As the old adage goes — “big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.”
The sentiment perfectly fit Rummel’s do-it-all playmaker Donovan Kaufman in Friday night’s Division I title game at Yulman Stadium.
The 5-foot-9, 209-pounder saved his best for last leading the top-seeded Raiders to a thrilling 14-10 victory over No. 2 Catholic-B.R. in Division I to secure Rummel’s third championship in team history.
Kaufman starred in all three facets of the game tying for the game-high in tackles with 11 from his safety spot, ripping away the football for a fumble recovery on a punt return, scoring on a 9-yard touchdown run for Rummel’s first points, housing a 95-yard kick for what proved to be the game-winning score, and intercepting a pass with just seconds left to lock up the win.
As expected, Kaufman was named Rummel’s Most Outstanding Player, and the Raiders’ most dangerous weapon was anything but shy in the postgame press conference.
“I don’t know if y’all can tell but I’m kind of excited,” began Kaufman, who also noted the passing of his father as a motivating factor for his performance. “I used to watch these interviews all the time when we didn’t make it to state, and I always wanted to be on this side of the table. So I’m really happy right now because this was a dream of mine.”
The rest of the Raiders (13-0) also realized their dream of capturing a state championship in what turned out to be a spectacular finish after a 3-0 game through the first three quarters in favor of Catholic (12-1).
Rummel had gained just 50 yards of offense through those first three quarters, but was about to nearly equal that total in just one play. The Raiders took a deep shot down the right sideline to LSU commitment Koy Moore, who came down with his first catch of the day for a 34-yard pickup down to Catholic’s 24-yard line.
Two plays later, Kaufman rumbled his way into the end zone from nine yards out to give Rummel a 7-3 lead with 10:50 to go in the game.
“We were struggling on the offensive side and I told (quarterback) Kyle (Wickersham) ‘just trust me, for this one play, just trust me. Just throw it high and I’ll make the play,” Moore explained. “When I made the play and I saw Donovan come in, I said ‘just pound it in.’”
“Koy with the chunk play when our offense was struggling to move the ball I thought changed the momentum of the game,” added Rummel coach Nick Monica. “From there, Donovan makes a big play, our defense continued to play hard and we were able to win the game.”
Rummel’s vaunted defense lived up to its reputation holding a high-powered Catholic offense to 209 yards through three quarters despite being on the field for 18 more plays than the Raider offense. The unit did, however, reap the benefits of 30 and 34-yard missed field goals in the first half, but the Bears were determined to come up with more than just three points late in the fourth quarter.
After back-to-back possessions from both teams ended in punts, Catholic took over at its own 14 with 3:52 remaining.
They immediately struck for two chunks of yardage with a 14-yard run by quarterback Jackson Thomas before a 29-yard catch and run by Lloyd Benson III. The next play was a perfectly executed throwback screen pass to running back Josh Parker, Catholic’s Most Outstanding Player, who outran the Rummel defense down the right sideline for a 43-yard touchdown and a 10-7 advantage with 3:09 left.
The chances of Rummel piecing together another long drive to retake the lead seemed slim, but it turned out their services wouldn’t be needed.
On the ensuing kickoff, Kaufman found space through the middle of Catholic’s coverage weaving his way through defenders for a breath-taking 95-yard kick return for a score.
“It was the blocking, the blocking was fabulous,” said Kaufman of the run back that put his Raiders on top 14-10 with 2:56 to play. “I saw the hole and hit it. I love (my blockers) and I thank God, I thank coach Monica and I did this game for my dad.”
“That dude is amazing,” said Quinton “Pig” Cage, the other half of the “Smash Brothers” along with Kaufman. They both tied junior linebacker Kolbe Fields in tackles with 11. “When (Kaufman) gets in the game, you just know something is about to happen. He’ll never let you down and he always has the will-power to win. He knows how to face adversity.”
It wasn’t over just yet, though, as Catholic still had time to put together one more drive in hopes of pulling ahead.
They were able to work their way down the field, most notably with a completion of 15 yards to Solomon Singleton and a 9-yard run by Thomas to get themselves out of a 3rd-and-20 jam.
They would soon face another fourth down situation from Rummel’s 36 with just 15 seconds left, but this one wouldn’t go in their favor as Kaufman, a current Vanderbilt commitment, came up with the game-sealing interception with two seconds left after the return.
Rummel, of course, took a knee, and the celebration of the Raiders’ first state title since 2013 commenced.
“As much of a pain in the butt as this senior class has been the last few years,” began Monica with a smirk. “We wanted this for them. Obviously the coaches wanted this, but we just wanted to see these kids running around like crazy with that trophy. It made all of the hard work worth it tonight.”
While the Raiders celebrated a well-earned victory, an incredible season for Catholic came to an end. It was the Bears’ fourth trip to the Division I title game in the last five seasons, and it was the second time they finished as the runner-up during that span.
A championship was certainly the primary goal for Catholic coming in, but coach Gabe Fertitta was more than satisfied with the effort his team put forward.
“I’m just really, really proud of these kids and how hard they’ve worked and all the things they’ve accomplished,” he said. “These guys battled today right down to the last heartbeat. For high school kids, if we can teach them how to do that, they’ll be alright in life. These guys are going to be great because they’re tough and they work hard.”
Catholic-B.R.: 346 yards of total offense (160 rushing, 186 passing)
Rummel: 137 yards of total offense (86 rushing, 51 passing)
Rushing: Josh Parker, 15-78; Jackson Thomas, 15-29; Landon O’Connor, 4-24; George Hart III, 2-11; Braelen Morgan, 3-10; Jackson Walker, 1-8.
Receiving: Josh Parker, 3-47, 1 TD; Jackson Walker, 3-37; George Hart III, 3-16; Braelen Morgan, 3-10; Corey Singleton, 2-30; Jalen Toaston, 2-16; Lloyd Benson III, 1-29; Sam Ethridge, 1-1.
Passing: Jackson Thomas, 17-24, 187 yards, 1 TD, 1 INTs; Landon O’Connor, 1-1, -1, 0 TDs, 0 INTs.
Rushing: Logan Diggs, 14-45; Donovan Kaufman, 4-20, 1 TD; Kyle Wickersham, 7-13; Jaelen
Sturgis, 4-10; Team, 2-(-2).
Receiving: Koy Moore, 2-49; Keith Robertson, 2-7; Logan Diggs, 2-(-5).
Passing: Kyle Wickersham, 6-11, 51 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT.
Catholic B.R. — Kylan Dupre 23 field goal, 5:42, 3-0.
Rummel — Donovan Kaufman 9 run (Patrick Vanderbrook kick), 10:50, 3-7.
Catholic B.R. — Josh Parker 43 pass from Jackson Thomas (Dupre kick), 3:09, 10-7.
Rummel — Kaufman 95 kick return (Vanderbrook kick), 2:56, 10-14.