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Vipers Explosive 3rd Quarter Downs the Hawks 49-21

Tale of Two Halves in the Alamo City

Those in attendance at the Alamodome in San Antonio on Friday night to watch the Region IV Semi-Final matchup between the Harlan Hawks (10-3) and the Vandegrift Vipers (12-1) witnessed firsthand how much momentum can give, and take away, over the course of a Texas High School Football playoff game.  

Harlan Dominates 1st Half

Harlan won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff, putting their Offense on the field first against the Vandegrift Defense.  They wasted no time at all showing why their all everything back, SR Jacob Gonzalez, had bewildered so many of their opponents during the season.  Lining up both at running back and Wildcat QB for the Hawks, he touched the ball on seven of the thirteen plays of their opening drive, including a pair of screen passes out of the backfield from JR QB Noah Farris that picked up big yards, a 20 yard reception where he showed his speed in the open field and a 26-yard reception where he broke through and spun around six Viper defenders before being pulled down at the ten yard line to setup the Hawks with First and Goal.  Two plays later Gonzales rolled out wide as the Wildcat QB, hitting SR WR Izayah Manchester with a pinpoint pass in the front corner of the End Zone to put the Hawks up 7-0 with 6:49 left in the 1st Quarter to finish off the 75-yard drive.

The Vipers wasted no time getting the ball into the hand of their own playmaker, JR WR Miles Coleman, who took the Harlan kickoff at the Vandegrift 29, sidestepped a Harlan defender, and raced all the way to the Harlan 41 to setup the Vandegrift Offense on the Hawks side of the field.  Vandegrift went up tempo, with a quick pass over the middle from SR QB Brayden Buchanan to JR TE Jase Skoglund picking up 14 yards, then on 3rd Down handing the ball off to SR RB Alex Witt for a 12-yard gain and a 1st Down, followed by a Witt 16-yard run up the middle where he spun out of an initial tackle and then broke through two Hawk defenders into the End Zone to tie the game up at 7, taking just 4 plays and 1:14 off the clock.

Harlan responded with their second long time-consuming drive of the game.  This time the Hawks spread the ball around, mixing in both a run and catch from SO Payton Matthews, along with a pair of receptions from Manchester, including a 4th Down play where he went up high to come down with a pass that appeared overthrown near the sideline in between two Viper defensive backs to set the Hawks up inside the Red Zone.  

Manchester then showed off his speed on a reverse that pushed the ball down inside the Vandegrift 10 on the final play of the 1st Quarter.  A Farris to Matthews pass in the flat moved the ball to the 1-yard line before a False Start penalty, the sixth of the 1st Half against the Hawks, moved them back out to the six.  Two plays later, Gonzales took the handoff from Farris and just got the ball over the Goal Line to put Harlan back on top 14-7 with 9:08 left in the half.

The Hawks Defense forced the first punt of the game, bottling up Vipers RB Witt for just eight yards on three carries that then brought out SR Hudson Lillie to kick the ball right back to the Hawks with just over a minute off the clock.  Lillie boomed a 44-yard punt that Gonzales took in at the Hawks 24, and once again showed how dangerous he is with the ball in his hands, weaving his way back through the Vandegrift coverage team to the Vipers 43-yard line to give the Hawks their first short field of the game.

Sticking with what had been working all game, Gonzales knifed through the Viper defense on a pair of electric runs, breaking out of first contact on both and picking up an initial 1st Down for the Hawks.  Farris looked to have an easy touchdown when he stepped up in the pocket out of the Viper rush and found SR WR Micky Duesing wide open at the 5-yard line, but Vandegrift SR DB Isaiah Thompson arrived just as the ball got there, knocking it away to save the score.  

On the next play, a 3rd and 15 from the Viper 32, Duesing went up high, just like Manchester had done earlier in the game, right at the 1st Down marker where he pulled in the Farris pass to keep the Hawks drive moving.  Matthews then showed that Gonzales wasn’t the only one who that could make defenders miss when he took the hand off from Gonzales, bounced outside, and weaved his way between two Viper defenders along the sideline for a 17-yard touchdown run to extend the Hawks lead to 21-7.  

With the Hawks now up fourteen points, it marked the first time the Vipers had trailed any team by multiple scores on the season.  So far in the game, Vandegrift had ran just seven plays on Offense, compared to the thirty-four by Harlan, with the time of possession overwhelmingly in favor of the Hawks 16:29 to 2:53.

Harlan, looking to hold onto the momentum they had in the game, tried to catch the Vipers off guard on the kickoff, when SR Dominic Peña popped up a short kickoff into a hole in the center of the Vandegrift return team that was alertly taken in by SR Braden Holter to set the Vipers up at their 40.  The Vipers needed to do something to allow their Defense to rest and keep the Hawks Offense off the field.  But, once again, the Hawks Defense kept the pressure on Buchanan and the Vipers Offense, forcing a quick throw that missed Skoglund on 1st Down, getting the Vipers to jump early for their first False Start of the game, followed by Hawks Defensive Linemen SR Luke Britton and JR Nathaniel Tealer, along with JR LB Yair Gelacio, all converging on Buchanan for the sack and a loss of eight yards.  

On 3rd Down, with chants of “Defense! Defense!” coming from the Harlan fans, SR Dante McRae looked to have Buchanan wrapped up for another sack, but he was just able to get a throw away towards Skoglund to avoid another big loss.  With less than a minute running off the game clock, the Vipers were forced into their second straight three and out, as Lillie punted the ball back to the Hawks, with Gonzales calling for the fair catch at the Hawk 28 and Harlan looking to put the Vipers even further behind.

On 1st Down Farris found Gonzales coming out of the backfield for a 7-yard gain.  On 2nd Down, Farris launched the ball downfield towards Manchester that was knocked away by SR DB Andrew Scott, but Thompson was also tracking the throw and was flagged with Targeting for his hit on Manchester to move the ball to midfield.  The Hawks then had their biggest negative plays of the game, their eighth False Start penalty of the 1st Half followed by an illegal substitution penalty that moved them back into a 1st and 20 from their own 40-yard line.  A 5-yard run by Matthews, followed by a rare run by Gonzales for no yards and a pass from Farris to an open Duesing along the sideline that just missed long, resulted in the first punt of the night for the Hawks.  

Coleman called for the fair catch of the Tupac McClure punt at the Viper 27.  With 1:51 showing on the clock, and following their two previous three and outs, the Vipers knew they had to find a way to put points on the board before halftime.

Coleman Provides a Spark

On 1st Down Buchanan kept the ball but was only able to pick up two yards on the keeper.  On 2nd Down, Buchanan dropped back, holding the ball with nowhere to throw.  Gelacio, coming in on a delayed blitz, and Britton teamed up for another sack and a huge 12-yard loss all the way back to the Viper 17.  With even louder chants of “Defense! Defense!” coming from the Harlan sideline and just 33 seconds left in the half, the Vipers called a timeout to regroup, and it looked like they were going into the locker room still down 14.

Coming out of the timeout, Buchanan dropped back on 3rd Down and launched the ball down the center of the field towards SR WR Ray’Jean Middleton, who had SR DB Dustin Beane step for step with him in coverage.   Beane reached out to pull Middleton’s arm down right before the ball arrived, drawing the call for Pass Interference, giving the Vipers a 1st Down at their 32 yard-line and stopping the clock with 27 seconds to go.

On 1st Down Buchanan, again under pressure, floated a pass towards SR WR Grant Lindley that fell short, leaving 22 seconds on the clock.  On 2nd Down, Coleman, Skoglund and SR WR Beck Ormond lined up bunched out wide left, Buchanan sent Middleton in motion from the right to the left and on the snap hit Coleman with a quick pass in the flat.  With Middleton, Skoglund and Ormond each hitting their blocks against the Hawk defenders in front of them, Coleman broke through three separate tackle attempts and kicked it into turbo mode, jetting 68 yards down the sideline for the score to pull the Vipers to within seven with just 10 seconds left in the 1st Half.  

Manchester took in the SR Hayden Arnold pop-up kickoff and Farris then kneeled out the half with Harlan heading into to the locker room with the 21-14 lead, 24 minutes away from their first Regional Finals appearance in just five years of football. 

After a 1st Half in which Harlan dominated in all facets of the game, would the late touchdown by Vandegrift be enough to swing the momentum back onto their side to pull out the win.  

Vipers Catch Fire in 3rd Quarter

Just as Coleman had done to start the Vipers first drive of the game, Middleton took the short Peña kickoff at the Vandegrift 20 and found a seam in the Harlan coverage team for a 33-yard return to the Hawks 47.  On 1st Down Buchanan handed the ball off to Witt for a 6-yard gain up the middle where he pushed back multiple Hawk defenders. Staying with their up-tempo style from the 1st Half, Buchanan again quickly snapped the ball, handing it off to Witt, who found the hole, made a jump cut to avoid a tackle and outraced the Harlan Defense 41 yards for the touchdown just 35 seconds into the 2nd Half.

Following the touchback off the Arnold kickoff, Harlan lined up at their 25-yard line looking to respond to the back-to-back touchdowns by Vandegrift.  On 1st Down, Farris launched a pass downfield trying to hit SR TE Salis Wofford, but the pass sailed high over Wofford allowing Viper DB Andrew Scott to pull it in near midfield for the interception, returning the ball back to the Hawks 27 and setting Vandegrift up with their shortest field of the night.  

Witt took the Buchanan handoff on 1st Down for a 4-yard gain.  On 2nd Down Buchanan threw a pass that Ormond pulled in at the Hawks 5 for an 18-yard gain.  Hurrying up to the line, the Vipers quickly snapped the ball with Buchanan again handing it to Witt who found a huge hole opened by the Viper Offensive Line and he bulled his way through a Hawks defender into the End Zone for the touchdown, giving Vandegrift their first lead of the game.  After being down for almost the entire 1st Half, Vandegrift had scored 14 points in the first 90 seconds of the 2nd Half to take the lead 28-21.

Starting at their own 25-yard line after another touchback off the Arnold kickoff, Harlan desperately needed to do something to slow down the Vipers momentum.  After a 1st Down run by Matthews was stopped for no gain and a Gonzales 2nd Down pass to Duesing went incomplete, the Hawks faced 3rd and 10.  Farris dropped back to pass, but was flushed from the pocket by the Viper rush and took off for a 9 -yard gain to setup a 4th and 1.  The Hawks, trying to decide what they were going to do, called a timeout after waiting too long to send their short yardage unit onto the field.  After the timeout, Gonzales took his spot at Wildcat QB, kept the ball off the snap to gain 6 yards, getting the 1st Down and maintaining possession. Gonzales stayed in at Wildcat QB, gaining 8 and 14 yards on successive running plays to move the ball across midfield to the Viper 38-yard line.  On 1st Down, Matthews was taken down for a loss by Thompson, followed by a screen pass from Farris to Gonzales in space, but Viper SR DB Alex Foster wrangled him down for another loss to setup 3rd and 14 for the Hawks.  On the snap, Farris dropped back and looked to hit Duesing on a long pass at the Viper 12-yard line, but Thompson went up and snagged the ball out of the air right before it got to Duesing for the second Vandegrift turnover of the game.  

Taking over at their own 22-yard line, Vandegrift stayed with their up-tempo style, with Buchanan hitting Coleman on two throws for 4 and 12 yards, followed by completions to Ormond for 6 and Skoglund for 9 to move the ball to midfield.  With the Hawks on their heels looking for another throw, Buchanan handed the ball off to Witt, who hit the open hole, sidestepped a Hawk defender, got a block by Middleton to seal the edge and raced 50 yards down the sideline for his 2nd long touchdown run of the Quarter to put Vandegrift up 35-21 with 4:55 left in the 3rd.  Now it was Harlan who had to avoid giving the ball right back to Vandegrift, finding themselves now down by 14 points.  

Like Harlan in the 1st Half looking to catch Vandegrift off guard, Arnold squibbed the onside kick, but it bounced forward instead of up in the air, landing in the hands of Tupac McClure who returned it to the Harlan 49.  Gonzales took the Wildcat snap on 1st down, gaining 4 yards.  On 2nd Down Farris went back in at QB, dropped back to pass, and was forced to throw early as he was being hit by SR DB Cruz Orta, resulting in his pass towards Matthews being deflected by SR DE Daemian Wimberly.  On 3rd Down, Farris was again forced to throw early due to the Viper Defensive pressure, resulting in Manchester catching the ball wide out of bounds.  

Faced with 4th and 6 from the Viper 47 the Hawks Offense stayed on the field with Gonzales in at Wildcat QB.  On the snap, Manchester took the pitch from Gonzales on the reverse, but unlike his earlier reverse that gained 14 yards on the last play of the 1st Quarter, this time Wimberly stayed in position, snagging Manchester by his jersey long enough to slow him down for JR LB Blaine Becker to swoop in for the takedown and a 13-yard loss to the Harlan 40 and the Turnover on Downs.

On 1st down Buchanan found a streaking Coleman open down the center, but his throw was just beyond the grasp of the diving Coleman.  On 2nd Down Buchanan found Ormond for a 17-yard gain and a 1st Down.  Following a 1st Down pass to Middleton that fell short, and a 1-yard completion to Coleman, Buchanan was pressured on his roll out on 3rd Down and his pass off his back foot to Coleman in the End Zone sailed high where it was pulled in by Beane in the End Zone for the interception to stop the Vandegrift Offense for the first time in the 2nd Half.

A pair of runs, 8 yards by Matthews and 3 yards by Gonzales set the Hawks up with a 1st Down at their 31-yard line.  Gonzales took the Wildcat snap, somehow spun out of a tackle by SR DE Oliver Yndo and during his second effort Foster hit him, popping the ball loose, where it went up in the air and came down in the hands of SR DB David Scott, who pulled it in and ran untouched into the End Zone for another Vandegrift Touchdown. With the Arnold extra point, the Vipers had put up 28 points in the 3rd Quarter and now held a commanding 42-21 lead with 90 seconds left in the frame. 

Like the Harlan Defense in the 1st Half, the Vandegrift Defense had no intention of letting up on the pressure.  On 1st Down, Farris dropped back, and his pass was almost picked off up by Orta who went up and grabbed the ball one handed but couldn’t come down with it.  A 2nd Down run by SR RB CJ Jackson went for 4 yards, and with the Hawks having to throw the ball, the Vipers Defense pinned their ears back and brought the house, with JR LB Ben Booher getting the sack and a 17-yard loss to force 4th Down and just the second punt of the game by Harlan.  McClure pulled in the high snap, but his rushed punt went out of bounds at the Hawks 30-yard line, giving Vandegrift yet another short field on the last play of the 3rd Quarter.

Two runs by Witt picked up a total of 4 yards, then on 3rd Down Buchanan dropped back to pass, stepped up in the pocket and was taken down for the 3rd Harlan sack of the game by SR NG Dante McRae to force 4th Down.  The Viper Offense stayed out on the field with Coleman, Ormond and Skoglund bunched out wide right in the same formation that Coleman had scored his long touchdown on just before the half.  This time however, when Middleton went in motion, Harlan kept two defenders on Coleman, leaving Middleton all alone as he ran along the sideline where Buchanan hit him in stride for the seventh Vandegrift touchdown of the game and 42 unanswered points to make it 49-21 with 10:07 to go in the ballgame.

Gonzales, looking to make something happen, took the Arnold Kickoff in the End Zone, and ran it out, but came up limping after being stopped at the Harlan 20-yard line by multiple members of the Viper coverage team.  Gonzales stayed in the game, taking in a Farris screen pass, and somehow gutting out a 10-yard gain.  With Gonzales refusing to come out of the game, and the Harlan fans yelling from the sideline to take him out of the game, the game officials saw him limping in the huddle, calling an injury timeout to allow him to leave the field.  

Two straight passes from Farris were knocked away by Becker, then on 3rd Down Farris was flushed from the pocket and picked up 10 yards for another Hawk 1st Down.  Farris was again flushed from the pocket by the Viper rush getting 5 yards, followed by a 15-yard Unsportsmanlike Penalty on the Vipers for another 1st Down.  On the next play, Gonzales was back in the game, taking the handoff for a 2-yard loss, but a facemask penalty moved the ball to the Vipers 27 for the Hawks deepest penetration of the 2nd Half.  

Gonzales picked up just a yard on 1st Down, then Orta took Farris down for a sack on 2nd Down and a 3-yard loss.  Farris was again flushed from the pocket attempting to throw and scrambled down to the Vandegrift 15-yard line to pick up another Hawk 1st Down.  A holding call against the Hawks on 1st Down pushed the Hawks back to the 25.  On 2nd Down Farris was tracked down as he rolled out to his left by Yndo for another Viper sack.

Knowing the Hawks had to throw the ball, Vandegrift dropped back into coverage where Thompson almost came down with the Farris 3rd Down throw into the End Zone.  On 4th Down, Farris again launched the ball downfield towards the End Zone, and once again Thompson went up and knocked the ball down for the Turnover on Downs with 5:27 left on the clock

Vandegrift, content to burn the remaining clock, utilized runs by SR RB Reece Trevino on 1st and 2nd Downs.  A Buchanan to Coleman pass on 3rd Down picked up 16 yards for the 1st Down.  Three more Trevino runs took more time off the clock before the Vipers called a final timeout with 53 seconds remaining.  SR RB Zaid Oliver picked up 7 yards on his sole carry of the night, getting a final 1st Down that would allow the Vipers to kneel out the game, which Buchanan did with the final snap of the night. 

Behind the Numbers

Both Offenses picked up most of their total yards in just one half of the game, Harlan gaining 242 of their total 292 in the 1st Half and Vandegrift gaining 230 of their total 326 in the 2nd Half*. Harlan scored all 21 of their points in the first 19:22 of the game, going scoreless for the remaining 28:38 of the contest.  The Vandegrift Defense had their 2nd straight game with two interceptions and a fumble recovery, giving them a total of 8 turnovers in three playoff games (5 Interceptions and 3 Fumble Recoveries).   Harlan dominated the time of possession and in number of plays, 30:48 and 73 to just 17:12 and 41 for Vandegrift.  

Region IV Finals Matchup

When the 6A D2 Playoff Brackets came out, fans in the Austin area looked ahead to the possibility of a Dripping Springs/Vandegrift match up if things broke right in the first three rounds.  Now that they have, the Tigers (12-1) and Vipers (12-1) will line up for the rematch of their Season Opening thriller that Dripping Springs won on a 40-yard walk-off Field Goal 23-20.  The two teams will play on Friday, December 2nd at Cedar Park’s Gupton Stadium in front of what should be a packed house full of fans from all around Central Texas.  Both teams will be looking to take the Region IV title for the first time as 6A schools and secure their spot in the State Semi-Finals.

*all stats are unofficial from my own game film review


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