DENTON — In a game with several twists and turns, the Leonard Tigers saved their best for last.
Leonard scored the deciding touchdown in the closing minutes and then held off Nocona for a 40-35 victory in a Class 3A Division II Region II bi-district game at Denton High School on Friday night.
Leonard (7-4) will face New Diana in the area round at 7:30 p.m. on Friday with the site to be determined.
With 2:45 left in the game, Leonard marched 66 yards in five plays with Tanner Young hauling in a 29-yard pass from Ronnie Hart to put the Tigers in front with a minute remaining.
Nocona (8-3) was able to get to the Leonard 21-yard line but two passes to the end zone were incomplete and the Tigers held on and advanced.
Leonard opened the scoring when Hart picked up a fumble and rambled 68 yards for a TD at the 9:03 mark of the first period.
The Indians answered with a 54-yard drive as Jeremy James connecting with Riley McCasland on an 11-yard touchdown pass.
On the first play of the Tigers’ next possession, Hart broke free on a 57-yard touchdown run.
A little later Leonard drove 61 yards in five plays. J.J. Brian ran for 20 yards before Hart threw a screen pass to him and Brian raced 27 yards for a score and the Tigers led, 21-7, five minutes before intermission.
Nocona has a 63-yard march with Tanner Cable scoring on a seven-yard sprint a minute later.
Hart, who ran for 148 yards on 22 carries, hit paydirt on a two-yard plunge to complete a seven-play drive that covered 69 yards right before the half.
The Indians recovered an onside kick at the start of the second half and closed the gap to 28-20 when James threw a five-yard touchdown pass to McCasland.
After recovering a Leonard fumble, Francisco Garcia ran 14 yards for a touchdown and then ran in the two-point conversion to tie the game.
Nocona took a 35-28 lead when Cable ran 32 yards for the score in the middle of the third quarter.
Leonard got a seven-yard touchdown pass from Hart to Byron Bolin early in the fourth quarter but the conversion pass failed and the Tigers still trailed by a point.
Leonard came up with a pair of defensive stops — Hart picked off a pass at the goal line and then the Tigers stopped a fourth-and-short that was the start of its eventual game-winning drive.