High school football: Veterans Memorial tops PSJA North in slugfest

Veterans Memorial had played five one-score games entering Saturday's Region IV-5A Division I final against state-ranked and unbeaten PSJA North.

That experience paid off in another thriller, as the Eagles survived a 20-14 defensive slugfest against PSJA North in front of more than 6,000 fans at Buc Stadium.

The program's fourth trip to the state quarterfinals ended with the school's second regional title in three seasons as Veterans Memorial's defense stood up when it mattered most, holding the Raiders without a point on two trips inside the 10-yard line.

Eagles senior defensive lineman Nic Guerrero credited defensive assistants Lanny Wilson and James Villarreal's game plan and said the team's defensive front knew they could excel on Saturday.

"They were going to try and come down and run it down our throat," Guerrero said. "Our D-Line here, we know we are good. We know we have a special unit. We were ready for it. We told them to come with it and that is what happened."

Veterans Memorial scored before the half to break a 7-7 tie on a pass from Eli Durrette to Ryan Wilson and then hit a 92-yard bomb to Christian Sabsook to take a two-score lead early in the fourth quarter.

Veterans Memorial's Christian Sabsook runs in a touchdown during the playoff game against PSJA North on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.
Veterans Memorial's Christian Sabsook runs in a touchdown during the playoff game against PSJA North on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.

Sabsook had two touchdown receptions, including a contested ball in the corner of the end zone to finish with four catches for 138 yards.

Veterans Memorial (12-2) won its 11th consecutive game to earn a state semifinal berth against College Station, 26-21 winners against Smithson Valley. The schools will meet at 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10 in the Alamodome.

Key Moments

The Eagles capitalized on a fumble by PSJA North to strike first, on Durrette's first touchdown pass to Sabsook.

The junior outleapt two Raiders defenders for the ball and the early lead.

The Eagles first big stand stopped an 18-play PSJA North drive without any points, as the Raiders missed two field goals, including one that ended with a first down due to a Veterans Memorial penalty.

A defensive half ended with Veterans Memorial's senior signal caller scrambling to find Ryan Wilson just across the goal line for a 14-7 edge, seven seconds before the break.

A fourth-down stop by the Eagles at the 5, set up Sabsook's play that broke open the game. Durrette and Sabsook connected for a 92-yard catch-and-run as Sabsook shook one defender and then outran two others with 7:52 to play.

The 13-point deficit proved too much to overcome for the Raiders, who saw their season end at 13-1, the best in program history.

Veterans Memorial's Elijah Durrette looks to pass during the playoff game at Buccaneer Stadium. The Eagles defeated the PSJA North Raiders, 20-14, on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.
Veterans Memorial's Elijah Durrette looks to pass during the playoff game at Buccaneer Stadium. The Eagles defeated the PSJA North Raiders, 20-14, on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.

Key players

Sabsook had four catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Eagles offense.

Durrette was 12 of 21 for 231 yards and three touchdowns. Luke Moya finished with 19 carries for 87 yards against the state's second-best scoring defense in Class 5A Division I.

PSJA North's Ale Aparicio was 14 of 26 for 193 yards passing as the Raiders had to take to the air more than they typically do. Julius Arredondo finished with five catches for 113 yards.

Jason Montes led the Raiders on the ground with 17 carries for 105 yards.

Veterans Memorial's defensive line made PSJA North work for its 205 yards rushing, 78 of which came on four plays.

Veterans Memorial head football coach Ben Bitner tells the team not to rush the field during the final second of the playoff game against PSJA North on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022 at Buccaneer Stadium.
Veterans Memorial head football coach Ben Bitner tells the team not to rush the field during the final second of the playoff game against PSJA North on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022 at Buccaneer Stadium.

What the coaches said

PSJA North coach Marcus Kaufman on the game: "It didn’t turn out like we wanted. These guys played a heck of  ball game, that’s a tough football team over there. We didn’t get in sync on any side of the ball and by the time we figured it out it was already over.

"We had a couple of missed field goals there and we got inside the red zone, and they had a good plan for us there in the red zone. It caught us off guard … they changed it up. Coach (Lanny) Wilson does a heck of a job on defense and they were able to get a stop inside there."

Veterans Memorial coach Ben Bitner on how facing adversity this season helped the Eagles on Saturday: "I thought there were times our team could have flinched, but we didn't, defensively or offensively. We have been in a bunch of these, starting with Week 1. Our kids understand the moment. Understand to not get too high or too low. I am proud of them and the way we played the next snap."

PSJA North's Alejandro Aparicio is tackled by Veterans Memorial's Homar Barrera, bottom, and Nicolas Guerrero during the playoff game at Buccaneer Stadium. The Eagles defeated the Raiders, 20-14, on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.
PSJA North's Alejandro Aparicio is tackled by Veterans Memorial's Homar Barrera, bottom, and Nicolas Guerrero during the playoff game at Buccaneer Stadium. The Eagles defeated the Raiders, 20-14, on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.

What the players said

Veterans Memorial junior Christian Sabsook on the win: "We lost to Flour Buff exactly one year ago. 365 days. We knew we couldn't let it happen again. This time we got the 'W.' We knew that we had faced adversity a lot and they hadn't been in a lot of tight games. We have and we knew that we could overcome it and we knew we could win."

Veterans Memorial senior Nic Guerrero on the defensive mindset: "Our defense feeds on wanting to be out there in the big moment, when the time hits zeroes on the clock to win the game. We knew it was up to us and came out and got it done."

Next

Veterans Memorial (12-2) vs. College Station (12-2) in the Class 5A Division I state semifinals, 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, San Antonio's Alamodome.

This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: High School Football: Veterans Memorial tops PSJA North to win