WYLIE — The Pottsboro Cardinals extended their undefeated season by another week on Braden Plyler's nine-yard touchdown run with 36 seconds left for a 38-31 win against the Malakoff Tigers in a Class 3A Division I Region II semifinal at Pirate Stadium.
In a back-and-forth game against last year's state runner-up, Pottsboro (13-0) relied on a strong performance by Plyler, who rushed for two touchdowns in the second half and finished with 24 carries for 84 yards and also completed 11-of-24 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns.
The Cardinals, who are in the fourth round for the first time since 2016 and tied the school record for wins — which was set by the 2008 state semifinalists, will play Gladewater (10-3) in the region final at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Sulphur Springs.
“Our goal was to play in December, and we're getting to do that,” Pottsboro head coach Matt Poe said.
Jasek Hooker was the leading receiver for the Cardinals, grabbing five catches for 85 yards and a touchdown while Titus Lyons caught a pair of passes for 42 yards and one touchdown. Ezra Fritts' lone reception went for 35 yards.
Keevy Rose had seven carries for 64 yards and two touchdowns while Dedric Davis added 87 yards and a score on 16 carries for Malakoff.
After the game was delayed nearly two-and-a-half hours due to weather, Pottsboro didn't waste any time getting on the scoreboard.
On their first possession the Cardinals were facing fourth-and-four on their 38-yard line. Pottsboro lined up to punt but snapped the ball directly to Cy Shope, who picked up seven yards for the first down. Two plays later, Shope broke loose for a 55-yard touchdown run to give the Cardinals the early 7-0 lead.
Malakoff (11-2) answered back with 20 seconds remaining in the first quarter when Dedric Davis punched the ball in from three yards out to even the score at seven.
Shope, who picked up 81 yards and the touchdown on nine carries, left the game when he was injured during a tackle on the first play of the second quarter and did not return.
On Malakoff's next possession the Tigers went 72 yards in eight plays, the last being a five-yard touchdown run by Andreas Garrett to put Malakoff up 14-7.
Pottsboro responded with an eight-play, 77-yard scoring drive which was topped off by a 17-yard touchdown pass from Plyler to Hooker on a slant across the middle to tie the game up at 14 with 2:22 left in the second quarter.
On the last play of the first half, Hector Romero kicked a 29-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 17-14 advantage.
A key defensive stop for Pottsboro came on the first possession of the third quarter. The Cardinals forced a punt at the Tigers 27-yard line. Romero couldn't handle a bad snap and the ball sailed into the end zone, where he was tackled for a safety.
On Pottsboro's next drive, Plyler scored the first of his two touchdowns on a two-yard keeper. He then found Landon Dunaway in the end zone for the two-point conversion and the Cardinals were back on top, 24-17, with 6:08 remaining in the third.
Three minutes later, Malakoff scored on a 40-yard rushing touchdown by Rose to even the score at 24.
Plyler once again marched the Cardinals 70 yards in eight plays for another score. This time he threw to Lyons in the back corner of the end zone from 13 yards out to put Pottsboro back on top, 31-24, with 13 seconds left in the third.
Malakoff then used almost half of the fourth-quarter on a 12-play, 71-yard scoring drive which ended with another four-yard rushing touchdown by Rose to tie the score at 31 with 6:47 remaining.
Pottsboro punted on its next possession and Malakoff was 80 yards from taking the lead. The Tigers again attempted to use up the clock by taking advantage of their ground game, but the Cardinals forced a punt.
“Overall, I thought we did a pretty good job stopping the run, and they have one heck of a running football team,” Poe said.
Hooker received the punt on the 26-yard line and returned it for 26 yards into Malakoff territory.
The final series belonged to Plyler as he carried the ball six times, including for 23 yards up the middle on third-and-six. On the last play of the drive Plyler again found running room up the middle with a keeper that turned out to be the deciding touchdown.
Malakoff got the ball back and made its final attempt to force overtime but quarterback Darion Peace's Hail Mary from the Pottsboro 49-yard line was incomplete as time expired.