It isn’t often football is about everything except offense, but that was the case in Arlington on Saturday afternoon.
North Shore won state championships against Duncanville in 2018 and 2019 by scoring 35 or more in each game. The Mustangs scored half of that in this edition of what has become a near-yearly rivalry, but it was enough to take down Duncanville 17-10 for North Shore’s third 6A-I title in four years.
There’s a unique challenge in beating the same team three times in four years in the biggest game of the year. Coach Jon Kay preached the “nameless, faceless opponent” narrative to his squad to help overcome the familiarity of playing Duncanville.
“I just think it’s the approach from our kids and our coaching staff,” Kay said. “This has never been about North Shore versus Duncanville; the program versus the program. In my experience, we focus on what the kids need to focus on and not the outcome. Too often you focus on revenge or you focus on how this is the third time, you start to play scared or start to play a way that’s out of character for you.”
And defense was what each team needed to focus on this year; North Shore did that just a little better than Duncanville did. North Shore out-gained Duncanville 226-192, but low in terms of the yardage we have seen these two teams put up against each other previously.
Saturday was a game of offensive answers in the midst of typically long scoring droughts. North Shore opened the scoring with a short strike from freshman quarterback Kaleb Bailey to his brother Jhalyn Bailey late in the first. Then, Duncanville took nearly seven minutes off the clock and answered with a one-yard touchdown run from linebacker Jordan Crook, who subbed in as a “wildcat” quarterback, and the score was tied at half.
Then, the two traded field goals on consecutive drives in the middle of the third quarter to tie it up heading to the fourth. Perhaps the most telling stat explains how North Shore won the game. The Mustangs average starting field position was at its own 38 while Duncanville’s starting field position was its own 25. Both of North Shore’s touchdowns began with a drive starting on Duncanville’s half of the field.
What would prove to be the game-winning score came when Bailey found David Amador over the shoulder in the middle of the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown strike. The freshman hung in the pocket and delivered the ball right where it needed to be for one of the game’s only explosive plays, a play North Shore offensive coordinator Willie Gaston dialed up perfectly.
“We were heavy run a lot, so we knew at some point we were going to take a chance to hit a shot right there,” Gaston said. “It was just a simple shot play. We knew David Amador is one of our top receivers; Kaleb Bailey throws that ball very well, so it was one of those things that we had the opportunity right there to take that shot.”
Bailey had no easy task filling the shoes of four-year starter and two-time state championship game MVP Dematrius Davis as North Shore’s quarterback. Bailey threw for 107 yards and two touchdowns on an efficient 10-of-13 and did something Davis never did: win a state championship as offensive MVP as a freshman. While Davis was great in his role, this game was about the defenses.
What can only be described as a defensive slugfest was led by Kent Battle, a senior linebacker and captain. Battle finished with six total tackles, including 1.5 sacks for 13 yards. Battle is one of the few seniors for began his career at North Shore with that first Duncanville state title game back in 2018 and is ending his career in the same way. Battle has helped instill a sense of pride on the defensive unit throughout his career.
“We got a lot of pride,” Battle said. “Coach says every day that we got to be the most physical team. They’re going to throw a punch; we got to throw a punch, but we got to come out on top to be the most physical team. That’s how we play every day playing North Shore football; going to play hard every day and you see the outcome.”
While Battle and defensive MVP Ronald Wilson played fantastic, perhaps the best defensive effort of the day was a losing one. Duncanville linebacker Crook racked up nine tackles – the most in the game – two tackles-for-loss and a sack.
Duncanville running back Malachi Medlock was the lone 100-yard rusher, tallying 125 yards on 22 carries. The only other player to tally 100 yards was Bailey, who completed 10-of-13 passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns. With just 28 yards on 12 carries for quarterback Soloman James, the Panthers averaged just 3.4 yards-per-carry. Duncanville coach Reginald Samples knew that was trouble for the Panthers, who have leaned on the run game all year.
“I think the flow of the game was dictated by the defenses,” Samples said. “It made it difficult because we are primarily a running team and we had trouble running the ball. There were times when we were a little out of our element because we got behind the chains, and that’s just not our game.”
The title that has been so elusive for much of Samples’ career is heading back down I45 to East Houston with North Shore. Kay is appreciative for another title, but also for the chance to play such a similar opponent on this stage.
“One thing I think we take a lot of pride in (with) our community is the grit and the ability to finish,” Kay said. “I’m proud of Duncanville. To be honest with you, watching two communities like this fight on the biggest stage. Sometimes when you look at these games, sometimes it’s reserved for different kinds of communities. To see two working class communities go in there and put it on display, I couldn’t be more proud of both our teams.”