In this most unusual of seasons, the ending of the 5-5A Division I football race almost felt fitting.
It could have unfolded simply.
With Denton Ryan and Lone Star already securing two of the four playoff berths, Independence and Reedy would join them if both were victorious.
Of course, that would have been too easy.
The Colony was the X-factor in the equation, as if it was able to not only beat Reedy, but do so by 17 points or more, it brought about the prospect of a coin flip determining postseason fates.
The Cougars actually reached the needed point differential when they opened a 17-0 lead, but the Lions rallied to close to within 17-14.
But The Colony had an answer, and it was, in fact, able to achieve the needed spread by pulling away for a 31-14 victory.
That left the teams’ fates up to the flip of a coin and it was Independence that made the right call, sending the Knights and Wakeland on to the playoffs.
The coin flip was the culmination of an intriguing final slate of games to close out the regular season.
The most anticipated 5-5A Division I game of the season finally arrived on Friday as state-ranked powers Denton Ryan and Lone Star met in a rematch of last season’s state semifinal.
The game largely lived up to the hype, especially in the first half, but it was the Raiders who were able to pull away in the second half to claim a 35-21 victory at C.H. Collins Stadium.
Denton Ryan (7-0 in 5-5A Division I, 9-0 overall) claims the outright district championship, while the Rangers (5-1, 5-3) settle for a runner-up finish and the second seed in the upcoming playoffs.
The Raiders opened the scoring on a short scoring run by Anthony Hill, Jr. and a 14-yard touchdown pass from Seth Henigan to Keagan Cunningham gave them a 14-0 lead.
Lone Star responded, as Garret Rangel hooked up with Trace Bruckler on a 15-yard touchdown pass and Jaden Nixon added a 1-yard scoring run to tie it at 14-14 going into halftime.
Denton Ryan struck with a big play coming out of the locker room, as Henigan found Billy Bowman for a 76-yard touchdown and the Raider stars continued to shine when Henigan connected with Ja’Tavion Sanders on a 25-yard scoring strike to open a 28-14 lead.
The Rangers refused to go away quietly, as Nixon capped a long drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to close the gap to 28-21.
But Denton Ryan responded with a lengthy drive of its own, with Ke’Ori Hicks catching a 4-yard touchdown pass from Henigan to make it 35-21 and that is how it would stay until the end.
With the number of tiebreaker scenarios still floating around them, the only thing The Colony and Reedy could control was what happened on the field in their own head-to-head match-up.
The Colony got off to the ideal start. With the defense doing its part in shutting down Reedy, Kyle Taylor scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, Kevin Albarran kicked a 26-yard field goal and Kamden Wesley had a short scoring run to open a 17-0 lead.
The Lions struck in the final minute of the first half when A.J. Padgett threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Fuksa and they closed to within 17-14 when Padgett found Kaleb Smith for a 4-yard score in the third quarter.
The Cougars responded with a series of big plays.
First, Jonathan Roberson hooked up with Benji Nelson on a 62-yard scoring strike to again make it a two-score game. The Colony then cashed in on a gamble by recovering an onside kick and struck quickly as Roberson found Shafiq Taylor for a 53-yard touchdown to push the lead to 31-14 and the defense would do the rest to preserve the 17-point victory.
There was no shortage of offense on Thursday at The Star, as Independence and Heritage combined to put up 90 points and nearly 1,000 yards of offense.
But a bulk of that came from the Knights, as they pulled away for a 63-27 victory.
Braylon Braxton accounted for six touchdowns and Dwayne Orr rushed for 197 yards a trio of scores to offset a big night by Heritage quarterback Easton Swetnam, who threw for more than 300 yards and four touchdowns.
The Knights wasted little time getting started, scoring two touchdowns in a 12-second span. Orr broke free for a 97-yard touchdown run, and after Heritage fumbled the kickoff, Braylon Braxton threw a 23-yard scoring strike to Jaylon Braxton to take a 14-0 lead.
The Coyotes got on the scoreboard when Sweatnam hooked up with Carsten Brewer on a 57-yard touchdown, but the momentum was short-lived.
Braylon Braxton and Orr scored on touchdown runs of 40 and 8 yards, respectively, and Elijah Arroyo caught a 20-yard scoring pass to push it to 35-7 early in the second quarter.
The teams traded scores leading up to halftime.
Sweatnam hit Shawn Wara for a 64-yard score and that duo hooked up again from four yards out, but Independence answered both, as Braylon Braxton had a 6-yard touchdown run and then broke free for a 55-yard score to take a 49-21 lead into halftime.
After stopping the Coyotes on fourth down early in the third quarter, Braxton hit Ryan Pickering for a 87-yard touchdown and Orr added a 3-yard scoring run to push it to 63-21.
Heritage got on the scoreboard on final time when Sweatnem and Brewer hooked up on a 5-yard score, but it was too little, too late.
Centennial (3-5, 4-6) might not be heading to the playoffs, but it ended its season on a high note with a 38-7 victory over Denton (0-8, 1-9) on Friday.
Though the final was lopsided, it was the Broncos who struck first when Blake Courtney hit Darreon Lewis on a 60-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead just two minutes into the game.
It would be the last points the Titans would allow.
Centennial tied it when Grayson Dayries hooked up with Da’Drion Urrutia on a 21-yards scoring strike, and then after stopping Denton twice inside its own 10-yard line, they took the lead when Dayries went to Paxson Fletcher for a 16-yard score to make it 14-7.
Dayries found Jackson Marshall for a 15-yard touchdown pass to give the Titans a 21-7 lead going into halftime and extended that advantage early in the third quarter on a 8-yard scoring pass from Dayries to Payton Derrick.
With the defense doing its part, Centennial maintained control, as Marshall had a 17-yard touchdown run and Nick Brown tacked on a field goal to provide the final margin.
Ryan, the top seed out of 5-5A Division I and the No. 1 team in the state, will begin its pursuit of 5A championship when it hosts Bryan Adams (5-4) at 7 p.m. Friday at C.H. Collins Stadium.
Lone Star, who has state title aspirations of its own, will host W.T. White (6-4) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at The Ford Center in Frisco.
Independence, who is the third seed and back in the playoffs for the third consecutive season, will face Woodrow Wilson (7-2) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Forrester Field.
Wakeland (6-4), who had a bye this week allowing them to sit back and watch the drama unfold around them, draws the tough assignment against state-ranked 6-5A Division I champion Lancaster (9-0) when they meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Beverly D. Humphrey Tiger Stadium.