In its opening round of the playoffs, Gainesville was hit with the knockout blow in the first half.
The Pampa Harvesters carved up the Leopards’ defense through the air and used a 35-6 first-half lead to pull away for the 56-28 victory in the Class 4A bi-district game Friday, Nov. 15, in Vernon.
The Leopards finished the season 8-3 — their most wins since 2013.
After the game, Gainesville head coach James Polk told his team how proud he was of its effort and said the last day of the football season is one of the saddest days of the year.
“In my time here, we’ve achieved a lot of firsts,” Polk said. “It’s been a while since we’ve won this many ball games and it’s been a while since we’ve been over .500, but that’s not the ultimate goal. That’s to hoist the trophy and there’s only one team in this classification gets to do that. This is my first group of kids I’ve had since I’ve been here. This isn’t what I envisioned, but I appreciate those guys for hanging in there with me. In a few weeks, this hurt will fade off. Hopefully in 365 days we’re here again.”
Gainesville’s defense had a solid start to the game as they forced Pampa into a 3rd-and-long situation.
The Harvesters couldn’t convert and were forced to punt to the Leopards’ 23-yard line.
The Leopards were stifled on their first offensive drive, but Gainesville got crafty and converted a fake punt for the first down.
Pampa’s defense bent, but didn’t break. The Harvesters held and forced a punt to their own 29-yard line.
Pampa’s offense woke from its slumber and got rolling. A 32-yard run set up Sebastian Leija for the 2-yard touchdown to give the Harvesters a 7-0 lead with 3:40 left in the first quarter.
The Harvesters’ defense continued to shut down the Leopards’ rushing game and they forced a punt to the Pampa 9-yard line.
Then, the Harvesters exploded.
A 91-yard pass to Joey Hill down the left sideline burned the Gainesville secondary. That gave Pampa the 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“I knew it was going to be a battle, but I never would have imagined that we’d be down 35-0,” Polk said. “We didn’t quit. They have a good team and they pass protect better than I saw on film. They gave us some problems.”
Gainesville was held on third down on its next drive and gambled on fourth down to try to keep the drive going.
Pampa’s defense quickly wedged through the line and held the Leopards to turn the ball over on downs.
The Harvested didn’t need long as they converted a 3rd-and-5 with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Hill to boost their lead to 21-0.
After another Gainesville punt, Pampa continued to play downhill as the Harvesters threw six consecutive times with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Stephen Ketchum to give them the 28-0 lead with 5:29 left in the first half.
The Leopards were held again on their next drive and the Harvesters continued to dominate with their passing game, using a 10-play drive to march down the field with an 11-yard touchdown by Cornelius Landers giving Pampa the 35-0 lead with 1:51 remaining in the half.
Gainesville finally got some positive mojo going on its final drive of the first half as a 59-yard run by Tony Ochoa put the ball at the Pampa 8-yard line.
The Harvesters forced Gainesville into a 4th-and-goal to go from the 5-yard line and Traylen Shinault found Draike Sparks for the 5-yard touchdown. After the failed 2-point conversion, the Leopards trailed 35-6 with 35 seconds left in the second quarter.
Gainesville had the ball to begin the second half, but the Leopards were forced to punt on their first drive.
It took Pampa just three plays to find the end zone as an 18-yard touchdown gave the Harvesters the 42-6 lead early in the third quarter.
The Leopards couldn’t find their way on offense on the next drive, but Izaiah Baker helped restore possession as he delivered an interception as the Harvesters had driven into the red zone.
Faced with a fourth down from their own 13-yard line, Shinault found Sparks over the middle for the 87-yard touchdown. Another unsuccessful 2-point conversion cut the lead to 42-12 with 4:54 left in the third quarter.
Pampa recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Gainesville 33-yard line and the Harvesters needed just three plays to make the Leopards pay as another Hill 10-yard receiving touchdown gave Pampa the 49-12 with 3:43 left in the third quarter.
The Leopards moved the ball on their next drive as a long run by Shinault put the ball at the Pampa 37-yard line. Tony Ochoa eventually cut the lead to 49-20 on an 8-yard touchdown after a successful 2-point conversion with seven seconds to go in the third frame.
The Harvesters’ offense kept pumping and made it 56-20 with 7:59 left in the game.
Mason Ford recovered a fumble after Gainesville turned the ball over on downs.
Sparks added one more receiving touchdown to cut the lead to 56-28 after the successful 2-point conversion.