STEPHENVILLE — Gatesville senior linebacker Brandon Berry knew losing was a possibility, but he didn’t believe it.
Backed up twice in the final seconds of the first half and the start of the third quarter, the Gatesville defense pushed back.
Matthew Wallace intercepted Graham quarterback Ben Davis as the Steers looked poised to score in the final seconds of the first half and Berry and Cutter Shaw both registered sacks on Graham’s first drive of the third quarter to get out of a first-and-goal jam.
“We thought that was going to change the game up, keep us ahead,” Berry said of the second-half stop.
But the Hornets’ season, perfect for all but one night, ended Friday in a 40-35 loss to the Steers in a Division II-3A state quarterfinal at Tarleton State’s Memorial Stadium.
Instead of taking a two-score lead, Gatesville (13-1), which totaled 332 yards in the loss, went three-and-out on its opening drive of the second half and the Steers tied the game two plays later.
“That’s what you’re looking for right there — a chance to start putting it away,” said Gatesville coach Kyle Cooper.
Without that cushion, the door was left open for Davis and the Steers (13-1).
Graham quarterback Ben Davis, who completed 21 of 25 passes for 320 yards with two interceptions, threw two of his three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, while Gatesville played the 15½ minutes without a score.
“We just wanted to sack the quarterback and try to get the ball back to our offense,” Cutter said of the Steers’ opening drive of the second half. “Our offense couldn’t be stopped until we stopped them. Then, they stopped us and we couldn’t do a whole lot.”
Gatesville quarterback Cole Edmiston scored the second of his two rushing touchdowns to give the Hornets a 28-21 lead. The Steers marched 62 yards in five plays to the Gatesville 13, but Wallace stepped in front of a Graham receiver to halt the drive and preserve the Hornets’ seven-point halftime lead.
The Steers again marched 62 yards to the Gatesville 8, but went backward from there. They lost 10 yards on an errant snap and 15 on Cutter’s sack of Davis to the Gatesville 33. Following a 5-yard false start penalty, Graham had a third-and-goal at the Hornets’ 38-yard line when Berry notched his sack for a 9-yard loss. On fourth-and-goal from the Gatesville 47, the Steers punted for the first time in the game.
“They’re a very good offense and for us to come down and get those big stops at that time,” Cooper said. “It was a big swing of momentum for us and just weren’t able to keep it going.”