(Hewitt) - The Lifegate Falcons gave retiring head coach John Rabon the ultimate sendoff Thursday evening by capturing the second state title in school history with a 90-40 win over Granbury North Central Texas Academy in the TAPPS Six-Man Division III championship game at Panther Stadium in Hewitt.
Rabon, who started Lifegate's six-man football program from scratch in 2003 and has been a teacher and coach for 47 years, couldn't have asked for a better parting gift than watching the 2017 Falcons grow into a championship team.
"I've had a great 15 years," Rabon said. "To top it off with a state championship, and to get it with these guys, you know these 14 kids, they're just really good kids, and they work hard, and they have fun together, and it's been a real pleasant season this year."
Lifegate spread-back Cayden Shellnut capped a breathtaking senior season with another masterful performance in the championship game, running for 317 yards and six touchdowns on 20 carries while throwing for 155 yards and another score.
When sophomore up-back Myles McCord extended the ball over the goal line for the three-yard touchdown that activated the 45-point mercy rule with 2:19 on the fourth quarter clock, Shellnut needed a few moments to absorb what he and his teammates had just accomplished.
"In shock that we just did that," Shellnut said. "Forty-fived a team for a state victory, senior year. That's just something that not everybody gets to do, and for us to do it, it's just amazing."
McCord ran for 56 yards and three touchdowns, Barry Osborne notched a team-high 82 receiving yards and scored once one the ground, Bodie Netherlain caught Shellnut's touchdown pass, and Quinten Shellnut returned a fumble 54 yards for a score.
The teams traded scores in the first quarter, with Lifegate using a 14-yard run by McCord and a pair of 37-yard scampers by Shellnut to take a 22-20 lead into the second period. Luke Landin hit a pair of two-point PAT kicks in the period, while the Pioneers' kicker was only successful on one try, with the Falcons blocking the third attempt.
Shellnut's 15-yard touchdown pass to Netherlain and a 22-yard run by McCord, along with two more Landin PATs, extended Lifegate's lead to 38-20 early in the second quarter. North Central Texas Academy's Caleb Lawrence scored from 12 yards out, Shellnut responded with a 39-yard touchdown for Lifegate, and the Falcons took a 46-28 cushion into halftime.
A 30-yard sprint to the end zone by Shellnut with 8:47 to play in the third quarter and another Landin two-point kick stretched Lifegate's lead to 54-28. The teams each found the end zone two more times in the period, with Lifegate's touchdowns coming on a 23-yard run by Shellnut and a three-yard rumble by Osborne, each followed by successful Landin PATs. Shellnut blocked the two-point kick attempt after NTCA's 22-yard touchdown pass from Nash Siatchetema to Bob Hu midway through the quarter.
Lifegate took a 70-40 lead into the fourth quarter and never looked back. Shellnut capped a 60-yard drive with a 17-yard run with 8:29 left, the younger Shellnut - Quinten - recovered a fumble and sprinted 54 yards into the south end zone with 6:13 remaining, and McCord punctuated the victory with his three-yard plunge at the 2:19 mark.
While Shellnut repeatedly gashed the NTCA defense, Rabon emphasized that a team effort, particulary from up-backs Osborne and McCord, helped spring the speedy senior for big chunks of yardage, and added that Pioneers' head coach Mike Hendon made a similar observation.
"Like their coach said, they didn't have an answer for him (Shellnut), but he said he was impressed by the way our up-backs blocked," Rabon noted. "That's the key, too. If those guys block, I always kid them and say heck, I could have made that touchdown with that blocking."
Shellnut and McCord recorded 16 tackles apiece to lead the Falcons defensively. Lifegate recovered four fumbles - one each by each Shellnut, McCord, and David Brewer. Osborne finished with eight tackles, and Barson Schmidt chipped in with four.
The state championship was Lifegate's first since 2012, when the Falcons defeated Fredericksburg-Heritage 60-14 for the TAPPS Six-Man Division II title in Zephyr.
Cayden Shellnut, Osborne, and Netherlain are the only seniors on the 2017 roster, so Lifegate will return 11 varsity players in 2018, all of whom are currently freshmen or sophomores.
After capturing the TAPPS Six-Man Division III championship, the Falcons' final 2017 record is 9-3.