By TONY EIERDAM
It was almost a miracle finish.
With the Mineral Wells trailing by three points with 12 seconds left in the game after Castleberry had just kicked a 19-yard field goal to regain the lead, 24-21, all the Lions had to do on the ensuing kickoff was keep the ball out of the hands of dangerous MWHS set back DaShawn Hicks.
Hicks had given the Lions fits all night with a 98-yard kickoff return and a near touchdown on a screen pass in the fourth quarter that was called back on a holding call.
But inexplicably, Castleberry kicker Cristian Astorga – who had booted the go-ahead field goal with 12 seconds left to play – sent a squib kick down the field that skipped off the field turf and back to Hicks, who was waiting at his 10-yard line.
On the kick, Aastorga lined the kick at MWHS up back Chris Rapp, but Rapp made a heads-up play when instead of trying to catch the ball stepped aside to let the pigskin scoot to Hicks.
Hicks started in the middle of the field and cut left, and after breaking a tackle outraced two Lions all the way down to the Castleberry 28 where he was shoved out of bounds.
Although the clock read 0:00 as it appeared time had expired, officials ruled Hicks out of bounds and put three seconds back on the clock, giving the Rams a chance for a “Hail Mary” pass into the end zone.
Before the final snap of the contest, he Rams were called for illegal procedure, which placed the ball back at the 33-yard line of the Lions.
But the ball was in good hands with junior quarterback Caleb Acosta, who had enjoyed his finest game of the season as he completed 12 of 18 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns to that point.
On the game’s final play, Acosta stepped up in the pocket and sent a spiral deep to the middle of the end zone for a waiting Hicks, but the pass was a tad too tall and fell incomplete giving the Lions a 24-21 win Friday night in the District 6-3A opener at Ram Stadium.
The loss drops the Rams to 0-6 overall and 0-1 in district play. The Rams will continue 6-3A play at 7:30 p.m. Friday(Oct. 18) at Lake Worth in what now will be seen as a “must win” game.
“We just came up short,” Rams head coach Chuck Lawrence said after the game in a somber locker room. “Caleb had a good game, and our receivers had some nice catches, and we had good protection from the offensive line.
“We got the ball down deep several times but couldn’t put points on the board.”
Castleberry did not punt any time during the game, but were successful many times converting fourth-down plays into first downs. Lawrence said that was a key to the Lions’ win.
“We had them in fourth downs several times but they would just get enough yards for a first down,” Lawrence said. “But we can’t give up 321 yards on the ground ever (and expect to win).
“We let them control the ball and did not give our offense enough chances to score.”
The Rams’ defense may have been winded late in the game. Due to a pair of lost fumbles, the Rams held the ball for only three plays in the first quarter, and ran just 15 plays in the first half.
“Castleberry was just getting enough for a first down,” Lawrence said. “It would be third and three and they would get four yards or it would be fourth and five and they would get six.
“I am sure (being tired) played a part, but how much I really don’t know.”
Two lost fumbles resulted in two Castleberry touchdowns as the Lions led 14-0 midway through the second quarter.
But on Castleberry’s ensuing kickoff following the Lions’ second score, the Rams found lightning in a bottle in the form of 100-meter state finalist DaShawn Hicks.
Astorga’s kick appeared to be headed out of bounds as the ball skipped on the five-yard line but stayed in bounds.
But what looked like a break for the Lions instead turned the game around for the Rams. Hicks took the kick, broke a tackle and raced past four Lions’ defenders to complete a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 8:12 left in the second quarter.
The PAT attempt failed as the Rams cut the Lions’ lead to 14-6.
After holding the Lions on downs, the Rams put together an eight-play, 63-yard drive that was capped by a 16-yard
touchdown pass from Acosta to running back Tristan Seargeant.
Acosta was brilliant on the drive, completing five of five passes, two to Seargeant, a pair to Colby Kissinger and another to Hicks. But a big play in the drive was a three-yard run on third and two by Seargeant to keep the drive alive.
Kelly Williams ran in the two-point conversion to tie the game at 14-14, where it remained at the half.
To begin the third period the Rams drove the ball on 11 plays to the Lions’ 9. Seargeant again had his hand in keeping the drive going with a three-yard run on fourth and one.
However, after the drive stalled, Patrick Folkner’s 28-yard field goal attempt sailed wide as the score remained tied.
The Lions came back and scored on an Alex Scallion plunge of two yards, and Astorga’s PAT boot gave the Lions a 21-14 lead with 10:26 left to play.
The Lions held the Rams on MWHS’ ensuing possession, but Seargeant gave the Rams new life when he recovered a fumble at the Castleberry 30 with 7:50 left to play.
Four plays later, Acosta fired a bullet down the middle of the field where Chris Rapp made the catch for a 26-yard touchdown with 7:01 remaining in the contest.
Folkner’s PAT kick was true to tie the game at 21-21.
The Lions ran the ensuing kickoff back to midfield and methodically drove the ball deep into MWHS territory. However, the drive stalled as the Lions were facing a fourth and two from the MWHS 4 with under a minute left in the game.
But instead of trying a game-wining field goal, Scallions got the call and rumbled three yards off right tackle for a first down. The Lions positioned themselves in the middle of the field as Astorga kicked a 19-yard field goal to give the Lions a three-point lead.
That led to the frantic ending that the Lions survived to take the district opener.
There were plenty of positives in the game for the Rams including coming back from a 14-point first-half deficit and almost coming back to win the game in the second half. Lawrence hopes the Rams have gained confidence through this game to help them win next week at Lake Worth.
“I hope this game does give our kids confidence,” Lawrence said. “We have our backs against the wall now, and we have to keep going and come back to work.
“We need to keep putting our best foot forward. I just believe that good things happen to good people, and I think our kids are good kids.
“We just have to keep going.”
In other 6-3A games, Kennedale defeated Springtown, 56-28, and Lake Worth ran past Diamond Hill, 60-7.