SANTO – Two missed second half touchdown conversions and a goal line interception did the Santo Wildcats in as they suffered a heartbreaking loss at home Friday night to the visiting Quanah Indians, 28-26, in a Class 2A, Division II bi-district playoff game.
The Wildcats capitalized in the first quarter on a Brady McPherson interception and drove 73 yards, capped by a 12-yard pass from quarterback Jett Bryan to Grant Nemeth, both seniors, to take a 6-0. The point after kick try failed.
Santo found the end zone again in the second quarter, this time on an 11-yard toss from Bryant to another senior, wide receiver Landon Fallin. Senior running back Austin O'Hair converted a two-point run to put Santo up 14-0.
The Wildcats went to halftime leading 14-6 and were set to take the second half kickoff. But Quanah surprised Santo with an onside kick recovered by the Indians. Running back Colton Tole scored from the 1-yard line. Quarterback Landin Leija ran in the conversion and the game was suddenly tied at 14.
With Quanah now leading 22-14 midway through the 3rd quarter, Santo drove the ball to a first-and-goal at the 5. Bryan scrambled right on a pass play and threw an interception at the goal line while taking a hard shot as he fell out of bounds.
With Leija scrambling around and through the Santo defense in the second half, the Indians reeled off 22 unanswered points and led the Wildcats, 28-14, with 7:24 to play in the game.
Santo sophomore Case Proctor fielded a short kickoff and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown. A kick attempt on the point-after failed and Santo was back to within 28-20 of Quanah.
Santo returned the favor on the Indians, recovering their own onside kick that ultimately led to Nemeth's 6-yard score to make it 28-26 with 3:44 to play. But a two-point try went awry as Nemeth took a pitchout and swept right, only to find too many Indians between him and goal line. He tried passing back across the field to Bryan but the effort failed.
Using two timeouts, the Wildcats defense forced a punt as Quanah ran just 15 seconds off the clock. But deep in their own territory, the Indians forced a Santo fumble, recovered it and ran out the last two minutes to take the win.
Santo finished the year 8-3, and said goodbye to a dozen seniors.
"We have been with those seniors since Day One, for eight years, when they were in elementary," said Santo head coach Devon Mann. "They were freshmen when I was promoted to the head football job. It's hard to send them off. It's hard to see them leave. It is very emotional, because you always want one more."
Mann said Quanah's ability to break key runs in the second half, especially by Leija, were a big difference.
"Their quarterback is a great athlete," Mann said. "He is slippery. It's hard to get hands on him. Their best play was when he dropped back to pass and he got loose, scrambling around making stuff happen.
"They came and they played. Our kids tried hard, they just came up short."
Santo failed to check a couple of boxes this year – win a district title and win another bi-district title. The good news is next year's team will have 13 seniors if all the juniors on this year's team return. They will soon begin working towards fulfilling their goals and checking more boxes in 2020.