ARLINGTON — For all the close games the Cardinals played to get here, the last three decided in the final minute, it was no surprise Pottsboro was again in position for a dramatic finish.
When it looked like the Cards could fold and have things get out of hand, it still came down to an onside kick in the final minutes to finally end what had been Pottsboro’s magical run.
Fighting from nearly the final three quarters, the Cardinals came up just short of forcing overtime as Grandview held off Pottsboro, 42-35, to win the Class 3A Division I state championship at AT&T Stadium.
“They have big hearts. They never quit fighting. I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Pottsboro head coach Matt Poe said. “Guys gave everything they had. It’s an experience of a lifetime for all of us.”
Grandview (15-1) captured its second straight title behind Tremayne Gullatte and Dane Jentsch. Gullatte finished with 19 carries for 95 yards and five touchdowns and Jentsch was the Offensive MVP after completing 12-of-17 passes for 218 yards and 14 carries for 154 yards and a TD. Jentsch was also the Defensive MVP after totaling three and a half tackles and an interception. It was the second straight year he took home both awards.
“Tried to stop him. We didn’t do very good a lot of times,” Poe said. “He’s obviously a heck of a player. He’s tough to stop.”
Braden Plyler was 19-of-25 passing for 254 yards and three touchdowns with an interception while also running 18 times for 67 yards and a TD, Titus Lyons finished with eight catches — tied for fifth-most in a 3A title game — for 133 yards and a touchdown, Cy Shope totaled 79 yards and a TD on 20 carries, going over 2,000 yards for the season, and Jasek Hooker and Zach Talley caught touchdown passes for Pottsboro (15-1), which was in the title game for the first time while setting a program record for wins, surpassing the 2008 semifinal squad for the best year until this one.
“It’s been an amazing experience with all my friends, my brothers and my coaches,” Shope said. “At the beginning of the season, I was hoping for district champs. I’m glad we made it here. Did it come out the way we wanted? No, but it was a fun last year.”
The Cardinals had gone through back-to-back 6-5 seasons before elevating to the second-best team in the state.
“Us as seniors, we really took it in our control this year and tried to lead this team,” senior receiver Ezra Fritts said. “The juniors stepped up a lot and even the few sophomores we had on the team. I think how close we are helped us.”
Gullatte gave Grandview a 42-28 lead on a 20-yard TD run with 3:34 remaining but anyone who’s watched Pottsboro over the final month knew that wasn’t going to knock the Cardinals out.
Cooper Townsley returned the ensuing kickoff 51 yards to the Zebras 41 and Plyler’s weaving touchdown run covered 19 yards with 2:21 left.
“Made some big plays in the passing game and there at the end made a big play with his legs,” Poe said.
The onside kick went out of bounds and Pottsboro only had one timeout left. Grandview was able to pick up the first down it needed to run out the clock.
Late in the third quarter, Gullatte scored on a six-yard run for a two-TD margin and then Jentsch came up with an interception. The turnover didn’t end up hurting as the Zebras faked a punt on fourth-and-three at the Pottsboro 37 but Jentsch’s throw to the left sideline was high and incomplete.
The Cardinals took advantage when Plyler hit Lyons down the right side on a 53-yard touchdown with 9:26 left.
“We knew Pottsboro had the potential to push us down the field with what they do passing,” Grandview head coach Ryan Ebner said.
The biggest momentum swing came early in the second half. Grandview had a 72-yard TD pass to Austin Boyd called back on a holding penalty during the opening series of the third quarter and the ensuing punt went just 26 yards.
Pottsboro took over at its 43 and had a six-minute march that including having first-and-goal at the three. Three straight runs picked up just two yards and then on fourth down, Grandview made a stop on Shope but was off-sides, pushing the ball even closer to the end zone. The Zebras then brought down Plyler for a two-yard loss, keeping Pottsboro from tying the game at 28.
“Hindsight’s 20/20. We’d love to have a do-over. We couldn’t get a half a yard,” Poe said. “Credit to Grandview for stopping us. We went two or three different times and couldn’t get in.”
Grandview covered the 97 yards in front of it in just six plays, including a pair of 40-yard pickups on a Boyd catch and a Jentsch run, before Gullatte made it 35-21 with just over 13 minutes to go.
The Cardinals scored in the final minute of the first half to pull within a touchdown when Talley hauled in a 29-yard pass from Plyler going right to left over the middle with 51 seconds left.
It was a drive that kept alive after a defensive holding penalty when the Cards had fourth-and-five at the Grandview 45.
With a new set of a downs, the Cardinals got the touchdown pass from Plyler two snaps later.
It was the fourth consecutive possession of the quarter where a touchdown occurred.
Grandview took a 28-14 advantage on a five-yard option keeper to the right side by Jentsch with three minutes left in the half.
That was a response to Hooker’s juggling catch in the left side of the end zone on a 15-yard throw by Plyler. Hooker tipped the ball to himself with his left hand, pulled it in and got a foot down before falling out of bounds with 6:13 remaining in the quarter.
Hooker had kept the drive alive two plays earlier with a sliding 11-yard grab on fourth-and-six at the Grandview 28.
The Cardinals bounced back after the Zebras had used just two snaps for a 21-7 advantage. Jentsch hit Boyd for a 47-yard reception and Gullatte scored from seven yards out on the next play less that two minutes into the quarter.
There was only one turnover in the half and it was a costly one for Pottsboro late in the first quarter. Antonio Arellano recovered for the Zebras at the Cardinals 42-yard line and after a 33-yard scramble from Jentsch to end the frame, Gullatte had a one-yard TD plunge up the middle for a 14-7 lead.
After the teams traded punts to start the game, Pottsboro got on the board with a one-yard touchdown run on a direct snap to Shope to cap the 11-play drive that covered more than five minutes.
Grandview didn’t waste long to tie the game as the Zebras scored on the ensuing possession. A 32-yard catch by Luke Ferguson put Grandview in the red zone and Gullatte barrelled in from the four-yard like on a run that was reviewed when Townsley forced a fumble and Riley Deaton recovered. The call stood when it was ruled Gullatte had broken the plane of the end zone first with 1:48 left in the first quarter.