DENTON –So close, but yet so far.
The Celina football team had No. 1 state-ranked Argyle against the ropes in Friday’s regional semifinal, but a 28-yard touchdown pass from Bo Hogeboom to Cole Kirkpatrick with 25 seconds left gave the Eagles the lead for good in a thrilling 26-22 victory over the Bobcats from CH Collins Athletic Complex.
These two teams played in the regular-season finale three weeks ago in what was a lopsided 63-21 outcome in favor of Argyle, and Celina head coach Bill Elliott admired the way his ballclub flipped the script in the rematch.
“I’m just so proud of my kids and proud of the way they fought,” he said. “Argyle is an unbelievable team, and after what they did to us three weeks ago, that showed great resiliency and heart.”
On Argyle’s game-winning drive, the Eagles converted three third downs and even a pivotal fourth down on an 11-yard hookup between Hogeboom and Kirkpatrick moments before the go-ahead score.
Then on the final play, the two connected for what turned out to be the play of the game when Kirkpatrick beat a Celina defender that appeared to lose his footing just as he hauled in the touchdown pass.
“I’ll have to look back at the film on that play,” Elliott said. “Some of the coaches said he got shoved down, but I don’t know. It was just one of those things where the kid made a great play to win the game.”
Prior to that drive, Celina regained the lead on a spectacular, one-handed touchdown grab by freshman tight end Brady Cunningham on fourth-and-goal to give the Bobcats a 22-19 advantage with 2:45 to go.
On the previous play, Argyle cornerback Jake Sullivan intercepted Celina junior quarterback Hunter Watson’s pass near the goal line and took it 102 yards for a pick-six. However, a penalty was called for offsides on the defense, which gave Celina one more chance after catching its breath, and Cunningham took full advantage.
“He’s going to be a great player for us,” Elliott said. “It was a great play to catch it over the top on those guys, and that’s what players do. Players make plays, and that was a huge moment in the game.”
One of the more impressive aspects of this showdown was the fact that the Celina limited an explosive Argyle offense that came in averaging over 50 points per game to just 26.
The Eagles were forced to punt a whopping five times and were held to field goals on two of their long drives – one of which came on the opening possession of the game when the Celina defense stuffed Argyle on third down near the goal line.
Although Argyle finished with 23 first downs and 415 yards of total offense, most of those numbers came late in the second half.
“Our defense did a great job and did a great job game planning,” Elliott said. “They played unbelievable the way they controlled them the whole game. It was just a tremendous effort by our kids.”
What might have been even more awe-inspiring was the way the Bobcats pounced on the Eagles to begin the game following the goal-line stop on the first drive of the night.
It took Celina just 19 seconds to score its first touchdown when junior running back Logan Point got the party started with a powerful 23-yard score that gave his squad a 7-3 lead early in the first.
The Point touchdown was set up by a 30-yard pass to senior wide receiver Noah Ross that was followed up by a pass interference on Argyle on the next play.
After the Eagles punted on their next two possessions, Ross got in on the action once again when he capped off a 10-play, 56-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown to take a surprising 14-3 lead midway through the second stanza.
Ross paced the Bobcats in receiving with 51 yards and a score, while Point led the way in the ground game with 130 yards and a touchdown as well.
“That really got our kids believing that they actually could play with Argyle,” Elliott said. “Sometimes you just have to get that confidence built up and that’s what they did.”
The Bobcats raced into halftime with mountains of momentum and an 11-point lead, but an hour-and-a-half weather delay kept the two teams in the locker rooms much longer than expected.
Whether or not the prolonged halftime played a factor in Argyle’s resurgence in the second half remains up for discussion, but the Eagles outscored Celina, 23-8, over the final two quarters.
Despite the gut-wrenching defeat to one of the program’s fiercest rivals in the third round of the playoffs, Elliott will still look back on this season as a success.
“I’m just very thankful being able to coach these young men,” he said. “The friendships and memories that were made this year is really what it’s all about.”