SULPHUR SPRINGS — The decision by Gladewater head coach John Berry made it very cut and dry for the Cardinals.
Pottsboro was either going to stop the two-point conversion and win or the Bears would advance if they made it to the end zone.
For a game in the second overtime, it was another layer of late drama.
“I wasn't surprised because we hadn't really stopped them,” Cardinals head coach Matt Poe said.
As Tristan Holmes rolled to his right and tried to hit D.J. Allen coming across underneath, linebacker Jackson Lipscomb reversed field after chasing the quarterback outside and knocked the ball to the turf to preserve a 35-34 double overtime victory in the Class 3A Division I Region II final.
“Our kids came up with one more play. We're just so grateful to be playing another week,” Poe said. “We knew it wasn't going to be easy. They have a really good team.”
Pottsboro (14-0) will face Brock (12-2) in a state semifinal at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at The Star in Frisco.
It is the second state semifinal appearance for the Cardinals and first since 2008. Pottsboro also set the school record for wins in a season, surpassing the 13-2 mark of the '08 squad. The Cardinals have never played in a title game but can do so with one more victory.
Braden Plyler ran 20 times for 67 yards and the deciding touchdown for the second straight week to go with 242 yards and three TDs passing, Titus Lyons caught six passes for 183 yards and both scores, including one in the first OT, and Cy Shope finished with 23 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown for Pottsboro, which extended its school record winning streak despite allowing 534 yards because of two timely turnovers and another stand which led to a missed field goal.
Elijah Carter had 24 carries for 184 yards and two touchdowns while D.J. Allen grabbed five passes for 141 yards and Robert Hodges finished with seven catches for 125 yards for Gladewater (10-4), which forced overtime with two touchdowns in the final six and a half minutes.
Then the Bears got the ball first in OT and needed just two plays to score when Carter raced 35 yards to the end zone.
“They had all the momentum,” Poe said. “I was proud of how in the first overtime we scored on the first play. Once that happened we got some of that momentum back.”
Plyler connected with Lyons up the right sideline immediately for a 25-yard TD pass to force the second OT.
“He puts it in the perfect spot every time,” Lyons said. “It was a perfect throw. He put it low and where I could get it and score.”
Pottsboro had the ball to start the next extra session and Lyons' final catch of the night was for 22 yards to set up first-and goal-at the two. Three runs gained only a yard and the offense stayed on the field.
“We believe in our guys. We have guys who can make plays,” Poe said. “We knew a field goal wasn't going to cut it.”
Plyler followed a pair of blockers around the right side on fourth down to give Pottsboro the lead.
Gladewater needed a 14-yard catch from Hodges on fourth-and-eight to stay alive and give the Bears first-and-goal at the nine. After a pair of runs gained a yard, Jailyn Robertson caught the touchdown pass and led to Gladewater going for the win.
Shope gave Pottsboro a 21-7 lead in the middle of the third when he scored on a 22-yard run. The 91-yard drive was setup by Jasek Hooker recovering a fumble that was forced by Tyler Farris when Allen brought in a deep throw on Gladewater's opening series of the second half.
The Bears missed their chance to trim the deficit when they had first-and-goal at the nine late in the third. A backwards pass on third down lost 10 yards and the 34-yard field goal try was short.
Pottsboro forced a turnover on downs the next time Gladewater had the ball but went three-and-out. The Bears then got within a score on Carter's nine-yard TD run but Hooker blocked the PAT to make it a 21-13 margin with 6:32 remaining.
The Cardinals melted four minutes off the clock before the Bears stopped a fake punt on fourth-and-five from the Gladewater 41. If Pottsboro had converted, it would have knelt out the victory.
But Gladewater needed just five plays, the last a one-yard sneak by Holmes with 1:19 left to have a chance. He found Robertson for the conversion to send it to overtime.
Pottsboro took a 14-7 lead at half-time thanks to a touchdown in the final seconds of the second quarter.
Gladewater had scored on the previous possession and used up almost the entire frame — 9:12 on a 16-play drive — when Devin Walker's one-yard TD with 2:08 remaining.
The Bears tried a pooch kick and it went out of bounds, giving the Cardinals the ball at their 45. Plyler hit Ezra Fritts for 42 yards on the first snap and Pottsboro was knocking on the door.
With five seconds to go in the half, Plyler threw back to Zach Wideman for a two-yard the touchdown in the right side of the end zone to give Pottsboro the 14-7 advantage.
All of the scoring came in the second quarter as the Cardinals were up 7-0 on the fifth play of the stanza. Lyons had back-to-back long catches — the first for 31 yards right and then a 40-yard touchdown down the right sideline less than a minute into the second.
Gladewater then chewed up most of the quarter, including a seven-yard keeper by Holmes on fourth-and-two just shy of midfield.
Three of the four drives in the scoreless first quarter ended with turnovers. The Cardinals had the ball first and reached the Gladewater 26 before the Bears came up with a sack on fourth-and-six.
Gladewater headed the other way and was on the verge of scoring but Holmes' throw to the end zone on third down from the 13-yard line was intercepted by Hooker. He returned it to the Pottsboro 33 and a penalty moved the start of the drive just short of midfield.
But the Cardinals only managed one first down and went for it again on fourth-and-long from the Gladewater 38 when Hodges came up with an interception.
The Bears punted on the ensuing possession despite getting to the Pottsboro 28. Riley Deaton earned a sack on third down to push Gladewater back to where the Bears didn't attempt to go for it.