Royce City —
A season to remember concluded its final chapter Saturday night, with the Gainesville football team falling victim to Gladewater's strong rushing attack and stout defense in a 24-17 loss to the Bears in the Class 3A Regional Semifinal in Royce City.
The Leopards (11-1) finished their season in similar fashion to last year – with their only loss coming in the third round of the playoffs. Gladewater (7-6) will move on to play No. 1 ranked Argyle in the State quarterfinals
"I thought our kids played hard against a good football team, they did a great job at keeping the ball away from us," Leopards head coach Keith Hall said. "I'm so thankful for what we went through this season, I'm awful proud of our players."
In a game where the Bears dominated the time of possession with 262 yards rushing and touchdown drives of 12, 14,13 and 12 plays, the Leopards were still able to keep things close until the final whistle.
With the Leopards down 24-10, senior fullback Adam Berryman brought the team within seven points after returning a kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown with :57 seconds remaining in the game.
Kicker Hector Sagrero gave the Leopards a chance to recover on the ensuing onside kick, but the ball bounced off a Leopard player's hands out of bounds, giving the ball back to Gladewater. The Bears ran four running plays to clinch a first down and run out the clock, securing the win.
"That kickoff return at the end was huge for us, it gave us a chance in the final minute," Hall said. "We had a great onside kick, but just couldn't get our hands on it."
Gainesville got the ball to start the game and moved upfield with two first downs, but were forced to punt by a Bears defense that limited Gainesville to just 107 yards of total offense.
Gladewater responded by doing what it does best on its first drive: running the football. The Bears marched down the field in 12 plays for 74 yards, taking a 6-0 lead when fullback Justin Centers scored on a 6-yard run. All but one of the plays on the drive was a run.
Following a Leopards three-and-out on their next drive, the Bears took over on their own 36 yard line. Turning to the ground game, Gladewater churned out a 14 play, 64 yard drive to take a 12-0 lead. Gainesville forced their opponent into two fourth down situations, but the Bears executed both times to keep the drive alive.
GHS almost stopped the drive with the Bears in Leopard territory with a forced fumble, but the runner was ruled down by contact. After earning a first down at the five yard line by just inches, the Bears ran three more times and took a two-score lead on a Daylon Mack one-yard touchdown run up the middle with 6:16 left in the second.
Gainesville continued to struggle on the next drive, getting forced into another three-and-out. Gladewater was forced to start at its own seven after a block in the back penalty on its punt return, and the Leopard defense stepped up on the first play of the drive when Demarius Farr stripped the ball loose and Johnathon Mendez recovered the fumble at the Bear 14 yard line. Berryman coughed up the ball on GHS' first play, but the fumble was negated by an offsides call against the Bears. Gainesville got on the board the next play, as Mason Copeland hit Devin Mims across the middle for a 14-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 12-7.
Gainesville's defense once again forced a Gladewater turnover on the ensuing drive, when Tag Sparks recovered a fumble at the Leopard 39. But the offense couldn't capitalize, losing yardage to set up 4th and 14 and turning the ball over on a failed fake punt attempt. Gladewater then ran the clock out to end the half.
The Bears got the ball back to start the second half, and kept the ball as long as they could. Passing just once for 14 yards, Gladewater constructed a methodical 14 play, 81-yard drive that lasted for more than half of the third quarter. Gainesville forced the Bears into a fourth down at the Leopard 12, but Gladewater completed a 12-yard score across to middle to seize an 18-10 lead.
The Leopards then moved to the Bears 23 yard line following a 27-yard run from Berryman – Gainesville's longest run of the day – but the Leopards gained just four yards after that and Copeland was taken down behind the line on fourth down and six.
After getting the ball back on a punt, Gainesville finally got back on the scoreboard. Coplenad hit Farr on a 31-yard completion on fourth down, setting up a 30-yard field goal from Hector Sagrero.
On the ensuing drive, Gainesville's woes stopping the run continued. Gladewater earned four first downs on a 12-play, 71-yard scoring drive consisting solely of runs and extended its lead to 24-10 on a 27-yard rushing touchdown from James Reese.
It looked like all was lost for Gainesville with just 1:16 left, but Berryman gave the Leopards new life with his 83 yard kick return. But the Leopards failed to recover the onside kick, and Gladewater clinched the win by running out the clock on four runs after getting the ball back.
Berryman, who averaged 187 yards per game before the regional semifinal, was held to a season low of 45 yards on 10 carries. Mendez finished with 24 yards on four carries and Copeland went 3-10 with 53 yards in the air.