PLANO — With six games looming in one of the state’s toughest football districts, Little Elm head coach Kendrick Brown needed to see a moment like Friday’s non-district showdown against Plano West.
Emphatic as the Lobos have been to start the 2021 season, winning their first two games by a combined 89 points, Friday put Little Elm well outside that comfort zone — facing an 11-point deficit on the road in the fourth quarter against a playoff-caliber opponent.
The Lobos (3-0) rallied with 14 straight points over the final seven minutes of regulation and got a timely lift from their defense to survive a 35-31 thriller against West (2-1).
“You can sit in halftime and guys are resting and that’s all fine and well, but you really need something like this,” Brown said. “You’re going to have games in our district play that will be similar to this and come down to a stop or a drive. I think it was big to have that tonight.”
The Lobos faced a rare deficit to begin the second half that swelled to 31-20 with 8:16 remaining in the fourth quarter following a 9-yard touchdown run by West junior Dermot White. That score extended a run of 24 consecutive points by West, which managed to cool off a Little Elm offense that found the end zone on each of its first three drives to lead 20-7 early in the second quarter.
“These kids have grit. I think after that comeback against Wylie they all believe it’ll settle out,” said Tyler Soukup, West head coach. “We’ve prepared them for the adversities of a football game and I wasn’t surprised to see them do what they did. I was pretty dang proud of them.”
The Lobos had punted on the series prior to staging a fourth-quarter rally, reigniting the up-tempo attack that paced the club earlier in the ballgame.
“I thought in the third quarter we had two series where we got a little conservative, so we talked about getting back to playing aggressive,” Brown said. “We were throwing on first and second downs, and that got us scoring a bit more.”
Little Elm 35, Plano West 31 @ 3:40/4QAfter trailing by 11 points earlier in the quarter, the Lobos are back in front after a 10 yd TD pass from John Mateer to Vashawn Thomas II. Helluva rally by Little Elm in the midst of its first adversity of the season. pic.twitter.com/e5bWjsLsCv— Matt Welch (@MWelchSLM) September 11, 2021
Senior quarterback John Mateer was at the controls, needing just four plays to find the end zone on an 8-yard run to pull the Lobos back within 31-28 with 7:05 to go after a two-point conversion.
Little Elm’s defense backed up West on three consecutive plays to force a three-and-out and regain possession with 4:32 remaining. Once again, Mateer and Co. went to work. The Lobos needed just five plays to count their decisive scoring drive — capped by Mateer finding senior Vashawn Thomas II for a 10-yard touchdown with 3:40 to go for a 35-31 lead.
West responded immediately, surging into Lobo territory on a 47-yard run by White. The Wolves worked their way down to the Little Elm 11-yard line where they faced fourth-and-five in the game’s closing seconds. A designed pass never materialized by junior quarterback Vance Feuerbacher, who kept the ball on a run to the outside before being swallowed up by the Lobos’ defense short of the first-down marker.
“I wanted to get him intentionally on the run in the event that it didn’t come out of his hand,” Soukup said. “I thought that it would — we ran a smash concept that we had success with earlier — but the ball just didn’t come and he rushed it. We wanted to get him on the move being the athlete that he is.”
Little Elm's defense makes the stand!! Feuerbacher tries to scramble but is tackled well before the 1st down marker and it's a turnover on downs. Lobos are going to hang on and win a wild one 35-31. @LELobosFootball pic.twitter.com/ZOyFTgB84W— Matt Welch (@MWelchSLM) September 11, 2021
Friday’s contest went down to the wire despite Little Elm outgaining West, 404-238. Mateer accounted for the bulk of that yardage after throwing for 290 yards and four touchdowns on 19-of-27 passing. He hit senior Cameran Taylor-Butler for a pair of scores in the first quarter — the receiver went on to tally nine catches for 87 yards in the win.
“It’s a good win. It allowed us to play four quarters against a quality ball club,” Brown said. There are things we have to clean up but overall I’m very pleased with the way our kids fought back and didn’t give up. It shows a lot about this team. We’re excited about 3-0.”
White fueled the Wolves’ rally with 135 rushing yards, 61 receiving yards and three touchdowns. The running back was the centerpiece of a ball-control approach for West — an interesting contrast to the high-flying, up-tempo Lobos — and the Wolves stayed afloat by earning edges in time of possession and on special teams.
West was afforded a number of short fields following Little Elm punts and benefited from a muffed punt by the Lobos late in the first half. Junior Rishabh Sajjan knocked in a 24-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in the second quarter to pull West within 20-17 at halftime. White hauled in a 62-yard reception and scored on a 1-yard run on the Wolves’ first drive of the third quarter for their first lead of the night at 24-20.
“It’s two good teams. We talked all week about how this would be a fourth-quarter ballgame and likened it to an NBA playoff game,” Soukup said. “It all went down to the final possession and we had a shot. It’s all you can ask for when you play a good team. We had a final shot and it caromed off the rim.”
Plano West 31, Little Elm 20 @ 8:16/4QUnconventional as it has been, the Wolves grab a double digit lead after a 9 yard TD run by Dermot White. Lobos hurt by another penalty prior as a facemask call set up the TD run. pic.twitter.com/36NqkyrzaT— Matt Welch (@MWelchSLM) September 11, 2021
The Wolves have a bye to rest up for their District 6-6 opener Sept. 24 at Lewisville, while Little Elm hosts Keller Fossil Ridge at 7 p.m. Friday in its final non-district game.
Panthers snap losing skid
For the first time since Sept. 20, 2019, Plano East found the win column. The Panthers snapped a 17-game losing streak on Friday thanks to a 34-17 victory at Wylie.
East hitched its wagon to senior Ismail Mahdi and rode the star running back to the finish line. Mahdi carried the ball 30 times for 262 yards and four touchdowns in the win. Mahdi accounted for the Panthers’ first four touchdowns before sophomore quarterback Drew Devillier polished off the program’s long-awaited victory with a 9-yard touchdown to junior Brian Dyer for a 34-3 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
East improved to 1-2 with the win heading into its bye week. The Panthers will rest up and attempt to build off the victory in its district opener, set for Sept. 24 on the road against Hebron.