No. 2 Hawley, No. 8 Cisco meet again for Region I-2A Division I football title

Since Cisco and Hawley squared off in the Region I-2A Division I final last year, the two have seemed destined to meet again for the region title.

Texas Football magazine last summer predicted a Cisco-Hawley rematch, and so it’s come to be – nearly a month after the two clashed for the District 4-2A DI title.

Two Big Country titans – No. 2 Hawley (13-0) and No. 8 Cisco (11-2) – meet for the third time in a year in what should be an epic battle at 7 p.m. Friday at Abilene Christian’s Wildcat Stadium.

The winner, just like last year’s game, very well could play for the state title.

Hawley wide receiver Will Scott is pursued by Cisco defensive back Cade Gayle during last season's Region I-2A Division I championship game. Hawley won 17-14.
Hawley wide receiver Will Scott is pursued by Cisco defensive back Cade Gayle during last season's Region I-2A Division I championship game. Hawley won 17-14.

“It’s a big deal to get to the regional title game, regardless, but to get a rematch with Hawley and have two Big Country schools facing off and going at it again, it’s big. It’s exciting,” Cisco coach Kevin Stennett said. “It’s a big deal for our community.”

Mitch Ables, whose Bearcats face the tough task of beating Cisco twice in a season, much less three times in a year, begged the question: “Do we have to?”

He’s just kidding, has folks, though his Bearcats, who beat Cisco 17-14 in the same round last year en route to reaching the state title game, do seem to have everything to lose.

They’re unbeaten, the top-ranked team in the region and a state finalist from a year ago.

Oh, and Hawley pulled out a 36-33 victory over the Loboes to win the district title in the regular-season finale.

“We thought at the beginning of the year, and even after our district game, it might be us two again,” Ables said. “Here we are, and we know it’s hard to beat a good team twice. So, we’ve got to hunker down, make sure our plan is together and come out ready to play.”

It’s fitting this game comes in December. For Big Country high school football fans, this is quite the early Christmas present – though one team’s season must come to an end.

The winner plays either No. 3 Crawford (13-0) or No. 7 Tolar (13-0) in the state semifinals next week. Crawford plays Tolar at 7 p.m. Friday in Burleson.

Hawley coach Mitch Ables is lifted into the air by his brother Kris after Hawley defeated Cisco during last season's Region I-2A Division I title game in Abilene.
Hawley coach Mitch Ables is lifted into the air by his brother Kris after Hawley defeated Cisco during last season's Region I-2A Division I title game in Abilene.

Ending Loboes’ reign

A year ago, Hawley – playing without star running back Austin Cumpton – managed to overcome a 14-7 fourth-quarter deficit to beat Cisco for the first time since 2001. The Bearcats had lost the previous seven meetings, including a 54-20 decision in the third round of the 2020 playoffs.

Hawley went on to beat Marlin 19-12 before falling to Shiner 47-12 in the state title game.

It was Hawley’s first trip to the state championship game, while Cisco won a 2A DII title in 2013 and had reached the title game four other times since 2003.

For Ables, who took over the Hawley program in 2014, the Bearcats finally had reached the top of the mountain. The question now is, can they stay there, especially with state power Cisco in their own backyard?

“When I first got here, they were one of the programs that you wanted to be like," Ables said of Cisco. “You wanted to have that longevity and winning tradition and all that. Cisco was that, when I got here, and they still are. That’s who you try to chase. It’s good to be mentioned in the same sentence with them as far as a program right now.”

Both programs have played on the big stage in Arlington, and both want to get back. Stennett knows what it means to the Cisco community to get back to the title game.

“Just going that deep in the playoffs, it’s crazy what it can do for your school and your community, not just your football team,” Stennett said. “That’s always fun, but there’s no bad teams when you get this deep in the playoffs. Hawley’s a good one, and we’ve got our hands full.”

And this is a Hawley team’s that’s roared through the playoffs beating Christoval 52-8, Panhandle 72-26 and Sonora 57-26.

The Bearcats, too, have had Cisco’s number the last two games. They are confident and loaded with talent, including a healthy Cumpton.

Though Hawley trailed all but the final three seconds, the Bearcats found a way to win their last meeting.

They stopped Cisco on fourth down with 1:39 left in the game, then drove 94 yards with no timeouts – culminating with Rodey Hooper throwing a 2-yard TD pass to Will Scott for the game-winning score with 3 seconds left in the game.

“Going into that game, we kind of feared that we hadn’t been a real, tight ballgame,” Ables said “I was really proud of how our kids reacted to overcome a little adversity and pull it out at the end. We just have the attitude that if there’s still time on the clock, then we’ve got a chance.”

Cisco quarterback Hunter Long outpaces Hawley defensive back Marc Salas during the District 4-2A D I championship game Nov. 4 in Hawley. Hawley won 36-33.
Cisco quarterback Hunter Long outpaces Hawley defensive back Marc Salas during the District 4-2A D I championship game Nov. 4 in Hawley. Hawley won 36-33.

Seeking redemption

It was another stinging loss for the Loboes at the hands of the Bearcats – a program they had dominated until now.

“It’s something we haven’t been able to do the last two matchups,” Stennett said about beating Hawley. “Both of those games have kind of been lingering in the back of our minds and motivating our kids and this team. It’s always there. It’s a matchup that we’ve got to find a way to pull out a win.”

The Loboes bounced back from their last loss to Hawley to beat Big Lake Reagan County 55-0, Stratford 14-6, and New Deal 33-14 in the playoffs. Stratford, the Class 2A DII state champion last year, had won 23 consecutive games.

So, you have two very confident teams that have established themselves as the best in the state. Yet only one moves on.

For his part, Ables realizes just how important this game is for both communities and both programs. He also knows Cisco, too, has a deep tradition to fall back on when times get tough. Just like last year, they won’t go gently into that good night.

“I know that program in Cisco,” Ables said. “There’s a lot of tradition there. They talk about state titles there, too. So, it’s one of those deals where you can’t look too far ahead, because it’s going to be a big-time game Friday, and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go.”

Hawley wide receiver Diontay Ramon catches a pass in the final seconds of the first half but falls one yard short of the Cisco end zone during the District 4-2A D I championship Nov. 4 in Hawley.
Hawley wide receiver Diontay Ramon catches a pass in the final seconds of the first half but falls one yard short of the Cisco end zone during the District 4-2A D I championship Nov. 4 in Hawley.

The matchup

Both teams are full of playmakers.

Hawley is led by Hooper, who has thrown for 2,691 yards and 29 TDs with six interceptions. Cumpton (230-1,719, 33 TDs) is the leading rusher, while Diontay Ramon (41-922, 9 TDs), Scott (36-624, 7 TDs) and Chandlin Myers (33-604 7 TDs) are the Bearcats’ leading receivers.

Cisco counters with Hunter Long, who has thrown for 1,384 yards and 19 TDs with two interceptions. He also makes for a potent 1-2 punch in the run game with Trenton Huston (139-1,028, 16 TDs), who trails Long (258-2,014, 25 TDs) for the team lead. Cade Gale (30-652, 10 TDs) is the Loboes’ leading receiver.

The two senior quarterbacks have been impressive the last two years. Hooper has thrown for 5,083 yards and 56 TDs, while Long has thrown for 3,566 yards and 51 TDs. Cumpton, a senior, has 2,710 yards and 50 TDs rushing in that same two-year span.

Ables, whose team has trailed much of the last two meetings, doesn’t want to tempt fate again.

“We’ve kind of struggled in the first quarter the last couple of weeks,” Ables said. “We’ve got start out fast and execute off the get-go. We can’t be chasing points the whole game. We got to try to get up on them and try to stay there. We just can’t make a bunch of mistakes. We had a couple of interceptions and stuff the first time we played them.”

Ables said the Bearcats can’t let the Bearcats’ offense stay on the field and eat up clock.

“We’ve got to execute, and I know we dang sure got to be good tacklers, because they’ve got a couple of guys who are hard to bring down,” Ables said.

Cisco's Trenton Huston, center, runs with the ball against New Deal in the Region I-2A Division I semifinal Friday at Wolf Stadium in Colorado City.
Cisco's Trenton Huston, center, runs with the ball against New Deal in the Region I-2A Division I semifinal Friday at Wolf Stadium in Colorado City.

Stennett thinks about all the little things his Loboes did wrong in the last meeting, and he knows there’s little room for error.

“The last matchup, we were very, very undisciplined, had way too many penalties, mental mistakes,” Stennett said. “It’s going to come down to discipline. If we were more disciplined last time, we probably would have come away with the victory. That’s what it’s going to take – good, disciplined football.”

Ultimately, it’s going to come down to who executes and who makes the big plays. These are two programs who know each other well, and there’s not many changes you can make this late in the season.

“You can’t change a bunch, because you don’t want to confuse the kids,” Ables said. “You want them to be able to play hard and not think about it. At this point, it’s just pretty much whoever executes their plan the best.”

So, buckle up and get ready for another Big Country classic.

“I’ve set here and thought to myself going into the season that we probably had the two best teams in our region in our district,” Ables said. “Well, here we go and play them again. It’s going to be a fun, good ballgame.”

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Hawley battles Cisco for Region I-2A Division I football crown