STEPHENVILLE — In the second half, the magic ran out.
After a season full of comebacks, upsets and dominating victories, Gatesville’s undefeated run finally came to an end as Graham did something no other team could do through 13 games — it shut down the Hornets’ offense.
The Steers held Gatesville to 86 yards after halftime, claiming its only lead of the game in the fourth quarter as it beat the Hornets 40-35 in the Class 3A, Division II quarterfinals at Tarleton State’s Memorial Stadium on Friday night.
Despite the disappointing defeat, Gatesville quarterback Cole Edmiston, who accounted for all but 19 of Gatesville’s yards in the game, was certain the Steers earned the victory.
“They were playing as hard as they could, and we were playing as hard as we could,” the senior said. “They got a few big breaks on the offensive end, getting a few first downs, and they got big stops on fourth down. Hats off to them, they played an awesome game, but I know one thing, though, we didn’t leave anything on the field.”
Edmiston’s coach agreed.
“We are extremely proud of theses kids, they allowed our program to take the next step,” Gatesville coach Kyle Cooper said. “It will be a team that will be remembered for a long time in Gatesville. It is rough right now, but I think down the road they will realize how special it is and what they’ve done.”
Gatesville snapped a 28-28 tie in the third quarter, when Edmiston found Tyler Jaynes for a 52-yard touchdown, but it proved to be the only thing that worked for the Hornets after halftime as they managed just 24 yards outside of the long pass. The Steers scored twice in the fourth quarter, earning their only lead of the game with 5:37 remaining.
The Hornets’ final drive ended in four plays as Edmiston’s pass to Danny Byrd was dropped with 3:49 remaining after the quarterback made a mad scramble to avoid getting sacked. From there, Graham was able to collect a pair of first downs, run out the clock and end the Hornets’ season.
“We had some crucial mistakes, but we just didn’t get it done,” Cooper said.
One of the Hornets’ costliest mistakes came in the fourth quarter, when they were called for pass interference on fourth-and-7 from their 42-yard line. The penalty gave the Steers a first down, and they capitalized, scoring on a 27-yard pass from quarterback Ben Davis to Hunter Jones to account for the game’s final points.
“They were just going hard,” said Jaynes, who caught six passes for 136 yards and a touchdown and snagged a first-half interception. “They just outplayed us.”
Gatesville (13-1) punted on three of its four second-half possessions after scoring touchdowns on four of its first five drives but, outside of Jaynes’ touchdown reception, the Hornets never got inside the Steers’ 30-yard line in the second half.
“They weren’t slowing us down,” Jaynes said of Graham’s defense, “we just weren’t making plays when we needed to.”
In the first half, however, the Hornets were practically unstoppable. Gatesville jumped out to a 7-0 lead after punctuating a 74-yard with a six-yard touchdown pass from Edmiston to Jaynes on the game’s opening drive, but it did not take long for Graham (13-1) to respond, needing only one play to get in the end zone as Davis ran 71 yards for the score.
Running back Jake Kee capped the Hornets’ second possession with a four-yard touchdown, putting Gatesville back on top, 14-7, with 3:02 remaining in the first quarter. The advantage was erased early in the second quarter, as Graham converted three third downs en route to a five-yard touchdown from Davis to Janson Graham. Less than two minutes later, Edmiston scored on a 20-yard run.
Then things got wacky. On two plays, the teams swapped interceptions, and the Steers capitalized, needing only one play to hit pay dirt as Dillon Gonzales punched his way into the end zone from 11 yards out to tie the score at 21 with 7:17 left in the first half.
“We got a stop and didn’t make it count,” Gatesville senior center Trevor Barton said. “They got a stop, and they made it count.”
But the Hornets were not finished. Edmiston accounted for every yard on a 55-yard scoring drive, including a one-yard touchdown run and the Hornets took a 28-21 lead into halftime.
Edmiston was responsible for all but 10 of Gatesville’s total yards in the first half, recording 120 rushing yards and 117 passing yards. He finished with 320 total yards (177 passing, 143 rushing) and played a role in four of the Hornets’ five touchdowns.
“It hurts now, but knowing we played as hard as we could and did everything we could do (makes me) proud,” Edmiston said.
Contact Clay Whittington at email@example.com