Has anyone who was in the stands Friday night at Wildcat Stadium caught their breath yet?
An absolute barnburner between Leon River rivals Temple and Belton lasted for more than three hours, included 113 points, more big plays than an individual could count on his or her fingers and toes, head-scratching sequences, and a massive victory for the home-standing Wildcats, who outlasted the Tigers 58-55 in three overtimes in front of thousands of fans who didn’t need their seats for much of the fourth quarter and beyond.
It wasn’t standing-room only, but there was certainly plenty of standing and applauding after a gritty, back-and-forth tilt that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Temple (5-0, 3-0 District 12-6A) made it six in a row since 2010 over Belton (4-2, 3-1), which for the third straight season fell short by less than 10 pointsof what would’ve been a corner-turning victory for the program. In 2016, the Tigers led by three at halftime and lost 28-20. In 2017, Belton went ahead 31-17 in the third quarter in a 38-31 defeat.
Friday night, though, might just sting a bit longer, sit heavier in stomachs and in back of minds even longer, and motivate that much more moving forward, if only for the fact that the Tigers made more clutch plays in the latest installment than in the previous two combined, only to exit the field without getting over the hump and securing the streak-snapping triumph.
Sure, there are a couple instances the Tigers will lament, including not putting any points on the board after recovering a bad snap on the Wildcats 9-yard line while leading 28-27 late in the third. However, they didn’t leave without a fight.
The Tigers shook off deficits of 7-0 (less than 2 minutes into the game), 14-7, 20-14, 27-14 and 42-28, and gave themselves a chance with a four-play, 86-yard drive against a punishing Wildcats defense in less than a minute that culminated with quarterback Connor Carothers’ 33-yard pass to Anthony Brown, who dived across the goal line with 13 seconds left to pull the Tigers even at 42.
Even though that march ultimately exists in a loss, no doubt it will be looked back on as the season continues. The Tigers can keep that possession in their back pockets for the next time they face a similar scenario.
Carothers finished 27-of-46 — facing pressure on most attempts — for a career-high 464 yards and five touchdowns, with two interceptions. It was his second straight game with five scoring tosses to boost his season total to 18. Brown (12 catches, 134) and Anthony Fairbanks (four, 153) each eclipsed 100 yards receiving in a stat-fest galore.
The Tigers’ defense, admittedly gassed in the second half of last season’s contest, bent in the first half Friday but didn’t break until the very end and held Temple scoreless in the second and third quarters while intercepting Temple’s Jared Wiley twice.
Belton kicker Logan Smith had a punt blocked and a field goal blocked but stepped up and booted a 51-yard field goal and a 39-yarder during the extra sessions to preserve Belton’s hopes that much longer.
Those were dashed in a blink when Wiley led Quentin Johnston into the end zone with the winning 25-yard TD pass in the third overtime.
Gut-wrenching for those in red, exhilarating for the ones in blue and memories of an absolute instant classic for all.