By TONY EIERDAM
HICO – With 3:45 left to play in an exciting and furious six man Division I state semifinal game Saturday night at Tiger Stadium, the Gordon Longhorns, trailing 66-60, were poised to take the lead after stopping Abbott for the first time in the second half.
The ‘Horns and Panthers were engaged in a see-saw affair that saw Gordon come back and tie the game on two occasions early in the third period after taking three one-touchdown leads in the first half.
But after Abbott got a stop in the third quarter and scored twice to stretch its lead to two touchdowns, the Longhorns were playing from behind and unable to stop Panthers running back Tyler Russell, who would find the end zone on the ground nine times in this contest.
But after making up one of the scores and executing the big stop, the ‘Horns found themselves just 56 yards away from a chance of taking the lead and giving themselves an opportunity to advance to the state championship game.
However, it was not to be. A touchdown called back on a penalty and an incomplete pass on fourth down wiped out the best opportunity of the second half for the ‘Horns to take a lead.
Russell put the nail in the coffin with a four-yard blast into the end zone as the Panthers advance to the state title game after a 74-60 win over the Longhorns.
The ‘Horns finish a successful season with a 10-4 mark. Abbott advances to the state championship game and will face Throckmorton.
“I am extremely proud of our accomplishments,” Longhorns head coach Shane Mallory said. “Very proud.
“This season we never were entirely healthy, but our depth kept us alive. We just kept plugging in new people and rolled on.
“We had a big chance to win this game – it was within our grasp.
“We just didn’t get the breaks at the end that we needed.
“It is a game of inches, and it seemed like that is how close we were.”
The Longhorns’ season completed a four-year run for seniors Michael Cherry, Emory Allen, Pedro Lopez, Stephen Plowman, Evodio “Rodeo” Rodea, Blake Thompson, Alex Montelongo and Tyler Pool. The nine players were freshmen in Mallory’s first year at Gordon when the ‘Horns finished 1-9.
“I have developed a bond and tremendous respect for all of our guys, but particularly the seniors,” Mallory said. “They have truly become an inspiration to me. I can’t thank them enough.
“I learned as much from this group of seniors as they learned from me.
“These seniors have turned into men from boys over the past four years. Football is over for them, but they all have outstanding qualities and will do big things with their lives.”
Trailing 66-60, the ‘Horns stopped a power sweep on fourth down and 10 which made Abbott turn the ball over on downs at the GHS 24 with 3:45 remaining in the contest.
On first down, Allen scrambled for nine yards.
On the next play, it appeared Allen had completed a 47-yard touchdown pass to Lopez, but the officials ruled Lopez had stepped out of bounds before the catch as Gordon was penalized for illegal touching.
Later in the drive, the ‘Horns were called for holding, but on the ensuing snap Allen scrambled to the GHS 34 to set up a fourth and five.
On the fourth down play, Lopez was open on the right sideline, but the pass was dropped and wiped out what would have been at least a first down.
“We gave a few possessions away,” Mallory said. “That was uncharacteristic of us, and it was the difference.”
Abbott struck first as Russell scored the first of his nine TDs on a one-yard blast off right tackle.
Gordon tied the game on its ensuing possession on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Bays to Seth Wheeler. Jeremy Jorgensen booted the PAT to give the ‘Horns an 8-6 lead.
Russell scored from 20 yards out on the Panthers’ next series, but Gordon quickly got the score back on a six-yard run by Cherry. Jorgensen’s kick gave GHS a 16-12 lead.
It would be the kicking game on extra points that would keep the Longhorns in the game in the first half.
Abbott took the lead on its next possession when Branden Urbanovsky threw a pass to Ryan Popp that resulted in an 80-yard TD play. Gordon blocked the PAT attempt as Abbott led 18-16 with 2:09 left in the opening period.
Unfazed, Gordon came right back, capping a four-play, 50-yard drive on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Allen to Lopez just before the first quarter ended.
Jorgensen’s kick gave the ‘Horns a six-point lead, 24-18.
After holding Abbott on downs, the Longhorns lost a fumble that set up the tying score.
Russell completed a drive with a six-yard run to pay dirt, but again the Panthers failed to convert an extra-point kick and the game remained tied, 24-24.
A GHS interception set up the next Abbott score. However, the ‘Horns forced the Panthers into a fourth-and-goal from the five, and Abbott went with its go-to guy.
Russell plowed through the Longhorns for five yards off right tackle to take the lead just before the half.
But once again, the Panthers failed to convert the PAT kick and led just 30-24 at the break.
The Longhorns took the second-half kickoff and traveled to the Abbott 2 in seven plays.
On the eighth play of the drive, Cherry threw a bullet to Lopez for a two-yard touchdown, but Jorgensen’s kick was wide and the score stayed tied at 30-30.
Abbott quickly regained the lead when Xavier Casteneda returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown.
The Panthers finally executed an extra-point kick as Christopher Lynn’s kick was true as Abbott took a 38-30 lead.
A lost fumble by the ‘Horns set up another Abbott TD. Russell carried in from 17 yards out, and Lynn added the PAT kick as the Panthers stretched their lead to 46-30.
The ‘Horns cut the lead to a touchdown on their next possession when Cherry passed to Emory for a one-yard score.
Jorgensen added the PAT kick as Gordon cut the lead to 46-38 with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
However, in the next few series, every time Gordon would cut the lead to a touchdown, Russell seemed to will his way to the end zone. Russell scored on a pitch after racing 69 yards for a 52-38 lead just before the third period ended.
Gordon got the score back on a 35-yard TD pass from Allen to Tristen Garmon. Garmon showed great focus on the play, as he initially bobbled the pass but kept his concentration, pulled the ball back into his body and sprinted 25 yards to the end zone to complete the TD play.
Jorgensen added the PAT kick to cut the Panthers’ lead to 52-46 early in the fourth quarter.
However, Russell came back and scored on a 37-yard sprint, and the PAT kick increased the Panthers’ lead to 60-46.
Gordon again got to within a touchdown on a four-yard TD pass from Cherry to Lopez, but Russell matched the score with a 45-yard run to the end zone as Abbott led 66-52 with 6:33 left to play.
Gordon set itself up to win the game after Cherry threw an 11-yard TD pass to Brandon Gonzales, who did a brilliant job of keeping his feet in bounds after making a sideline catch in the end zone.
Gordon stopped Abbott on four downs on the Panthers’ ensuing series to set up the drama of the game’s final minutes.