By JIM OTTS
The Gainesville Leopards dominated the first half of Friday's football opener and weathered a second half storm to drop the visiting Carrollton Ranchview Wolves 24-20.
The Leopards got touchdown runs from senior running back DeShawn Franklin and junior quarterback Kielyn Lewis and a 23-yard field goal from senior Justin Espinosa for a 17-0 first half lead while the Cat defense held the Wolves to 50 offensive yards and just four first downs.
Ranchview threatened twice late in the second stanza, once when a 36-yard option keeper by quarterback Matt Haselroth helped the Wolves reach the Leopard 10 and again after a 37-yard kickoff return by Trey Young helped the guests reach the 11.
Haselroth was dropped for timely losses by Harold Wills, Patrick Westbrook and Kenyon Morgan, enabling the Leopards to escape the scares unscathed.
The Wolves found their second-half legs with slot back Xavier Williams.
Williams had two first-half pass receptions, one for plus seven yards and another for minus three, but had no offensive rushes. That changed with the Wolves initial second-half drive.
The guests drove to the Leopard 30, but seemed to self-destruct when a series of penalties pushed them back to their own 40. Facing second and 36 from there, Haselroth faked a handoff to deep back Dovian Ingram and handed instead to Williams on a reverse and he went the distance.
Haselroth's PAT kick cut the Leopard lead to 17-7 but the Leopards had an answer.
The Reds started from their own 34 and marched to the Ranchview 25 in 10 plays, overcoming a holding penalty and getting an important quarterback sneak by Lewis for a first down on a fourth-and-two situation along the way.
Lewis went the final 25 steps with a sweep to the right and Espinosa's kick pushed the Leopard lead back to 17 at 24-7.
Williams and Haselroth shared rushing duties and moved the Wolves to the Leopard 15 early in the fourth quarter and Williams scored from there on another slot back reverse.
Haselroth's PAT attempt appeared to be touched by Franklin, who then rolled into the kicker. The attempt cleared the crossbar by inches and the Leopards were penalized 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff.
The Wolves attempted an onside kick but lineman Jake Neal alertly snagged the bouncing ball and fell on it at the Leopard 36.
Lewis stopped a Ranchview drive with a pass interception in the middle of the fourth quarter and the guests used their allotted times out during the following Leopard drive.
The final Wolf scoring driving began at the Ranchview 48 and involved a pair of pass completions and was aided by a 15-yard, personal foul penalty for a hit out of bounds.
Haselroth rolled to his right, but turned back left when his path was obstructed and then found Ryan Wallace for a 13-yard strike with 2:53 remaining.
This time Franklin blocked the PAT try by Haselroth.
Wills jumped on the onside kick attempt to give the Leopards the ball at midfield, Franklin ripped off a 7-yard gallop for a first down and the Wolves, without times out, could not stop the clock.
“I am very proud of the way our kids played,” coach Ricky Lock said. “We had a lot of people playing both ways and we got tired. We played just about everybody and fought well.”
“We kept him (Williams) walled off in the first half,” Lock said of the Wolves' back. “He is probably one of the fastest players we will see all year.”
Ranchview was predicted to finish as high as third in their district by sports writers for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram prior to Friday's opener and Lock expects his 1-0 charges to get another good test next week in Decatur.
By JIM OTTS