Editor’s note: This story has been updated since it was first published.
ARLINGTON — The much-ballyhooed Southlake Carroll vs. Austin Westlake showdown, and everything that led up to it, could provide the script for a Hollywood blockbuster someday. Saturday Night Lights, perhaps.
A deadly virus causing a global pandemic, but a football-crazed state still playing a high school football season that started in 2020 and finished in 2021.
Carroll’s Riley Dodge coaching against his legendary father in an unprecedented state championship matchup on the home field of the Dallas Cowboys — four days after returning to work from a COVID-19 quarantine.
Carroll superstar quarterback Quinn Ewers, a No. 1 national recruit with NFL potential, overcoming a serious injury and trying to lead an underdog to an improbable championship.
Saturday night’s Class 6A Division I state championship game at AT&T Stadium had everything a movie producer could want — except for a dramatic Hollywood ending.
Austin Westlake scored on nearly every drive, had its second straight state championship wrapped up in the third quarter, and gave coach Todd Dodge family bragging rights by beating eight-time champion Southlake Carroll 52-34 in the Class 6A Division I title game.
Not counting when it had the ball for one play and ran out the clock at the end of the first half, Westlake (14-0) scored points on its first eight drives — seven touchdowns and a field goal. Cade Klubnik showed that he is the next great quarterback at a school that has produced 13-time NFL Pro Bowler Drew Brees and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, but the four-star junior had plenty of help as Westlake amassed 528 yards of offense, including 308 on the ground.
Klubnik had the Carroll defense off balance all game, throwing for 220 yards and a touchdown on near-perfect passing (18 of 20) while rushing for 97 yards and two scores to earn the game’s offensive MVP award. Yale pledge Zane Minors ran for 137 yards — including a 75-yard scoring run on Westlake’s first play from scrimmage — and running back Grey Nakfoor rushed for three touchdowns and hurdled a Carroll defender on another run.
It was the most points scored in a 6A Division I title game since Allen beat Pearland 63-21 with future No. 1 NFL draft pick Kyler Murray at quarterback in 2013. Carroll’s defense didn’t force a punt until there was 2:16 left in the game.
“They’re very balanced. It starts with their two running backs and their quarterback,” Riley said. “Cade is a great player. Just super dynamic with his legs. When you have a quarterback that is as accurate as he is and can really run … when he’s in the open field, he might be the best guy on the field.”
This is the third straight season that a Dallas-area team failed to win a state title in Class 6A after Cedar Hill lost to Katy in the Division II final earlier Saturday. Allen was the last local state champion in the UIL’s largest classification, claiming the Division I title in 2017. The last such drought for D-FW was from 1988 to 1992, when no local teams won a championship in 5A (then the top classification).
Carroll’s coach said earlier in the week that he thought 6A Division I was the toughest playoff bracket in the country. Southlake Carroll (12-2) finished the regular season ranked No. 19 in the state, and to win a state championship it would have needed back-to-back wins over teams ranked in the top five in the nation by MaxPreps — including No. 4 Westlake, which had won its first 13 games by an average of 47 points.
“Obviously we’re super disappointed in the outcome tonight. I’m proud of the way our kids fought, they never gave up,” Riley said. “I thought our kids had great character tonight.”
Carroll, playing in a state final for the first time since winning the title in 2011, fell to 8-2 in its history in state championship games. A win Saturday would have allowed Carroll to tie Katy (won its ninth title earlier Saturday) for second place in UIL 11-man football history behind only Aledo, which won its 10th championship Friday.
The Dodge Bowl — Carroll’s coach matching wits with his father/Westlake coach Todd Dodge — was the big story all week, in part because Todd was going against a Carroll program that he coached to four state titles and a 79-1 record from 2002 to 2006. Riley was the star quarterback for Carroll’s undefeated 2006 team that beat Westlake and Foles in the state championship game, and Riley was a ball boy for Westlake growing up and was on the sideline during the 1996 season when Brees led Westlake to its first state championship.
“I told my football team early in the week that there’s a lot of attention toward the Dodge family and the Dodge Bowl,” Todd said. “Riley and I were both honored to be a part of something that was the first time it had ever happened in the state of Texas in a state championship game. But this was not about us. This was about the Westlake Chaparrals and the Southlake Carroll Dragons, and a bunch of kids whose hearts are bigger than this stadium.”
Father and son met on the field as the game ended and shared a brief exchange.
“I just told him congratulations. They have a heck of a football team,” Riley said. “He said the same thing to me. I just said I love him and very, very proud of him.”
AT&T Stadium looked much different than a year ago when Westlake won the 6A Division II state title.
With the UIL limiting the crowds to a maximum of about 17,000 at any time because of COVID-19, the 6A Division II game earlier Saturday drew 8,838, and the announced attendance for Carroll vs. Westlake was 15,471. Last year’s crowd of 47,818 for the 6A Division I final was one of the largest in state history — and surpassed the attendance for about 70% of the college bowl games — and Westlake’s 24-0 win over Denton Guyer had a crowd of 35,278.
Ewers, a five-star Ohio State pledge who is the No. 1 recruit in the nation in the Class of 2022, was playing his fourth game since returning from surgery for a sports hernia and threw for 214 yards and two touchdowns (both to Minnesota signee Brady Boyd) in the first half against a Westlake defense that was allowing 5.5 points per game. But Carroll still trailed 28-21 at halftime as it never stopped Westlake, which scored on drives of 75, 76, 47 and 75 yards and finished the half with 298 yards of offense.
The second half was all Westlake, as it scored the first 24 points to take a 52-21 lead with 8:29 left. Nakfoor’s 4-yard touchdown run on Westlake’s first drive of the half made it 35-21, defensive back Michael Taaffe made an incredible leaping one-handed interception on Carroll’s ensuing drive, Klubnik scored on a 4-yard run to extend the lead to 42-21, and the rout was on.
Ewers threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns, and Boyd had 12 catches for 189 yards, but Ewers was intercepted by Taaffe with 20 seconds left in the first half as Carroll was driving for a potential game-tying score, and it was downhill from there for Carroll. Carroll sophomore running back Owen Allen ran for two touchdowns, but he was held to 40 yards on 15 carries a week after running for 192 yards in a 34-27 win over Duncanville, which was ranked No. 5 in the nation at the time.
Southlake Carroll’s title game history
|1988||SL Carroll 42, Navasota 8||3A|
|1992||SL Carroll 48, Coldspring 0||3A|
|1993||SL Carroll 14, Cuero 6||3A|
|2002||SL Carroll 45, SB Smithson Valley 14||5A DII|
|2003||Katy 16, SL Carroll 15||5A DII|
|2004||SL Carroll 27, SB Smithson Valley 24||5A DII|
|2005||SL Carroll 34, Katy 20||5A DII|
|2006||SL Carroll 43, Austin Westlake 29||5A DI|
|2011||SL Carroll 36, FB Hightower 29||5A DI|
|2020-21||Austin Westlake 52, SL Carroll 34||6A DI|