Another season of great expectations for the Lufkin Panthers instead ended once again in devastation. After being pushed to double overtime, the Panthers found themselves four yards away from surviving a major scare.
That survival never happened as Texas High picked off a desperation pass in the end zone in the second overtime that sealed a thrilling 41-35 victory.
Braylon Stewart scored on a 6-yard run in the second overtime before Lufkin faced a second-and-goal from the Texas High 4 on the following drive.
Lufkin went to a pair of trick plays that resulted in a loss of 5 yards. Jordan Moore then scrambled before throwing a desperation heave into the end zone that was picked off to send Texas High into the second round of the playoffs.
“We made plenty of plays, but we didn’t make them when we needed them most,” Lufkin head coach Todd Quick said. “That can come back to bite you, and that’s what happened tonight.”
Texas High’s Rian Cellers threw for 243 yards and three touchdowns on 14-of-32 passing. His top target was Kobe Wheeler, who caught seven passes for 119 yards and each of the three touchdowns.
Tracy Cooper ran for 87 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries to go along with three receptions for 52 yards.
Lufkin was led by big games from Caleb Berry, Christian Reggie and Moore.
Berry ran for 176 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries and Reggie had nine catches for 205 yards and a pair of scores.
Moore threw for 342 yards and three scores on 19-of-40 passing.
However, in the end, it wasn’t quite enough for the fifth-ranked Panthers.
“Our kids fought their tails off until the very end,” Quick said. “I was very proud of these young men.”
It was a battle of defenses in the first half.
Lufkin set the tone on the opening drive when Kalen Park recovered a fumble at the Texas High 44.
However, the next four drives ended in four three-and-outs.
The Panthers finally got on the board on the following drive when Berry went untouched up the middle for a 37-yard touchdown run that made it 7-0 with 4:27 left in the first quarter.
Lufkin appeared to be on the verge of a double-digit lead before a pass interference penalty near the end zonewas picked up.
The Panthers turned the ball over on downs two plays later.
Texas High set up its first score when Lajontae Wrightner picked off a pass and brought it back to the Lufkin 41.
The Tigers got on the board when Cooper scored on a 3-yard run, tying it up at 7-7 with 1:43 left in the first half.
The Panthers looked poised to pull in front at the end of the half as it drove inside the Texas High 10 before a fumble stopped the drive.
In the opening half, Texas High won the turnover battle 2-1, which helped it stay in the game despite gaining only 131 yards of offense.
Berry was Lufkin’s primary weapon in the first two quarters with 89 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. However, Lufkin couldn’t get anything going in the passing game with Moore missing on his first eight passes and throwing for 75 yards on 6-of-17 passing.
In the first half, Cellers threw for 88 yards on 5-of-11 passing while Cooper ran for 46 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and caught three passes for 52 yards.
It was a different game in the second half.
The Panthers’ offense didn’t take long to show signs of life on the first drive of the second half.
Facing a third-and-3, Moore found Reggie for a 37-yard pass. Berry then went untouched on a 25-yard run off an option play, giving Lufkin its second lead of the night at 14-7 with 10:34 left in the third quarter.
Lufkin came up with the stop on the next drive before having to punt the ball away.
Texas High responded by tying it once again when Cellers hit Webster for a 27-yard touchdown that made it 14-14 with 6:36 left in the quarter. That touchdown was set up by a 30-yard run by Cooper.
Just over a minute later, Moore hit on the big play he had just missed earlier in the game when he hit a wide-open Reggie for a 49-yard touchdown on third-and-3, giving the Panthers a 21-14 advantage.
Texas High didn’t wait long to answer. On the second play of the following drive, Cellers hit Gavon Smith for a 26-yard catch before Lufkin was called for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. Cellers did the rest from there as he scored on a 20-yard quarterback keeper that knotted the game once again at 21-21.
Lufkin took exactly one minute to answer as a scrambling Moore found an open Reggie, who outraced the Texas High defense to the end zone, giving Lufkin a 28-21 lead with 3:17 left in the quarter.
The game stayed that way until late in the fourth quarter when Texas High went on what appeared to be a game-tying drive. Lufkin’s Julian Diaz came up with an interception in the end zone that gave the Panthers the ball back with 3:17.
However, Lufkin was unable to run out the clock with Texas High forcing a stop that gave it the ball back at the Lufkin 45 with 1:25 seconds left thanks to an interference call on Lufkin.
Cellers followed with a 28-yard pass to Wester to the Lufkin 18. A pass interference moved the ball to the 3.
Webster did the work from there by catching a 3-yard touchdown pass from Cellers that tied it at 28-28 with 43 seconds left.
Lufkin drove to midfield on the final drive before going to overtime.
Lufkin struck first in the overtime when Moore hit Kelton Wright on a fade route for an 18-yard touchdown that gave the Panthers a 35-28 advantage.
Lufkin was one play away from the second round before Webster got behind the Lufkin defense for a 26-yard touchdown on fourth-and-11 that made it 35-35 after the first overtime.
On Texas High’s following drive, Jerrin Thompson was ejected for a targeting call before a holding on Lufkin moved the ball to the Panthers’ 6. Stewart carried it in from there for the touchdown before a missed extra point kept the score at 41-35.
Facing a fourth-and-5 from the 20, Lufkin threw a fade to the end zone. The pass was incomplete, but a pass interference kept the game alive.
However, the Panthers couldn’t punch it in from there.
Texas High advances to face Frisco Independence in the area round of the playoffs next week. Lufkin finishes the season with a 9-2 record.