JUSTIN — The Whitesboro had enough to deal with against the Grandview Zebras without making things harder on themselves.
Four turnovers and 13 penalties proved too much for Whitesboro to overcome Friday in a 21-14 loss to the Zebras in a Class 3A Division I Region II semifinal at Northwest ISD Stadium.
“We’re going to kick ourselves in the proverbial rear end,” Whitesboro head coach Eddie Gill said. “And we did all night.
“This one’s going to hurt for a little while.”
Grandview freshman quarterback Dane Jentsch threw two touchdown passes on a night where both defenses held sway. The Zebras (13-0) advance to the state quarterfinals against Kemp, a 23-14 winner over Commerce, on Friday at Midlothian.
Whitesboro (9-4) matched the deepest playoff run in school history, reaching the third round for the second time. Gill said the Bearcats have a solid foundation upon which to build with 27 of the 40 players suited up Friday returning.
“We’ve got a lot of kids coming back and that’s what I talked to the seniors about,” Gill said. “This is building a legacy and they’re a part of that. That’s part of their job going from here forth, to challenge the younger kids to be better than they were, be better than 9-4, be better than regional semifinalists. Work hard to get there, because that’s the only way it gets there.”
Weston Hickman, one of 13 seniors on the roster, said the class is leaving a path to continued success for the returning players.
“They’re just as big a part of the team as we are,” Hickman said. “The whole senior thing, it’s not that we’re seniors and have experience, it was the leadership thing. All of us as a whole, we brought that all the younger guys bought in to what we’ve been doing.”
While the Bearcats suffered a disappointing end to the season, it was still one of the best ever for the program, which made its first playoff appearance in 2011. Whitesboro’s only other trip to the regional round came in 2014, when this year’s seniors were freshmen.
“I think the hard work is really what brought us to this point,” Hickman said. “We all had the mindset of we’re not going to let the past affect us. We’re just going to go out there to do what we can, win or lose. But it all comes out of that hard work, not just during football season but also in off-season and summer and spring, all of it collectively.”
Jentsch, who took over the starting job in the final week of the regular season, completed 13 of 20 passes for 199 yards with touchdowns of 23 yards to Ruben McCray and 44 yards to Earnest Crownover, both in the second quarter. David Villa’s 15-yard interception return on the first play of the second half proved to be the difference.
Whitesboro actually outgained Grandview 294 total yards to 269 and recorded 16 first downs to the Zebras’ 11, but generated only one offensive score. Scout Sanders, who finished 14 of 22 passing for 221 yards, connected with Cade Acker for a 25-yard touchdown with 5:51 remaining to get the Bearcats within seven points.
Tryston Gaines had five receptions for 80 yards and Noah Greisen caught three passes for 80 yards as Whitesboro was forced out of its ground-oriented approach. The Bearcats finished with 73 yards rushing, averaging just 2.1 yards per carry. Brooks Barker had 26 yards on nine carries and Nolan Frith had 25 yards on seven carries.
“They were very aggressive and they really loaded the box,” Gill said of the Grandview defense. “Against an aggressive front that talented, it’s hard to pick (everything up) when they have eight guys in the box and you’re blocking with six, possibly seven.
“They got after our rear end. They took us out of what we wanted to do.”
The Bearcats did the same to the Zebras, allowing 72 rushing yards on 30 attempts (2.4 yards per carry). Jentsch finished with 41 yards on 16 carries and Crownover had 24 yards on eight carries.
“We were just crowding the box,” Whitesboro linebacker Grant Riddle said. “All our linebackers were inside, just pretty much man-on-man. We were just playing football on the inside.”
Whitesboro held Grandview to 73 total yards and four first downs in the second half.
“I was real proud of our defense,” Gill said. “They stood toe to toe and went with them all night. And (Grandview’s) a really good ballclub.”
Grandview coach Brad Davis said it became a numbers game.
“They were putting more in the box at times than we could block,” he said. “They’re so good defensively in their front seven, front eight, that it was just a battle. It was more of a stalemate. We couldn’t get a real good push.
“We did get some things going offensively, we just didn’t finish them.”
Jentsch connected with McCray on the second play of the second quarter and Grandview had a chance to add to the lead late in the half, but Greisen returned a blocked field goal 84 yards to tie the game. The Zebras needed just three plays to regain the lead as Crownover pulled in his TD reception with 48 seconds left in the half.
“The blocked field goal return for a touchdown couldn’t have come at a worse time, but you’ve got to overcome some adversity in a game like this,” Davis said.
After Acker’s score, Whitesboro had a golden opportunity to tie the game. An 18-yard Grandview punt was compounded by a fair-catch interference flag against the Zebras, giving the Bearcats possession at the Grandview 33 with 4:23 remaining. Greisen pulled in a 20-yard pass on fourth-and-5 to give Whitesboro a first down at the 8-yard line, but Barker fumbled on the next play.
The Bearcats forced another punt with 1:40 remaining, but Kamron English intercepted Sanders’ fourth-down pass to seal the outcome.
“You’ve just got to overcome some things and battle and fight,” Davis said. “I think that’s what we did the whole game. We were able to pull it out at the end with a great four-and-out when they were out of time outs.”
Whitesboro was able to move the ball early in drives, but suffered repeated breakdowns with nine false-start penalties and three sacks. Three of the penalties came on the Bearcats’ opening possession, turning a first down at the Grandview 42 into second-and-19 at the Whitesboro 49.
Two penalties and a sack led to a third-and-32 situation in the second quarter, and Whitesboro started the third quarter with two more false starts before Villa’s interception.
“They’d move and shift fronts and that kind of stuff, and we didn’t handle it,” Gill said. “We would up just having to go everything on a quick count or a first-sound count. That kind of fixed it after halftime, but even after halftime we still jumped a couple of times.”