COMANCHE — The No. 8 Zephyr Bulldogs exhibited a vast amount of improvement during the final two-thirds of season, but that still wasn’t enough to get them past the No. 6 Gustine Tigers in a Six-Man Division II Region IV championship rematch.
Zephyr, which witnessed its 2006 season end at the hands of the Tigers in a 42-point loss, suffered the same fate Friday night at Indian Stadium as Gustine advanced to the state semifinals with a 67-56 victory.
“Nobody wants to lose, but at some point everybody in the playoffs does unless you win state,” said Zephyr head coach Landon Buffe. “We had a good season and the kids played their hearts out. That’s all that matters.”
The Zephyr (8-4) defense was victimized by Gustine (10-3) spread back Evany Cervantes, who completed 26-of-33 passes for 374 yards and seven touchdowns, while rushing for 80 yards and another score.
The Tigers racked up 526 yards of total offense and 445 of that came through the air. Colton Hicks caught a team-high seven passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns; Garrett Leggett had six receptions for 88 yards and a score; Ty Keeter grabbed five receptions for 137 yards and three scores; and Wesley Jones chipped in five catches for 53 yards with a touchdown.
Zephyr, meanwhile, managed 473 yards of total offense.
Spread back Jason Hughes rushed 18 times for 189 yards and four touchdowns, while completing 8-of-18 passes for 125 yards and three more scores.
Cord Biddy added 76 yards rushing and a touchdown and grabbed three passes for 52 yards and a score. Luke Creed chipped in three catches for 42 yards and two touchdows while Chris Newton rushed for 56 yards, passed for 19 yards and caught two passes for 31 yards.
Down 26 points with 3:46 left in the game, the Bulldogs refused to quit as a pair of touchdowns in a 1:23 span shaved Gustine’s lead to the final 11-point margin.
A 44-yard pass from Hughes to Biddy made the score 67-48 with 3:31 left and capped a one-play drive. Then, after Ryan Martin recovered an onside kick, Zephyr moved 31 yards in four plays before Biddy scored on a 3-yard run with 2:23 left.
Gustine recovered Zephyr’s second onside kick, however, and was able to run out the clock.
“They showed a lot of heart there toward the end of the game and you’ve got to commend them for that,” Buffe said. “We just started a little too late on our comeback.”
The Tigers used a couple of long pass plays in the first quarter to jump out to an early lead. Cervantes hit Anthony Johnson on a 70-yard scoring strike on Gustine’s second play from scrimmage, then the Tigers’ next snap resulted in a 58-yard scoring toss from Jaden Keeter to Ty Keeter.
Zephyr closed the gap to 15-13 on Hughes’ 6-yard run with 36 seconds left in the first period. An 11-yard TD run by Hughes at the 7:45 mark of the first quarter gave the Bulldogs their only lead, 7-0.
Gustine expanded on its lead with a 19-yard toss from Cervantes to Ty Keeter, but Zephyr answered with a 17-yard Hughes run at the 4:17 mark of the second period, which left the Tigers in front 23-21.
A pair of touchdowns in the final 3:41 of the first half gave Gustine some breathing room. Cervantes threw a 5-yard scoring toss to Hicks, then hit Jones on a 1-yard toss with one second left in the second quarter after Zephyr failed to put points on the board on its final possession of the first half.
“They were able to score on big plays early in the ball game,” Buffe said. “They got the lead and we were playing catch up the rest of the night.”
Gustine also scored first in the third quarter on a 13-yard toss from Cervantes to Leggett, which made the score 43-27 with 4:52 left in the period.
The teams traded touchdowns throughout the rest of the third quarter as Hughes hit Creed on a 12-yard scoring toss. But Cervantes and Ty Keeter hooked up again on a 14-yard pass on the final play of the quarter to give Gustine a 51-33 advantage.
Gustine recovered an onside kick to start the fourth quarter, but Hughes intercepted Cervantes two plays later. Hughes then ran for a 56-yard touchdown on Zephyr’s first snap of the final period.
Trailing 51-41 with 8:53 remaining, the Zephyr defense couldn’t come through with some much-needed stops. Gustine scored on a 1-yard toss from Cervantes to Hicks with 7:36 left, then Cervantes added a 3-yard rushing touchdown at the 3:46 mark following Zephyr’s only turnover.