COLLEGE STATION — Gatesville had a chance at redemption, and the Hornets took it.
After narrowly winning its first game at the annual state 7-on-7 tournament, Gatesville rallied from a double-digit deficit against Needville to take the lead with time dwindling, but the Bluejays scored as time expired to capture the victory.
So, when the Hornets found themselves trailing with less than two minutes remaining, they refused to come up short again.
“At first,” Gatesville senior quarterback Preston Preciado said, “it was heartbreak. We earned a win, and Needville took it.
“So when we came back on the field, we decided there were two options — either we win or we win. We were not going to lose.”
And the Hornets accomplished their goal.
Moments before the final buzzer sounded in Gatesville’s last contest of the tournament’s opening day, Preciado found receiver Tyler Lewis for a go-ahead touchdown, clinching a 32-26 victory against Graham to complete a 2-1 showing during pool play.
Following the catch, Lewis echoed Preciado’s sentiments.
“We were devastated after losing to Needville like that,” the senior said, “but we realized that if we won our last game, we were still in this. We just had to come back and grind.
“It was hard to get our focus back, but once we did, we knew what was at stake, and we were going for it.”
The decision paid off as the outcome placed Gatesville second in its four-team pool, propelling the Hornets into the Division II championship bracket, where they will face McGregor in the opening round today at 9 a.m. If the Hornets win four consecutive games, they will play in the title game at 3 p.m.
Gatesville opened pool play with a tight contest, defeating Cuero by a single point, 27-26, and it appeared the Hornets were destined for another back-and-forth affair versus Needville, but the Bluejays scored a dozen unanswered points to open a 31-19 advantage minutes into the second half.
The Hornets fought back to take a 43-39 lead with less than two minutes remaining after Preciado threw a touchdown to Anthony Costas and the ensuing two-point conversion to Lewis.
But Needville answered by crossing the goal line on the following drive just moments before time expired to win 46-43.
An hour later, however, the roles were reversed as Graham returned an interception for a touchdown to take a 26-20 lead, setting the stage for Lewis to haul in consecutive touchdown catches, including the game-winner.
“I thought I could beat their cornerback,” Lewis said, “and I wanted the ball at the end of the game. So, I asked for it, and I was thankful they trusted enough in me to give me the ball.”
After accounting for almost all of the Hornets’ touchdowns during pool play, Lewis will almost certainly play a large role for Gatesville, but it will take more than an impressive individual performance to be successful, according to Preciado.
“We have to continue to work together,” he said, “learn from out mistakes, support each other and keep a positive attitude.”
“We have to play well as a team,” he said. “The quarterbacks have to be able to throw the ball, the receivers have to catch it and our defense has to make stops at the right times.”
DIVISION II STATE 7-ON-7 TOURNEY
THURSDAY’S POOL PLAY
- Gatesville 27, Cuero 26
- Needville 46, Gatesville 43
- Gatesville 32, Graham 26
TODAY'S CHAMPIONSHIP BRACKET
- First round: Gatesville vs. McGregor, 9 a.m.