WEATHERFORD — It pays to be good, but, sometimes, it helps to be lucky.
After trailing for three quarters, Vernon put together a furious comeback attempt in the final 12 minutes, trimming Gatesville’s lead to 12 points with 4:47 remaining in the game.
The Lions then recovered an onside kick and were threatening to cut even further into the deficit, but Hornets’ defensive back Tyler Jaynes intercepted a pass to help secure a 40-28 victory in the area round of the Class 3A playoffs Friday afternoon.
And the senior barely saw it coming.
“All I saw was the sun,” Jaynes said. “All of a sudden, I see the sun get blocked out by the ball. Luckily, it stays in the sun, and I’m able to find it. Just because it was blocking the sun, it was all I saw, and I was able to stick my hands out and grab it.
“I was very surprised (the ball was right there).”
The beneficial break set up a 65-yard touchdown run by Gatesville quarterback Cole Edmiston, and the Hornets held on to keep their state championship hopes alive and their undefeated record intact.
“We are going to celebrate and then put it behind us,” Edmiston said. “We are just playing the game that we love and are just so blessed to be able to keep playing.”
The victory propels Gatesville (12-0) into a regional game against Monahans (8-5) after the Loboes defeated Shallowater 21-7 on Saturday. The game will be played Friday at Abilene’s Shotwell Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
“We’ve just got to go into practice with a good mindset, like we’ve been doing, practice hard, and we will take care of business next week,” Gatesville receiver Danny Byrd, who led the Hornets with four receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown, said.
Outside of the fourth quarter, there was little doubt as to who the better team was.
After taking a 10-0 lead, thanks to a 29-yard field goal by Sebastian Corrales late in the first quarter and Edmiston’s three-yard scoring run early in the second quarter, Gatesville added to its lead after Vernon gambled and lost, leaving the Hornets with a short field to work with.
Facing a fourth-and-8 situation from midfield, the Lions (9-3) faked a punt and threw an incompletion, turning the ball over on downs.
It took Gatesville four plays to capitalize as Edmiston, who accounted for 306 total yards, including a game-high 161 rushing yards, and was involved in all five of the Hornets’ touchdowns, found Jaynes for a nine-yard score along the right side of the end zone with 3:06 remaining in the half.
“It is always great from an offensive standpoint to be starting at the 50,” Edmiston said. “It cuts the field in half, and a lot of times with Sebastian, 20 or 30 yards and you are already in field goal position.
“We wanted to get that one extra score to really kind of put it out of reach for them.”
Running back Jake Kee, who posted 101 yards on seven carries in the first half, was instrumental in setting up both touchdowns, breaking free for a 42-yard gain to Vernon’s 12-yard line to set up Edmiston’s run and going 27 yards to give the Hornets a first down at the Lions’ 23-yard line on the first snap following Vernon’s turnover on downs at midfield.
“(Kee) is a huge part of this team, and the big guys up front did a good job in the first half blocking,” Gatesville head coach Kyle Cooper said. “But Jake did a great job running the ball.”
Kee finished with 138 yards on 18 carries.
Things did not get much better for Vernon after halftime as Gatesville scored on the opening possession of the third quarter, when Corrales connected on a 27-yard field goal, giving the Hornets a 20-0 advantage.
The Lions finally scored on the ensuing possession, covering 66 yards in six plays as quarterback Brandon Urquizo ran for a 14-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.
After combining for 27 points through three quarters, the squads posted 41 points in the fourth quarter, but did so by continually trading touchdowns as Jaynes’ interception halted the Lions only shot at scoring on consecutive possessions and cutting into Gatesville’s lead.
Cooper, however, points to his defense’s play in the first half as the key to victory.
“They gave us some cushion,” Cooper said, “but hats off to (the Lions), they just wouldn’t go away.”