WICHITA FALLS — When it mattered most, Gunter senior Bryson Rigsby stepped up and produced plays that propelled Gunter to a 27-9 win and another state semifinal appearance.
“We game planned all week and prepped really, really good,” Rigsby said. “We have expectations for Gunter football and that’s getting to a state championship.”
Rigsby finished the game with two second-half interceptions and two rushing touchdowns. He rushed for 82 yards on 16 carries as the Tigers (13-1) captured their fourth straight Class 3A Division II Region II title.
After the second straight match-up with Holliday (10-4) in the region final, Gunter will face Canadian (14-0) in a state semifinal at 7 p.m. on Friday at Vernon. It will be the fourth straight meeting in the state semifinals between the schools with Gunter winning the first two before Canadian won last year before finishing as the state runner-up.
The Tigers, who beat Holliday for the fifth time in the past three seasons, including eliminated the Eagles in the playoffs the past three years and 20-7 earlier this season in District 5-3A (I) action, held a slim half-time advantage.
After Holliday’s Austin Jones’ go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter was wiped out by an illegal motion penalty, Rigsby stepped in front of a Kase Patterson pass at the goal line and returned it 31 yards, preserving the Tigers’ tenuous 14-9 lead.
The senior intercepted another pass in the fourth quarter, which he returned to the Holliday seven-yard line. Three plays later, Rigsby’s one-yard touchdown run with 10:09 left in the fourth quarter put the Tigers ahead 21-9, essentially forcing the Eagles to abandon the running game.
“Bryson has done that all year long,” Gunter head coach Jake Fieszel said. “He’s the glue that keeps us together, and I’ve seen that all season long.”
In a game Fieszel characterized as “an overall sloppy game,” the only thing stopping Gunter at times was the Tigers. Two fumbles and 93 yards in penalties stopped more drives than the Holliday defense.
The Eagles took a 6-0 lead in the middle of the first following a Gunter punt when Patterson found Tucker Strealy open behind the defense, hitting the receiver for a 91-yard touchdown. Strealy broke one tackle at the 40 and was untouched the rest of the way into the end zone.
Gunter scored on its next possession when Rigsby found the end zone on a four-yard run. The Tigers took a 7-6 lead on Logan Hubbard’s extra point with 2:47 remaining in the first quarter.
The Eagles regained the lead when Logan Whitling hit a 42-yard field goal with 9:50 to go in the second quarter.
The Tigers responded with a 13-play drive, eating up nine minutes. Tigers quarterback Hudson Graham, who had 15 carries for 74 yards, gave Gunter the lead for good with a one-yard touchdown run right before half-time.
Neither team scored in the third quarter. Gunter’s Peyton Lowe capped off the scoring on a 27-yard run after taking a direct snap from center with 4:56 left in the game. Lowe finished the game with 82 yards rushing on seven carries.
Gunter had 307 yards rushing with four Tigers picking up at least 50 yards. Clayton Reed added 11 carries for 54 yards to round out the effort.
Defensively, the Tigers eliminated the Eagles ground game in the first half and the pass rush harassed Patterson and helped lead to three interceptions. The Eagles managed just 51 yards on 23 carries.
This was the fourth time in the five meetings, including three playoff games, that Gunter has held Holliday to single digits with the high-water mark for the Eagles being 13 points and outside of the long touchdown catch by Strealy, Holliday had just 135 yards on its other 44 snaps — barely three yards per play.