mai, who had 28 carries for 292 yards, along with throwing three first-half touchdowns. “It was a great game.”
Mai’s 71-yard touchdown run with 5:05 left in the fourth quarter put the Eagles up 35-20, but the Buffaloes rallied with a quick scoring drive and 2-point conversion to cut the lead to 35-28 with 3:09 left.
“Offense was a big part of it, but it came down to defensive stops,” said Mai, who also plays on defense.
The Eagles’ offense was nearly unstoppable in the first half. Mai had a 36-yard touchdown run to cap off the first offensive series for Dayspring. The junior quarterback then threw a trio of touchdown passes to end the next three drives for the Eagles. Junior Christian Hershberger, senior Devan Mock and Eichman each caught a first-half touchdown from Mai.
“(Mai) is a super kid,” Caliche coach Paul Zink said. “We just let him make too many plays.”
Caliche’s defense was able to slow down Dayspring in the second half after the Eagles scored 28 points in the first half. Dayspring’s defense also was key, forcing four turnovers by Caliche all in Eagles’ territory in the second half.
Dayspring coach Mick Holmes said he stressed in the locker room at halftime that defense would determine the winner in the battle between the two A8 North-Plains League squads. The two met earlier this season with Dayspring taking a 38-15 victory on Oct. 18.
“I talked to them that defense wins championships,” Holmes said. “Let’s win this game through our defense.”
No. 5-seeded Caliche (11-2 record) never led on its home field, but the Buffaloes made things interesting after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter. Caliche’s rushing attack of Davison, junior Austin Yahn, along with seniors Austin Zink and Chase Debus racked up 468 yards on the ground.
Davison led the way with 33 carries for 206 yards and a touchdown. Yahn added 154 yards and two scores on 18 carries. Debus finished with 99 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
The Buffaloes’ defense allowed just the one Dayspring touchdown in the second half after the Eagles scored on their first four possessions of the game.
“We had some great defensive stops in the second half,” Zink said. “I thought we were going to get it done. It just didn’t happen.”
Zink called the late fumble by Davison “heart-breaking”.
“(Davison) has carried us all year,” Zink said. “It’s too bad it happened, but it did.”
Both coaches did make good on their promise before the start of the postseason. At the meeting where coaches selected the all-conference picks from the A8 North-Plains League, Zink and Holmes shook hands on both meeting up in the championship game.
“It’s too bad someone had to lose,” Holmes said. “Both sides played really well.”