Tivy quarterback Trapper Pannell completed 26 of 46 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Antlers to a Class 5A Bi-district Championship with a 56-33 win over Georgetown East View Friday night at Antler Stadium.
But despite ending the game with a healthy lead, it took some heroic defensive stops and offensive adjustments to overcome the Patriots, who tied the score three times, held a brief lead and took their opening snap 68 yards to paydirt after only 2:12 of play when Georgetown’s Isaiah Quenton-Jackson rushed for the first touchdown of the game. Jose Rodriguez split the uprights to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead.
Pannell answered a little over a minute later when he tossed up a 32-yard touchdown pass to Brooks McCoy. Jared Zirkel’s extra point kick tied the score 7-7. The score would be knotted two more times before Tivy took control midway through the third quarter.
“This was probably as close to an entire team win as we could have,” Coach David Jones said. “Everybody contributed something … the kicking game, the offensive game and defense really stepped up when we needed good things to happen. The guys really fought hard.”
Pannell teamed up with McCoy once more on a 14-yard pass to score with 5:30 left in the first quarter and Zirkel was good for the extra point to give the Antlers a short-lived 14-7 lead.
Georgetown erased Tivy’s lead 1:30 minutes later when quarterback Jackson Coulson landed a 69-yard touchdown pass in the hands of Charles Ross. Rodriguez’ kick was good and the first quarter ended in a 14-14 tie.
Tivy’s Fisher Middletown punched in a 2-yard run with 10:03 left in the second quarter to give the Antlers back the lead and the sure foot of Zirkel made the score 21-14.
The Antler defense stepped up multiple times during the first half to hold the Patriots at bay, including a fourth down sack Gonzalo Hernandez, who also forced a fourth down fumble, which was recovered by Regan Robertson.
“I wanted to make that play. We needed me to make that play,” Hernandez said of his fourth down stops. “I get excited. My adrenaline is rushing and I get ‘happy feet’ in a way, because I always want to make that stop. Momentum is key.”
The Tivy defensive players flexed their muscles once more on a fourth and one attempt by Georgetown to deny the Patriots, who were six yards from a touchdown.
Seemingly unfazed by Tivy’s determination, Georgetown returned to the field in the third quarter to score on their first possession when Quenton-Jackson carried for 64 yards to score. Rodriguez made good on the extra point attempt to tie the game at 21-21 after only 1:19 of play.
While the Antlers were still trying to get in an offensive groove, Georgetown managed to take a 27-21 lead when Coulson connected with Ross on a 10-yard touchdown pass with 7:32 left in the third quarter. The Tivy defense foiled the Patriots' attempt at a two-point conversion.
Antler Cole Miears kick-started the Tivy rally, rushing 5 yards to the endzone with 6:08 left in the third quarter. Zirkel stayed perfect on the night with point-after attempts to give Tivy a 28-27 lead.
It was at this point that Antler offense took over.
“We knew the pressure was going to be intense on us, but once we had idea of how they were going to be bringing it and how they were going to line up in the secondary, it was able to expose some things to us,” Jones said. “The coaches did a good job of dissecting some things and seeing some things that were going on and we were able to adjust. It was a good offensive night in the second half. They (Georgetown) didn’t have many answers.”
Fisher Middleton broke free to score on a 38-yard run three minutes later and with Zirkel’s extra point kick, Tivy led 35-27, which held to end the quarter.
It took the Antlers only 20 seconds to score in the fourth quarter when Stoney Rhodes hauled in a 35-yard pass from Pannell. With Zirkel’s extra point kick, Tivy extened its lead to 42-27.
One of the most impressive offensive plays came with 7:25 remaining in the game. Miears and McCoy were running a shadowed route when Pannell launched a long ball. Miears crossed McCoy’s path to make the catch and McCoy zeroed in on Miears’ defender to make a block that drew cheers from the crowd. As McCoy tumbled to the ground he kept his eyes on Miears, who fought his way across the goal line for an Antler touchdown, a play that spanned 61 yards. Zirkel once again split the uprights and the Antlers increased their lead to 49-27.
“We had been looking at that route all night and they finally called it and Brooks had a nice block. He completely destroyed the guy and let me get in the endzone,” Miears said. “It was awesome.”
Capping scoring for the Antlers was J.D. Rodriguez, who rushed on a series of plays that landed Tivy at the 1-ft. line and ended with a touchdown with 4:01 left in the game.
“We started slow,” Pannell said. “But we came out in the second half and changed some plays and started executing real well and began putting points on the board.”
A deflated Patriot team managed to score six more points when Coulson lobbed a 12-yard touchdown pass to Michael Sedwick at the 2:08 mark. Georgetown attempted a two-point conversion, but was denied once again by the Antler defense to end the game 56-33.
Middleton carried 10 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Antlers in rushing yards against Georgetown. He also had six catches for 49 yards.
“I’m really proud of Fisher. He’s been a pleasant surprise for us ,” Jones said.
Miears was on top of the receiving chart with eight receptions for 131 yards and 1 touchdown. Rhodes had five catches for 97 yards and a trip to the endzone, while MCoy added four receptions for 49 yards and two touchdowns.
Other key defensive plays were logged by Hayden Poe with a loss-yardage sack and Hayden Barnett, who forced a fumble, which was recovered by Coleson Abel.
Zirkel was quick on his feet and collected when a miscue on a punt snap sent him scrambling for the ball. He stayed focused, chased down the ball and immediately kicked the punt, protecting Tivy from potential disaster in the first half.
"I really didn't think about anything in the moment," Zirkel said. "I just knew we needed to get it (the punt) off, so I rushed back to get the ball and made the kick so they didn't have a chance at an easy seven points."
Zirkel, who had been injured early in the season, says he is feeling stronger each week and will be ready for field goals and touchback kickoffs during playoffs.
Tivy (10-1) will face Corpus Chrisit Calallen on Friday in Floresville to continue Class 5A Region IV playoffs in the area round bracket.