The season could have been saved.
Gatesville could have been playing Gilmer next week in the Division II-3A semifinals had it made plays when it needed to. The Hornets had plenty of time, ample opportunities, but down the stretch, nothing went right.
Despite allowing Graham to score a go-ahead touchdown with 5:37 remaining, Gatesville was given great field position after the Steers attempted an onside kick Connor Watson recovered at the Hornets’ 48-yard line. Three consecutive runs by quarterback Cole Edmiston accounted for only 8 yards, however, and, facing fourth-and-2, Gatesville literally dropped the ball.
Edmiston eluded several would-be tacklers as he scrambled from side to side before finding receiver Danny Byrd positioned in the middle of the field. With a defender on his back, Byrd could not hold on to the ball, and Graham took control with 3:49 to go.
After the game, Edmiston admitted the Steers got the best of Gatesville on the critical fourth-down conversion attempt.
“They had it covered,” the senior said. “I was going to run, and I didn’t know if I could get the (2 yards), so I turned around and ran back the other way. I kind of saw Danny and thought I could put it on him, and the defender made a good play.”
In the second half, Graham’s defense, which was virtually nonexistent in the first half, made lots of good plays.
Gatesville posted 247 total yards in the first half as Edmiston completed nine of 14 passes for 117 yards. In the second half, though, he was 2-of-6 for 60 yards, with 52 coming on the Hornets’ lone second-half touchdown — a third-quarter pass to Tyler Jaynes. On the ground, Gatesville recorded 32 yards after halftime following a 130-yard performance, including three rushing touchdowns, in the first half.
“As a lineman, I know that they widened their ends a little bit and it was a little bit harder to run,” Gatesville center Trevor Barton said. “They shut that down a little bit and made adjustments.”
Still, the Hornets had chances — albeit slim — to overcome the 40-35 deficit with a defensive stop, but the Steers converted on second-and-17, devouring precious seconds off the clock. Then Gatesville head coach Kyle Cooper burned his final timeout with 1:52 remaining as Graham was facing third-and-5.
A stop would have left the door cracked for a Hornets’ comeback, but Graham quarterback Ben Davis, who completed nine consecutive passes prior to the play, delivered once again, finding Jerrod Mahan for 29 yards, allowing the Steers to run out the clock and end Gatesville’s previously undefeated season.
“Our kids played their tails off,” Cooper said. “We just didn’t put them in quite the right positions to get it done.”
Outside of an extended drive ending in a tipped punt early in the fourth quarter, the Hornets (13-1) only ran 11 offensive plays, and nine covered 5 or fewer yards.
Despite lasting more than four minutes, Gatesville netted only 4 yards following a pair of penalties and a sack on its drive resulting in the tipped punt, giving the Steers possession at their own 40-yard line.
Assisted by a pair of 15-yard penalties on Gatesville, including a pass interference call on fourth down to keep the drive alive, Graham claimed its only lead of the game a little more than two minutes later, when Davis found Hunter Jones for a 27-yard touchdown with 5:37 remaining.
“My team gave it all they could,” Jaynes said. “We played our hearts out. We just weren’t there for the big plays when we needed them or the key plays. The little things (killed us).”