After scoring a flurry of points in the final minute of the first half along with a quick start to the second half, it didn’t take long for the Gainesville Leopards to separate themselves from Mineral Wells on Friday, Nov. 1, at Leopard Stadium.
Despite the slow start by the offense, the Leopards’ defense used four first-half turnovers to turn the tides on the way to a 41-2 victory to officially clinch a spot in the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
With the win, the Leopards moved to 9-1 on the season and 3-1 in district play with one more regular season game left against Decatur.
“Our motto is to try to restore the roar and that doesn’t just mean in football, but in all sports,” Gainesville head coach James Polk said. “We’ve been getting that excitement back in Gainesville the past two years. We’ve really worked hard and the excitement is coming back. We have an opportunity to win district against a top-five team in the state. You don’t get those opportunities too often.”
Despite the wealth of injuries Gainesville has been dealing with, James Polk said after the sluggish start, the Leopards found their stride.
“We were shooting ourselves in the foot,” Polk said. “We can’t afford to give Mineral Wells a chance. We got off to such a bad start with penalties, but our defense has been playing lights out. They’re putting us in situations to win and that’s good right before the half, especially knowing we were getting the ball back to start the half.”
Each team exchanged punts on their first possession of the game and Gainesville’s defense forced another punt to the Gainesville 36-yard line to set the table for its offense.
Isaiah Gipson got the drive going with a 17-yard run to the Rams’ 47-yard line and from there he ripped off a 47-yard touchdown up the middle of the Mineral Wells defense.
The score put Gainesville up 7-0 with 6:27 left in the first quarter.
The Rams’ offense got rolling on the next drive and looked to have an answer for the Leopards’ first score when the moved down to the Leopards’ 10-yard line.
However, Rams quarterback Braden Fryer was picked off by Robyn Hardin and returned to the Gainesville 48-yard line.
Unfortunately, the Leopards couldn’t make Mineral Wells pay as they were forced to punt to the Rams’ 45-yard line.
Each offense continued to sputter, but the Gainesville defense continued to deliver turnovers as Gipson picked off Fryer for the second time in the first half.
Gainesville was forced to punt, but its defense kept the turnovers rolling. Harrison Dempsey recovered a fumble on the Rams’ next drive at the 50-yard line with 2:26 left in the first half.
This time the Leopards’ offense took advantage of the turnover and the field position.
Gainesville quarterback Traylen Shinault found tight end Tre Lawson streaking down the right sideline and wide open in the back left corner of the end zone for the 21-yard touchdown.
A bad snap on the extra point was returned for the 2-point conversion to get Mineral Wells on the scoreboard at 13-2 with 39 seconds left in the first half.
Instead of running a safe play to end the first half, Mineral Wells made a grave mistake and fumbled in the final seconds of the half.
Ethan Butler recovered the fumble at the Rams’ 6-yard line and then Gipson punched in the 6-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left in the half to take a 21-2 lead headed to halftime.
Gainesville had a clean start to the second half as the offense drove 61 yards in six plays.
A 15-yard hookup from Shinault to Gipson put the ball at the 27-yard line and then Shinault found Izaiah Baker for the 27-yard touchdown with 9:56 left in the third frame.
A blocked extra point kept the score at 27-2.
The Leopards’ defense continued to suffocate the Rams’ offense as Mineral Wells was forced into a 3-and-out punt to the Gainesville 43-yard line, but the Leopards couldn’t score off the defensive stand.
J.D. Harrison recovered a fumble for the Leopards’ fifth forced turnover of the game at the Mineral Wells 46-yard line less than two minutes into the fourth quarter.
A 21-yard run by Jayce Morgan put the ball at the 25-yard line and he converted a 4th-down run to get the ball the 15-yard line.
A few plays later, Morgan dove over the goal line for the 1-yard touchdown to cap off the drive. After an unsuccessful 2-point conversion, the Leopards pushed the lead to 33-2 with 5:59 left in the game.
Luis Salas came up with a sack on a Mineral Wells fourth down, giving the Leopards prime field position at the Rams’ 24-yard line.
Morgan added his second touchdown of the game on a 3-yard run with 56 seconds left in the game to give Gainesville the 41-2 lead after a successful 2-point conversion run by Morgan.
Patrick Hayslip can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @PatrickHayslip