GATESVILLE — Punter Ronnie Barber diverted disaster, but only for a while.
The Gatesville senior punter corralled an errant snap in the first quarter and with Llano defenders closing in, threw the ball out of the back of his own end zone, sacrificing a safety to salvage a bad situation.
The play, as heads-up as it was, scored the go-ahead points for Llano and sparked the Yellowjackets’ momentum, maybe all the way to the postseason.
Llano scored 25 unanswered points in the first half, Jalen Bauman scored a 40-yard cushion score late in the fourth quarter and the Yellowjackets spoiled Gatesville’s homecoming and bolstered their playoff chances with a 37-25 win at McKamie Stadium on Friday.
“That’s what put us behind the 8-ball last week (against Burnet), too. I thought our punter made a great play on it and get it out of the end zone, but still it’s a momentum shift,” said Gatesville head coach Kyle Cooper. “It puts you behind the 8-ball after we had some good momentum going.”
Llano (4-4, 2-1 8-3A), after falling behind 7-0 early, led 25-7 late in the second quarter and 25-13 at halftime.
Gatesville (3-5, 1-2) pulled to within 25-19 on Dakota Vernon’s 7-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but Llano quarterback Layton Rabb complted a 42-yard touchdown pass to Chance Ware that made it 31-19 with 2:05 left in the third, and Bauman’s end-around score with 5:35 left gave the Yellowjackets the inside track to one of District 8-3A’s foru playoff seeds with two games left.
Llano finishes the regular season at Burnet (3-5, 1-2) and against Brownwood (3-5. 1-2). Gatesville plays at Brownwood and then finishes with district-leading Liberty Hill (7-1, 4-0), needing to win at least one to give itself a shot at the playoffs.
“We’ve got two tough ball games, and we’ve got to get ready to go play, that’s it,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to continue to get better. We’ve got another week to get to work, a chance to get a few guys back and get this thing pointed on the right track.”
Andraque Jones, seeing extra time and carries in the backfield because of injuries to starting running back Jake Kee and Tariq Miller, carried 19 times for 83 yards and the Hornets’ first two scores of the game, including a 1-yarder with 1 second left in the first half to cut the Yellowjackets’ halftime lead to 12. He also intercepted Rabb’s first throw of the game to set up his own 5-yard touchdown run and Gatesville’s early 7-0 lead.
“Missing Jake Kee and Tariq, that’s a big part of our offense and they asked me to step up and fill in a role, so I took responsibility for it,” Jones said.
“I’ve always wanted to carry the ball more, so it felt good to get the opportunity to do it. I didn’t think I’d do as good as I did — I kind of surprised myself — but, I had good blockers blocking for me.”
A 26-yard pass from Gatesville quarterback Jeff Speer set up Vernon’s 7-yard touchdown run. Speer threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Zae Paskett with 3:05 left, but the Yellowjackets recovered the Hornets’ onside kick and was able to run out the clock.
Speer completed 14 of 30 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown and Paskett led the Gatesville receivers with eight catches for 67 yards and a touchdown.
Rabb scored on a quarterback keeper to pull the Yellow Jackets to within 7-6 after a failed point-after try. Then, despite a 12-yard run by Vernon, the Hornets’ gained just six yards on their next drive and were forced to punt. Barber couldn’t handle the snap on fourth down and threw the ball out of the end zone, giving Llano an 8-6 lead with 4:44 left in the first quarter.
The Yellow Jackets settled for Forrester’s 23-yard field goal after the free kick for an 11-7 lead with 1:09 to go in the first.
After a failed fourth-down try by Gatesville, Llano marched 84 yards to set up Rabb’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Hutto for an 18-7 lead with 5:38 left in the half. Stiles added a 9-yard scoring run for a 25-7 lead with 3:34 left.
“Every time we get a small problem, we get our head down,” Jones said of the team’s ineffectiveness after the safety. “We’ve just got to figure out how to play through those small problems and turn around and win the game.”