It was so bizarre that, appropriately, the game ended in a 22-22 tie.
How could a tie be an upset? When it was Ben Bolt vs. Thorndale, Class A regional semifinals, 1990. Thorndale was eliminated on penetrations.
You’ve got to understand this. Thorndale was awesome. Don Cowan’s Bulldogs were the defending state champs. No Class A team had even come close to them. The Dogs’ only loss in two years was to a 2A power.
Thorndale had won two playoff games by a combined 80-6. They had just come off a 59-6 shellacking of Sabinal that was over in the first period.
Ben Bolt had barely gotten out of its far south Texas district. The Badgers had a good defense but a pretty basic offense without much punch or speed.
Thorndale was supposed to win, then tangle with arch-rival Bartlett in two weeks in a rematch at the regional final level.
Thorndale was simply better than Ben Bolt, much better. Those two teams could have played 100 times and the Bulldogs would have won 99.
Unfortunately those 99 games are all in our imagination and the 100th, the real one, took place in Yoakum Stadium 20 years ago.
How does an upset that big happen? There has to be some luck involved.
One the opening kickoff, an onside kick by Ben Bolt, Thorndale all-state defensive lineman Bobby Niemtschk dove for the football, collided with a teammate, hurt his knee and was out for the game.
Ben Bolt recovered and, running at what would have been Niemtschk’s side, drove 48 yards to a touchdown. They continued to attack that side all night.
Another factor in an upset this big has to be an absolutely brilliant game plan and Badger Coach Sam Perez had one.
Perez reasoned Thorndale couldn’t score if the Bulldogs didn’t have the ball. He planned to make the Badgers’ three-yardsand a-cloud of dust offense, and the clock, team up to limit Thorndale’s possessions. It worked.
Ben Bolt rushed 57 times for 231 yards. Yes, that’s only 4 yards per carry. But you know what? If you don’t fumble, and don’t have a penalty, 4 yards a crack is enough to score every time.
Perez knew exactly what he was doing. Ben Bolt used every second of the play clock, snapping the ball with 4 or 5 seconds left to keep the game clock ticking.
Ben Bolt’s most common penalty was delay of game.
It was Thorndale quick scores against Ben Bolt slow drives.
Badger quarterback Juan Garza was unbelievable. He rushed 29 times for 164 yards (still only a 5-yard average) but it seemed like most of them were 7-yard gains on third-and-six.
And he threw for a pair of short TDs. Outside of those Ben Bolt passed for a total of 21 yards!
Still, Thorndale led by 6, 22-16, late in the fourth quarter. The teams were even in penetrations at three with Ben Bolt way ahead in first downs, 16-6.
When the Badgers scored to tie the game, 22-22, it was apparently such a shock they first forgot to send their place kicker into the game for the PAT, then put the tee down at the wrong yard marker and missed the kick.
Thorndale needed only to cross the Badger 20 to “win” on the first tiebreaker. Ben Bolt held, then added another penetration. Now Thorndale needed a TD. The Badgers intercepted a Thorndale pass and the shocker was over.
Bartlett beat Ben Bolt 23-0 the next week and went on to win the state title.
Thorndale, of course, came back to post back-to-back state championships in 1994-95.
Post script. Amazingly the same thing happened in 1991 at the same playoff level.
Runge tied Thorndale 23-23 and advanced on penetrations.
But 1991 Runge had a much better team than 1990 Ben Bolt.