No one picked them. No one believed they would make it through the gauntlet of the opening rounds of the championship bracket much less make it to the championship game.
No one believed in them except themselves.
Dickinson in its second year of competing at the State 7-on-7 Tournament walked onto the fields in College Station on July 9 after going 2-1 during pool play the day before. The previous year, when Dickinson was also in the championship bracket, coach John Snelson said they didn’t approach the second day the way they should have.
“Last year to be honest with you it was our first year and our kids were excited that we won our pool,” he said. “They were up till three or four o’clock in the morning, we played a 9 a.m. game and we weren’t ready, Cedar Hill put it on us. We came out sleepwalking in the first half and once you’ve been there there’s teachable moments that you can relay to the young kids.”
This trip was not about to be a repeat of the year before.
Dickinson started the day upending Texas commit Sam Ehlinger and Austin Westlake, 39-28, before beating Hebron 31-26, setting up a meeting with tournament favorite Manvel.
With under a minute to go, Dickinson trailed Manvel 36-34. To keep their run alive quarterback Jordan Grigg was going to have to orchestrate a game-winning drive.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Grigg stepped back and fired a long pass down the sideline. He was going for Kaeleen Stelly.
Stelly climbed the ladder, going above and over the defender from Manvel to make the highlight-reel catch, come down and strut into the endzone as time expired.
The game was over. Dickinson 40 – Manvel 36.
The Gators sideline erupted with joy as the players rushed towards the endzone, hugging and celebrating with Stelly for the catch and with Grigg for the throw.
“Just keep pushing the ball down the field and get into the endzone,” Grigg said about the final drive against Manvel. “When he hit that corner I knew he was going to be open, I threw it and he made the play.”
After back-to-back nail-biting victories, Dickinson took care of John Tyler with ease, winning 39-20, outscoring them 21-6 in the second half to secure the victory.
With the win, Dickinson punched its ticket to the program’s first ever 7-on-7 State Championship game in only the Gators second year of participation.
“We’ve got skill, we’re always going to have skill in Dickinson, Texas,” Snelson said. “We have to have toughness, we have to have discipline and we are well on our way to getting there and continuing the tradition that me and who came before us came laid. Proud to be a gator.”
In the State Championship game against fellow Houston team The Woodlands, Dickinson couldn’t conjure up another miracle drive at the end, falling 32-26.
“Could not be prouder of them,” Snelson said. “I would venture to say not one expert even picked us to win our pool, much less be in the finals. So all the credit goes to those kids.”
Despite falling short of the ultimate prize, finishing second in a year where the Gators weren’t among the favorites showed a lot about the team.
“It was fun because we weren’t supposed to come this far,” Stelly said. “We beat the top team here. We did some things people said we couldn’t.”