BALLINGER — The Early Longhorns headed to Ballinger looking for outright possession of the District 6-2A title. They got their wish, winning the title after a missed 33-yard Bearcat field goal in overtime.
“They just never did give up on each other,” Early coach Robbie Tindol said. “It’s a good feeling to come from behind and come out with a win. It wasn’t exactly how you’d want it to happen, but any time you can come out of it with a win, it’s a good feeling.”
The first play of the game saw a Longhorn fumble, recovered by Ballinger. On third down of the first series Mitchell Bailey sacked Ballinger quarterback Tucker Travis, forcing the Bearcats to punt.
After three consecutive incomplete passes, Early punted back to Ballinger. Although both teams would come close to lighting up the scoreboard, neither defense would allow a score for the first quarter.
The second quarter started with an unsuccessful Longhorn passing game, allowing the Bearcats to take possession after a punt. As the Ballinger offense began working its way down field, the Bearcats were cut off from the end zone by a 40-yard interception return by Early’s Guy Henry. Bailey’s ensuing kickoff went out of the end zone, forcing the Bearcats to start at their own 20 yard line.
Ballinger rebounded on this series, evening up the score after a 10 yard scamper by Jaison Strambler. Tied at 7-7, Early’s Collin Rome began finding holes, running through Ballinger defenders who seemed to have no answer for the Longhorn running game. The Longhorns had to earn every yard gained after penalties negated several first down situations. At the 4-yard line, Early’s Bo Ross leapt into the end zone for his first score of the evening.
With only a couple of minutes left on the clock before the half, the Bearcats once again inched toward the end zone, but could not put six on the board, settling for a field goal with 13 seconds left. The half ended with the Ballinger defense stopping Rome from breaking free at midfield.
At the end of the first half, Early had amassed 135 total yards, while Ballinger racked up 167.
The Bearcats opened up the third quarter unable to gain significant yardage, going three and out.
Early’s first possession of the second half saw John Moore return the punt for 20 yards, setting the Longhorn offense up at the Ballinger 32-yard line. Quarterback Nick Lyle, who was 0-10 passing, went for it on 4th and 11, but an incomplete pass to John Moore gave the Bearcats the ball on downs.
As the Bearcats moved upfield, the Longhorn defense made adjustments, stopping the wide receiver screen and run. Rome continued to chew up the Ballinger defense, with back to back 16-yard runs.
An illegal motion penalty put Early into a fourth down situation that saw Moore grab a 16-yard pass to breathe new life into the Longhorns. After more ground yards by Rome, Ross found the end zone, but the touchdown was negated by a holding penalty against Early. The Ballinger defense kept a revitalized Longhorn offense from putting up six, but were unable to stop a late third quarter field goal, which gave the Longhorns a 17-10 lead.
With less than 10 minutes in the fourth quarter, the Bearcats tied the game after an end zone pass from Travis to Matthew Rodriguez.
The Bearcats took advantage of a fumble by Early’s Seth Coolbaugh, with Travis scoring on a quarterback keeper. With less than six minutes to play, the Longhorns took time off the clock and scored on another Ross touchdown with 1:52 left on the clock.
With one second left in regulation, Bailey attempted to win the game on a 43-yard field goal, but was unsuccessful.
In overtime, the Longhorns won the toss. The first score of overtime came when Bailey nailed a 25-yard field goal.
Ballinger attempted to tied the game on a 28-yard field goal attempt, but an illegal motion penalty forced the Bearcats to kick again, this time, from 33 yards. Ballinger’s kick was wide left, sending Early home as District 6-2A champions.
Early, Ballinger and Coleman have advanced to the playoffs.