WACO — The Early Longhorns were five minutes away from history.
Poised to make their first-ever trip to a state championship game, the Longhorns saw a five-point fourth quarter lead evaporate as the Farmersville Fightin’ Farmers scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 4:30 to rally for a 30-20 Class 2A, Division I state semifinal victory Saturday night at Waco ISD Stadium.
Farmersville (12-2) will face No. 4 Tatum, a 41-31 winner over Salado Saturday night, in the Class 2A, Division I state championship game next weekend.
The loss brought an end to both a 10-game win streak and a storybook season for the Longhorns (10-4).
With numerous losses to graduation from the state semifinalist team of 2005 and last year’s state quarterfinalist squad, many prognosticators anticipated a rebuilding year for the Longhorns. But Early shook off a season-opening three-game losing streak and pieced together a memorable run that can be surpassed by no other Longhorn football team in the history of the program.
“These guys are champions in my book,” said Early head coach Robbie Tindol. “There’s only one state champion at the end of the season, and I know these guys wanted to play for a state championship, but it didn’t turn out that way. But the guys should be commended for their hard efforts. It was a fun ride with those guys playing as hard as they did to get us here and it will never be forgotten.”
The Longhorns finished with 329 yards of total offense, and in a stark contrast from their first three playoff games, most of the yardage came through the air. Nick Lyle completed 18-of-29 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns, while the Early ground game that averaged 240 yards in the first three playoff games mustered just 57 yards.
Meanwhile, Farmersville finished with 416 yards of total offense, including 343 on the ground. Tahj Redwine rushed for a team-high 184 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 4:30 left. Quarterback Austin Brooks chipped in 85 yards and the touchdown that virtually ended the Longhorns’ year with 2:10 remaining.
Early put all 20 of its points on the board in the first half as the Farmersville defense stiffened after intermission.
The Longhorns trailed for only a total of 2:47 prior to Farmersville taking its second lead of the game.
After taking over on their own 39 following a 32-yard Early punt, the Farmers marched 61 yards in nine plays and 4:52 to take their first lead since a 15-14 late in the first half.
Redwine scored on a 5-yard run and carried the ball five times for 28 yards on the drive. But the key play was a 26-yard completion on a throw-back screen from Brooks to Quincy Roberts on fourth-and-4 at the Early 41. Roberts — who also caught the two-point conversion — had three blockers in front of him and only one Early defender was on that side of the field as he advanced the ball to the Longhorn 15.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Longhorns ran into trouble when Sean Aly hesitated after bobbling the return. Aly’s momentum carried him into the end zone where he dropped the ball, then he ran out of the end zone but attempted to circle back in before being tackled on the Longhorn 4.
The Longhorns managed just one first down on the drive and were forced to punt the ball away with 2:44 left.
Farmersville took over on the Early 44 and Brooks raced 43 yards on first down. On the next play he scored, which put the Longhorns in a 30-20 hole.
“Their kids played hard and my hat’s off to Farmersville,” Tindol said. “You don’t hold those guys down for long.”
Early did not pick up a first down on its final drive, which started on the Longhorn 26, and Farmersville was able to run the final 1:33 off the clock.
The Longhorns took a 20-15 halftime advantage behind Lyle’s near precision passing the first two quarters. Lyle completed 12-of-17 attempts for 211 yards and all three of his touchdowns prior to halftime.
Early opened the scoring on its second drive of the game after the Longhorns were stuffed at the Farmersville 3 on their initial possession.
Following a 26-yard punt, the Longhorns needed just two plays to put their first points on the board. Lyle hit Cody Bullard — who finished with five catches for 88 yards — in stride over the outreached hands of Redwine for a 35-yard touchdown. Mitchell Bailey’s PAT gave Early a 7-0 lead with 2:18 left in the first period.
Farmersville answered the Longhorns’ first touchdown in 44 seconds as Chase Wiggins scored on a 12-yard run. Redwine rushed for 53 yards on the first play of the drive, then Roberts caught a tipped pass for a 20-yard gain down to the Early 12. James Wise’s PAT evened the score at 7-all with 1:34 left in the opening period.
Just 1:11 later, Early took a 14-7 lead on a 49-yard reception by Seth Coolbaugh — who grabbed a team-high six receptions for 95 yards. Coolbaugh was hit in stride by Lyle for his sixth straight completion for 121 yards to open the game. The Longhorns opened the three-play, 64-yard drive with an 18-yard pass from Lyle to Guy Henry.
The Fightin’ Farmers then turned a negative into a positive — and their first lead of the game. Farmersville chewed up 6:59 and moved 73 yards in 13 plays before Brooks fumbled a snap at the Early 7. However, Roberts and Dakota Cryer teamed up to sack Lyle in the end zone for a safety on a third-down pass play, which cut Early’s lead to 14-9.
Following a pooch kick to the Farmersville 48, the Farmers marched 52 yards in just three plays, with Redwine scoring on a 45-yard burst. The try for two points failed, which left Farmersville’s lead at 15-14 with 3:27 left in the half
Early quickly regained the lead thanks to an 84-yard, 10-play march that took just 2:47. Lyle threw his third touchdown pass of the first half — a 6-yarder to Bo Ross — to cap the drive. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the Longhorns in front 20-15.
The Longhorns threw six passes on their final scoring drive as Lyle completed four for 63 yards. Sean Aly caught pair for 42 yards.
On the ensuing kickoff, Early recovered at the Famersville 33 with 40 seconds left in the half. The Longhorns had a chance to tack on three more points before halftime, but Bailey’s 32-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
Early also missed a 41-yard field goal attempt with 2:44 left in third period.
“Everybody wanted this to continue, but that’s for another year and another story,” Tindol said. “We’re proud to be from Early, proud to be Longhorns and we’re going to get back to work.”