Gainesville won its first game of the 2021 season with a strong defensive stand Friday night.
The Leopards defeated Mineral Wells 24-21 on the road in the last non-district game of the year, squashing a late comeback bid.
Gainesville (1-4) needed this win to build momentum into district play, which begins Oct. 8.
Mineral Wells (4-1) lost for the first time this season after going behind in the second quarter and never fully recovering.
Gainesville coach James Polk credited the defense for the win.
“We played defense, and we played special teams,” Polk said. “Our defense played lights out, especially the first half. It took us awhile to get going on offense, but I also contribute some of that to some of the personnel changes we made. We put an emphasis on defense and special teams all week long. I think that’s the main reason.”
The Leopards led 10-6 at halftime. Not much happened in the third quarter, but the scoring picked up in the fourth. The Leopards scored on their first two offensive plays of the fourth quarter, both rushes from senior Harrison Dempsey, pushing their lead to 24-6. A couple minutes later, the Rams scored their first points since the first quarter with a rushing touchdown and two-point conversion.
With about three minutes left, the Leopards missed a field goal. Mineral Wells took the ball down the length of the field to score, shrinking the deficit to three points.
The Rams got the ball back at their own 5-yard line with a chance to win or force overtime. The Leopards’ defense stood strong and forced a turnover on downs, allowing Gainesville to run out the clock and claim the win.
Polk said Mineral Wells got back into the game by changing their offensive approach.
“They started trying to throw the ball all over the field,” Polk said. “They made some plays on us, caught us out of coverage and was able to get back in the game… We recovered two onside kicks and was able right there at the end to run the clock out. That’s really what happened. They just changed their plan from running it to trying to air the ball out. We held up.”
Sophomore quarterback London Daniels threw one touchdown pass, an 11-yard strike to sophomore Jesse Luna just before halftime. Dempsey had both rushing scores for Gainesville. Senior kicker Bruno Hernandez hit a 37-yard field goal in the first quarter to open the scoring.
Polk said senior Cason Evans, junior D’Marion Haley and sophomore Kris Towers all played well defensively.
This win gives Gainesville some momentum from which to build. The Leopards are off next weekend, then district play begins Oct. 8. Polk said his players have always worked hard in practice, but getting a win should help them practice even better.
“We’re going into the bye week feeling good, not upset,” Polk said. “It’s a long two weeks after a loss, so I think the mood of the kids is going to change… I think just going in with a win will help their confidence.”