CEDAR CREEK - Cedar Park's resiliency was on full display Friday night, as the Timberwolves rebounded from a 14-3 halftime deficit to knock off Magnolia 24-20 in the opening round of the Class 5A-Division I playoffs at Bastrop Memorial Stadium.
With starting quarterback Mak Sexton sidelined for the remainder of his high school career after sustaining a broken leg four weeks ago, backup Ryan Fiala tossed three touchdown passes and the Timberwolves' defense sacked Magnolia quarterback Mason Reese eight times, lifting Cedar Park to an eighth consecutive bi-district trophy.
"We made some adjustments offensively and defensively and we were able to come back," Cedar Park head coach Carl Abseck said. "We had some seniors step up and a lot of kids make some plays."
Cedar Park started slow and trailed 14-3 at the half, with a 26-yard Lucas Bardshar field goal the only points for the Timberwolves through the first two quarters. Running back Robert Parr got things started for Magnolia and Reese followed up with a touchdown pass to Michael Woods.
"We didn't play very good in the first half (and) they're a good football team," Abseck said. "We hurt ourselves with penalties, dropped balls... things we haven't really done all year. We put ourselves in a bad position."
Nevertheless, the Timberwolves offense persisted, and Fiala connected with Carlos Woolery and Brant McDonald in the third quarter, pushing Cedar Park out in front 17-14.
"[Fiala] stayed pretty steady, and that's what's important," said Abseck. "It's tough when you're struggling, but Ryan just needs to be Ryan and do his job."
On a fourth down and 10 from the Magnolia 18-yard line, Abseck and crew kept Fiala on the field, later watching the junior find McDonald for another touchdown, extending the lead to 24-14 in the fourth quarter.
"It was a pressure situation, and he made a play," Abseck continued. "He can do anything we ask him to do, he's going to do great things."
Despite the best efforts of the Magnolia offense, including a touchdown run by Darren Battle, Cedar Park's defense applied relentless pressure on Mason, and held the Bulldogs offense to negative yardage in the final four minutes.
Mason was chased out of the pocket, inducing a weak throw, on the final Magnolia offensive play. Fiala and the offense had nothing to do but kneel to end the game during the match's final minute. "These kids believe in one another, they believe in what they're doing, and they're gonna fight," Abseck said.
Cedar Park (10-1) faces Ennis, the winner of the bracket's adjacent bi-district match, at Waco ISD Stadium on Friday, Nov. 24 at 7:30pm.
Magnolia finishes 5-6 with the loss to Cedar Park on Friday.
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Final
(10-1) 3 0 14 7 24
(5-6) 14 0 0 6 20