By DAVID MAY
HICO – The Gordon Longhorns began their season with a loss in Hico. They didn’t want to end their season that way Saturday.
Gordon attacked and physically wore down the Zephyr Bulldogs, 88-42, to capture a bi-district win in the Division 1 six-man playoffs. The Longhorns (8-3) advance to play Savoy.
The date, time and location of the area-round playoff game were not known Monday.
Zephyr, runners up in their district, ended their season with a 7-4 ledger.
Of Gordon’s 12 touchdowns, senior Michael Cherry ran for four of them, caught two touchdown passes and threw for three scores. Cherry, who scored the game’s last three touchdowns, rushed for 185 yards on 24 attempts and had 54 yards passing on a six-of-seven performance.
Just in time for the post-season, the Longhorns were a healthier team with Pedro Lopez and junior Jonathan Jennings returning to action after recovering from injuries. Both had immediate impacts. Lopez rushed for 77 yards and two touchdowns while Jennings ran for a touchdown and caught a TD pass.
Though still missing two key players out for the season, Gordon head coach Shane Mallory was glad to have Lopez and Jennings back.
“We have been injured all year,” Mallory said. “We haven’t played all year with everyone healthy.”
Mallory was also thankful for a playoff win a year after his team went 8-2 but failed to make the post-season because of a 1-2 district mark. But the Longhorns returned almost everyone from that squad, Mallory said. That experience showed in a Gordon team that looks determined to make a deep playoff run.
“We kind of felt like we were going to have to throw the football a lot more than we did,” Mallory said. “The quarterback is probably mad at me because we had a lot of plays that we didn’t even use. We just kind of wore them down. Once we got up 20 it just kind of snowballed on them. They kept scoring on third and longs and would get a first down and get down field and score. But we were able to keep a 20- and 30-point cushion and finally were able to pull away from them.”
Overall, Gordon racked up 474 yards of offense – 278 of those on the ground and 196 through the air. Seven of the team’s touchdowns came on runs while five came on passes. The Longhorns tallied 19 first downs.
Meanwhile, Gordon’s defense allowed Zephyr 377 total yards of offense and held them to just six first downs. Junior Jake Wigington, who scored on a touchdown pass, led the Longhorns’ defensive assault with 10 tackles, one sack and two fumble recoveries. Senior Stephen Plowman added another fumble recovery for Gordon.
As the final score indicates, the action was fast and furious throughout the contest at Hico Stadium. The game began with Gordon sacking Bulldogs quarterback Josh Todd for a 10-yard loss on the first play. But on the second play, Derek Jesko raced past all Longhorns defenders for a 55-yard TD to put Zephyr up 8-0 1:02 into the game.
Gordon answered with a six-play, 42-yard drive that ended with Jennings hauling in a Cherry pass and scoring from five yards out to tie the game at 8.
That score lasted just a few seconds as Zephyr’s Dakota Rogers took the ensuing kick off 70 yards for a touchdown to put the Bulldogs back in front, 16-8.
Back came Gordon, as Cherry had runs of 10 and 13 yards, then hit Wigington on a 13-yard pass play before Lopez ran it into the end zone from 10 yards out. The point-after failed, and Gordon trailed 16-14.
But Gordon would soon take the lead for good. Zephyr fumbled a pitch on its next offensive play and the Longhorns took over at their own 37. Cherry had an 11-yard run followed by a 24-yard run by Jennings. Jennings then scored for the second time from five yards out. A two-point kick by Jeremy Jorgensen staked Gordon to a 22-16 lead it would not relinquish.
Gordon’s defense stopped Zephyr on four downs, taking over at its own 32-yard line. Lopez ran for 12 yards and Emory Allen hit Wigington on a 21-yard pass play. A run by Cherry aided by a facemask penalty on Zephyr gave Gordon first-and-goal at the 6. Cherry topped off the drive with a one-yard dive and Gordon went up 28-16 early in the second quarter.
Zephyr’s offense was again stopped on just four downs and lost a key player, Kaiden King, for the game with an apparent shoulder injury. Taking over at the Bulldogs’ 39, Gordon scored when Cherry hit Wigington running a slant route across the middle of the field that went for 24 yards into the end zone to put Gordon up 36-16.
With 1:45 until halftime, Zephyr scored on a pass play to close the gap to 36-24. But Gordon would score again, with 52 seconds left in the second, when Cherry dropped back looking to pass, then decided to pull the ball and take off and scampering past the Zephyr defenders for a 44-yard TD and a 44-24 lead.
Zephyr was not done, however. On first down at the Bulldogs’ 33, Todd also went back looking to pass then, like Cherry, decided to run for it. He escaped a near sack in the backfield and scurried 47 yards for a score with just 32 ticks till halftime. Gordon took a 44-30 lead into the locker room.
Gordon began the third quarter with the ball at Zephyr’s 30 after recovering one of the many onside kick attempts in this game. Cherry had runs of nine and 17 yards before sweeping to his left from three yards out into the end zone for 52-30 Longhorns lead early in the period.
The Longhorns recovered the ensuing onside kick and began a drive at Zephyr’s 33. Allen then hit Brandon Gonzales on a 15-yard pass and Lopez scored three plays later from five yards out to put Gordon up 60-30 and in complete control of the game.
Zephyr followed with a score on fourth-and-goal to pull to within 60-36 late in the third, but it was too little too late for the Bulldogs.
Three plays later, Allen connected with Cherry on a 33-yard scoring toss to make it 66-36 Gordon.
Zephyr’s next and last score came late in the third and was somewhat controversial – if inconsequential. Zephyr had a touchdown called back on an illegal block flagged by both the referee and side judge. On the next play, facing first-and-25 from its 31, Zephyr reached the end zone again on a 47-yard pass to Rogers. There appeared to be another illegal block in the backfield similar to the previous play. The side judge threw his flag, but the referee standing behind the play kept his flag in his pocket. After a quick conference between the two the flag was waived off and the score changed to 66-42 in Gordon’s favor.
Gordon put up three more unanswered touchdowns to end the game via the 45-point six-man mercy rule with 4:03 remaining. The first of those came on an eight-yard run by Cherry. He followed that with a 19-yard scoring pass to Allen. The last score came when Allen hit Cherry on a 21-yard pass play as Cherry raced down the Gordon sideline and into the corner of the end zone.
By DAVID MAY
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