Through the first two and half quarters, the Gainesville Leopards’ defense was creating havoc. From its relentless sacking of the Springtown quarterback to the timely forced fumble midway through the third quarter, the Leopards were in position to upset the 5-1 Porcupines.
But a critical punt blocked punt by the Springtown defense quickly led to a game-swinging touchdown and the Porcupines never looked back as they rolled to a 41-19 victory in the first game of district play Friday, Sept. 2, at Leopard Stadium.
“I kept telling the team that we could play with them and we did,” Gainesville head coach James Polk said. “They just had more bullets than we had. I think their depth got us. We started wearing down and I thought our defense played lights out, but we got tired. You can’t keep giving the No. 8 team in the state chance after chance after chance. You have to capitalize.”
Gainesville’s offense was unable to score on its first possession of the game despite moving into Porcupine territory, but the Leopards’ defense was on point to begin the game by forcing Springtown to punt on its first go on offense.
Each team exchanged punts and in the blink of an eye, the first quarter came to an end with the score 0-0.
After a 3-and-out from Gainesville, which fell to 1-3 on the season, Springtown’s offense finally got on track as it needed just five plays from the Leopards’ 43-yard line to find the end zone.
A 4-yard touchdown from Dakota Strahan and a 2-point conversion from quarterback Camden Chesney gave the Porcupines an 8-0 lead with 10:11 left in the second quarter.
Gainesville’s offense sputtered the next drive, but the Leopards’ fourth sack of the game led to a 3-and-out for Springtown.
The Porcupines’ defense forced a turnover on downs and quickly turned that momentum into points.
Six plays later Springtown’s Chesney found Kolton Gist for an 11-yard touchdown pass. A successful 2-point conversion from Chesney pushed the Porcupines’ lead to 16-0 with just over three minutes left in the first half.
But the Leopards didn’t get down on themselves and put together a lengthy drive on offense.
Starting from their own 21-yard line, the Leopards went to the air three straight times to get the ball to the Springtown 26-yard line.
A key 16-yard jump pass from quarterback Tre Lawson to Louis Stewart moved the ball to the 2-yard line, where Jayce Morgan punched in the touchdown with 44 seconds left in the half.
A failed 2-point conversion made the score 16-6 headed to halftime.
Springtown opened the second half with a 42-yard field goal, but that felt like a win for the Leopards’ defense.
“That defensive front really gets after it,” Polk said. “I felt like they played well enough for us to be successful. I really do. It’s not a secret what each does, but they have a lot of playoff and game experience on that squad. We just have to keep grinding.”
Gainesville’s offense put together a 7-play drive that culminated in an 8-yard touchdown pass from Lawson to Dmarion Haley cut the Porcupines’ lead to 19-13 with 6:06 left in the third quarter.
All of a sudden, the Leopards were within one possession and their defense delivered what could have been a game-changing play on Springtown’s next drive.
Senior linebacker Ethan Ruiz recovered a punt at the Leopards’ 24-yard line with 4:08 left in the third frame.
Unfortunately, the Porcupines instantly reclaimed the momentum when the blocked a Gainesville punt and one play later capitalized on a 9-yard touchdown run from Chesney. After the 2-point conversion, Springtown led 27-13 with 2:38 remaining in the third quarter and the Leopards’ shoulders slumped.
“We were trying to find someone to snap the ball and we’ve got to block them,” Polk said. “Our snap is slow and we aren’t getting back there quick. Just like last week, it’s the special teams that changed the game. You’re right there and you’re right there and then you make a special teams mistake and that’s what happens.”
Gainesville turned the ball over on downs on its next possession and Springtown needed just five plays to take a 34-13 lead after Mathew Lockard hauled in the 4-yard touchdown pass in the back-left corner of the end zone.
The Leopards drove into Springtown territory on its next drive, but Lawson was picked off and the Porcupines needed just three plays to score again.
A 40-yard touchdown from Chesney to Lockard pushed the lead to 41-13 with 7:40 remaining in the game.
Gainesville continued to battle though as the Leopards marched down the field on a 17-play drive. A 4-yard touchdown run from junior running back Ivercyn Sanders made it 41-19 with 1:23 left in the game.
The Leopards recovered an onside kick, but couldn’t add on anymore points.