By Nick Talbot
Killeen Daily Herald
FLORENCE – Danny Rogers began to get pelted by rain as he walked over to the opposing sideline.
It did not seem to bother him. Even though his team won, he was too dismayed to fully enjoy it.
Rogers, the head coach at Blanco High, believed his team had been outplayed all night long. However, the Panthers, who advanced to the 2A Division II semifinals last season, still prevailed with a 22-14 win over the Florence Buffaloes at Stampede Stadium on Friday.
"We just got outplayed tonight," Rogers said. "With us having tradition, we thought the whole game we were going to pull it out somehow. We should not think that way. We are lucky it happened."
Florence head coach Paul Smith also had a sick feeling in his gut Friday.
The reasons just were not the same.
"Rogers came over and said we deserved to win tonight. And I think he was right. But, the only thing that matters in the end is that scoreboard," Smith said. "We expect to win in Florence and we are not happy with this result."
Less than a minute into the game, no one would have guessed the eventual down-to-the-wire outcome.
Blanco (2-1) used a play-action pass to start off the game, sucking in the Buffaloes (1-2) defense. The result was a 45-yard touchdown pass from Tanner Rogers to wide receiver Travis McClinton.
"He is our go-to guy. He had not played all year and he was excited about going," Rogers said. "He was wide open on the second play, so we got him the ball to him."
For a while, it was all the Panthers got.
Florence's defense forced multiple fumbles, and bottled up 2A All-State fullback Layton Dworaczk.
The Panthers only offense until late in the second quarter came from their defense. On the Buffaloes' second possession, Cory Dowlearn intercepted a Doak Hensley pass and took it 43 yards and in for the score and a 15-0 lead.
The Panthers choked off the Florence passing game throughout the night, continually flushing Hensley out of the pocket and forcing him to throw on the run.
Early on, he managed to handle the pressure, completing passes to Gilbert Ledesma and Daniel Taylor to lead the Buffaloes down the field.
However, with a first down at the Blanco 15, the drive stalled. A couple of incompletions and a penalty ruined Florence's chance to score. Hensley finished the night 17-of-42 passing for 167 with three interceptions and two touchdown passes.
"We had some success. I don't think they thought we could execute and go down the field and we did that a couple of times," Smith said "That is part of growing up. (Hensley) is going to get better and better. He is a tough kid … he is going to be fine."
The Florence defense also continued to bring pressure.
Michael Ramirez recovered a fumble at the Blanco 6-yard line, after a bad snap on a Panther punt. Then after a 4-yard run by Travis Applequist, Hensley hit Daniel Taylor right by the end zone pylon for the score. The Buffaloes two-point conversion attempt failed, but the score cut the Blanco lead to 15-6.
"Defensively those kids played their tail off," Smith said. "They came out and played like a big time defense. They have gotten there. Offensively we just have to answer."
Eventually, the Florence defense began to wear out. Dworaczyk carried the ball 39 times for 195 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run with 54 seconds remaining in the first half that put the Panthers up 22-6.
However, the Buffaloes struck quickly at the start of the second half. Taylor was wide open on a post route and Hensley found him, for the 50-yard touchdown to cut the lead to eight.
"Daniel Taylor is a go-to guy and so is Josh (Herring)," Smith said. "We just have to get a couple of other guys involved."
Florence's touchdown bomb was the last time anyone scored. Both defenses tightened down for the rest of the half. The Panthers had two picks and a fumble recovery and the Buffaloes forced three fumbles, including one with less than two minutes remaining.
"Layton started running hard and that always gets us going, but he fumbled the ball there at the end," Rogers said. "We just never got it going. We had five fumbles in the first half and a few in the second.
"We are just lucky to get out of here (with a win)."