WACO — Rising contender Temple won the early rounds and bloodied the nose of established champion Cedar Hill, and the confident Wildcats had the Longhorns on the ropes in Saturday afternoon’s Division II-5A bi-district playoff game at Floyd Casey Stadium.

However, upset-hungry Temple couldn’t simply expect to last until the final bell and prevail on points. The Wildcats had to land the knockout punch, but resilient Cedar Hill cleared the cobwebs and delivered a second-half performance worthy of a heavyweight champ.

Temple dominated to seize a 28-7 halftime advantage and led by 16 late in the third quarter, but Damarkus Lodge and Aca’cedric Ware helped Cedar Hill score the final three touchdowns, and Demarcie Perry intercepted Chase Truelove’s pass near the goal line with 44 seconds remaining as the Longhorns defeated the stunned Wildcats in a 39-35 classic.

Seeking its first playoff victory since 2003, Temple (7-4) never trailed until Ware’s 17-yard touchdown run — his fourth score — gave Cedar Hill a 39-35 edge with 3:14 left.

“It’s just sickening. I’m so disappointed for our guys because they put such a great amount of effort and energy into it,” Temple coach Mike Spradlin said after emerging from an emotional locker room. “They played with such great energy and just did not get the prize.

“Football is brutal sometimes. You can play your heart out and it’s right there for the taking and you don’t take it. We got socked in the mouth emotionally.”

Contrasting Temple’s devastation was the exhilaration for Cedar Hill, last year’s Division II-5A state runner-up. The Longhorns (9-2) earned an area-round duel against Lewisville Hebron (8-3).

“Temple did a great job, an incredible job,” Cedar Hill coach Joey McGuire said. “I talked to my kids all week about understanding how good Temple was on offense. And Temple’s defense did a great job in the first half. They stoned us.”

Temple junior Jeff Carr rushed for 194 yards, including first-half touchdowns of 58 and 62 yards. Senior quarterback Truelove ran for a score and threw TD passes to DeAngelo Bell and Chris Minter.

After making only two receptions for 23 yards before halftime, the explosive Lodge caught seven second-half passes from fellow junior Justin McMillan for 223 yards, highlighted by strikes of 47, 62 and 70 yards.

The Wildcats resembled the postseason veterans early on. Their defense stonewalled Larry Hill on fourth-and-1 from Temple’s 21, then Carr raced off left tackle for a 58-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 3:43 left in the first quarter. The Wildcats stuffed Hill again on fourth down at midfield, and early in the second quarter Truelove’s 1-yard TD created a 14-0 advantage.

Ware responded with a 3-yard score, but Carr’s 62-yard TD sprint and Truelove’s 9-yard scoring strike to Bell supplied Temple with a 28-7 halftime advantage and major momentum.

“It felt good,” Temple senior receiver Erick Arizmendi said. “We’ve been on a mission for this whole season, so that’s what we were planning on doing.”

McGuire had a direct, under-control message at halftime.

“Coach McGuire gave us a great speech. He told us to get after it,” said Ware, who ran for 93 second-half yards with three TDs. “We pulled together and did what we had to do.”

The 6-3, 195-pound Lodge broke down Temple after the break, and his 7-yard TD and Ware’s 4-yard scoring run cut Cedar Hill’s deficit to 28-19 3½ minutes into the third.

The Wildcats drove 76 yards, capped by Truelove’s 8-yard touchdown to Minter on a fourth-and-4 rollout pass for a 35-19 lead.

After Cedar Hill stopped Truelove’s fourth-down rush inches short on a controversial measurement, McMillan’s 70-yard scoring bomb to Lodge made it 35-25 entering the fourth.

Temple marched to the Longhorns’ 13 before an incomplete fourth-down pass, and Ware’s 43-yard TD burst sliced Temple’s lead to 35-32 with 5:35 remaining.

Cedar Hill’s increasingly effective defense forced a three-and-out followed by a short punt, then Ware blasted in from 17 yards away for the Longhorns’ first lead.

Arizmendi’s 20-yard catch on third-and-15 helped Temple reach Cedar Hill’s 14. But with 50 seconds and one timeout remaining, Perry stepped in front of Carr to intercept Truelove’s pass at the 1, and Cedar Hill ran out the clock to deal the Wildcats a heartbreaking loss.

“This is a game of momentum. We stayed the course and gave ourselves a chance down the stretch,” Spradlin said. “Cedar Hill played for a state championship last year and (McGuire) thinks they’re better this year.”

“This shows we can compete at that level and we’ll use it as a springboard. I hate it for our kids and our seniors. It might be the most solidly led group of young men I’ve had the opportunity to coach. I love them.”

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