WICHITA FALLS — The Sherman Bearcats had a District 5-5A victory in their hands.
Then the Wichita Falls Rider Raiders took it away.
Rider rallied for a 24-21 victory at Memorial Stadium, scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter, including Samuel Manuel’s game-winning touchdown with 37 seconds remaining on Thursday.
For most of the night, Sherman nursed a slim lead after both teams scored on their opening drives. But despite repeated opportunities, the Bearcats led just 14-6 heading to the fourth quarter.
“It’s about confidence and execution, just continuing to get better at what we’re doing,” Sherman head coach J.D. Martinez said. “I’m proud of the way the kids came out. They fought. Our defense played a heck of a game, got after it. Offensively, we had some really bright spots, we’ve just got to be able to hold onto the ball.”
Rider went almost exclusively to a single-wing set in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of breakdowns by Sherman’s special teams for scoring drives of 42, 31 and 50 yards in the fourth quarter.
“It did exactly what they wanted it to, kind of caught us off-guard,” Martinez said of Rider’s change in offensive scheme. “They did a great job of executing it. They were putting it right to us.”
Sherman (2-3, 0-1) outgained Rider (2-3, 1-0) by almost 100 total yards — 437 to 338 — but lost four turnovers, three of them in the red zone late in the first half.
Nathaniel Omayebu rushed for 205 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries and Michael Wallace added 70 yards and a score on 14 attempts as Sherman rushed for 300 yards. Quarterback Blaise Bentsen was 12-of-26 passing for 137 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown to Tylor Jones, who finished with six catches for 108 yards.
But two lost fumbles by Omyebu and two interceptions by Bentsen contributed to Sherman’s demise.
Starting on the final play of the first quarter, the Bearcats put together a 14-play drove from their own 6-yard line to the Raider 7, but Nathaniel was stripped on a carry inside the 5. After forcing a Rider punt, Sherman was moving again before Rider’s Darien Boyd came up with two of the biggest plays of the night. On second down from the Rider 27, Boyd picked off Bentsen at the 2 with 26 seconds left in the half.
Rider fumbled the ball back to the Bearcats on the next play, giving Sherman first-and-goal at the 7 with 19 seconds left. After two runs, Sherman tried one more pass that Boyd picked off in the end zone, keeping Sherman from attempting a short field goal.
“We’ve just got to execute,” Martinez said. “If it’s not there, throw it away. And the same part of it, don’t be greedy.
“Maybe we should have just line up and kicked it (on third down). Those are questions I’m going to be asking myself for a long time tonight on the way back home.”
Brandon Bolton led Rider with 73 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while Manuel finished with 67 yards, the winning TD and a crucial two-point conversion.
Rider quarterback Jorge Vargas was 13-of-21 passing for 141 yards with Jake Edgemon catching five passes for 75 yards.
On the game’s opening series, Vargas hit Danari curry for a 35-yard gain and Edgemon for 38 to set up Bolton’s first TD on a 3-yard run, but a penalty wiped out a two-point conversion and a botched snap spoiled Rider’s second attempt at the PAT.
Sherman answered promptly with Bentsen’s TD pass to Jones and Joel Nandin’s extra point gave the Bearcats the lead.
After the wild but scoreless second quarter, Omayebu broke off a 24-yard touchdown run to start the third quarter. The Bearcats then stopped Rider on fourth down at the Sherman 1 and moved across midfield, but Omayebu fumbled at the end of an 8-yard run to the Rider 31 on the 11th play of the drive.
In the fourth quarter, Rider took advantage of two short punts to take a 17-14 lead on Bolton’s second TD, a 5-yarder that Manuel followed with a two-point run to tie the game, and Colsen Welch’s 27-yard field goal. Sherman regained the lead on Wallace’s 36-yard TD dash with 2:56 left, which was just enough time for the Raiders.
After two Sherman kickoffs went out of bounds, Curry returned the third attempt to midfield. Six plays later, Manuel capped the comeback with a 2-yard run.
Sherman had one last chance as Jones went 31 yards with a short pass and Wallace gained 16 on a reverse, putting the Bearcats at the Rider 26. Bentsen’s last three passes from there fell incomplete, including the final one for Jones in the end zone as time expired.