PILOT POINT — First and goal on the one-yard line. That’s how close Whitesboro got Friday night to taking a fourth-quarter lead on the road against its Highway 377 rival.
This year’s edition of the “Battle of the Bearcats” turned out to be a contest about which team could overcome its mistakes. In the end, it was the orange-and-black-clad squad from Denton County holding on against their maroon-and-gold Grayson County cousins as Pilot Point claimed a 28-25 victory at Massey Stadium in District 4-3A (I) action.
After Pilot Point had made it an 11-point game on a Javin Bruce 5-yard run with 2:38 to play, Whitesboro (4-2, 1-1) scored with 15 seconds left on Scout Sanders’ toss to Cade Acker, then Sanders hit Riley Dickson for the 2-point conversion cutting the deficit to a field goal. But the ensuing onside kick bounded a little too far downfield, and Pilot Point’s Max Hollar fell on it to save the outcome.
“I feel like we’ve been playing hard all year, but we shot ourselves in the foot against Gunter and we made some mistakes against Brock,” Pilot Point head coach Danny David said. “Against teams like that you can’t win, and I think that’s what Whitesboro ran into against us tonight and we took advantage of it.”
Whitesboro’s woes were encapsulated twice in the second half, starting after Sanders’ interception which gave his team a chance to drive for the lead in the third quarter. A short pass from Sanders to Noah Greisen for a 36-yard would-be go-ahead touchdown was instead negated by an offensive pass interference flag in spite of head coach Eddie Gill’s vigorous protest.
“It was a screen play and we threw it behind the line of scrimmage,” Gill said. “You never want to think like that. I’d never think that an official would make that kind of a mistake on that big of a play, but I’m anxious to watch film.
“You’ve got to go with what they’re seeing and what they’re saying, and it definitely seemed like every call went against us tonight.”
The second time occurred shortly after the start of the fourth as Sanders’ keeper to the Pilot Point 1 made it first-and-goal. Whitesboro went backward on three consecutive penalties — the biggest two coming on the same play, a holding call followed by an ejection for a personal foul after the whistle — then Whitesboro lost six more yards as Greisen was stopped for a loss on a screen, making it third-and-goal from all the way back at the 36.
“Penalties,” Gill said. “We had a five-yard penalty, a 10-yard penalty and a 15-yard penalty, and the 15-yard penalty was a dead ball. You go from first-and-goal at the 1 to second-and-goal from the 30 …. We’ve been averaging about eight or nine (penalties) a game. About double what is acceptable, so we’ve got to get that cleaned up.”
Sanders finished with 139 rushing yards and a touchdown for Whitesboro, and completed 13 of 25 throws for 140 yards, a TD and a very short pick-six that started the scoring. Brooks Barker added 72 rushing yards and a long TD, and Greisen finished with five catches for 67 yards.
After a defensive first 12 minutes, Whitesboro had made a stop at its own 2 on downs. But on second down from the 3, a Sanders screen pass was batted into the air and hauled in by Pilot Point’s Jay Cox for the easy 1-yard score, putting Pilot Point on top.
Whitesboro answered with a long Greisen kickoff return to near midfield, followed by Barker’s 53-yard scamper to tie the game. But Pilot Point (4-2, 1-1) responded with an 83-yard march capped by Javon Bruce’s 13-yard run, and Pilot Point led the rest of the way.
Whitesboro has always been solid in the kicking game, and senior Isaac Castillo continued that tradition later in the second quarter with a 41-yard field goal into a strong south wind — making him 6-of-6 on the year, with four of them longer then 40 yards and a season long of 49. That made the score 14-10 with 2:10 left before halftime.
But Pilot Point still had time to answer, and did so on the very final play of the first half as Jacob Pitts threw a Hail Mary to an open Gage Rider for 40 yards as the buzzer sounded, putting Pilot Point on top 21-10.
“There were no adjustments at halftime, there was just a little bit better focus,” Gill said. “They’re 15-, 16- and 17-year-old kids, and what they’re focused on at any given time of day is beyond me. We talk all week long about these big football games, Pilot Point is a natural rivalry down 377, so why you’re not ready to play is beyond me. That’s what it looked like, because they took it to us. They were aggressive, and we were lackadaisical. We pretty much challenged their manhood at halftime.”
Whitesboro performed better defensively in the second half and quickly pulled back to within four points on a zone-read keeper by Sanders, who went 47 yards for the score. The game remained 21-17 until the final minutes.
“It’s his third year being starting quarterback, and we trust him in those situations,” Gill said of Sanders. “He makes some good reads, and he’s a 17-year-old kid so he’s going to make some bust reads. But he’s definitely one of those who is going to play hard every snap.”
Like Whitesboro, Pilot Point ran the zone read to success. Pitts finished with 132 yards rushing and Javon Bruce added 66. Pitts completed 10 of 17 attempts to seven different receivers for 143 yards, a TD and an interception.
“I think both teams left everything on the field,” David said. “After the last two games, this time we came out victorious and it’s an awesome feeling for these guys. They could’ve quit and could’ve given up, but they kept gritting their teeth. I told them that was what championship teams do, and that’s what we want to get to.”
Whitesboro returns home this week to face Bowie and has four district games to secure an eighth consecutive playoff appearance with Gill in charge.
“Everything’s still in front of us,” Gill said. “Pilot Point did a great job tonight and we didn’t, and we’ll see what we do from here and how we respond.”