Sunnyvale has enjoyed one of the best seasons in program history during the last three months.
All good things must come to an end, but it happened earlier than the Raiders had hoped, as they dug themselves into a big hole and could never quite climb out of it on Friday in a 49-28 loss to Texarkana Pleasant Grove in a Class 4A Division II Region II semifinal game at The Star in Frisco.
The Hawks (12-1), who are ranked No. 1 in the Dave Campbell’s Texas Football 4A Division II state poll, advance to the regional championship game to take on district rival Gilmer (10-3), who they defeated 37-24 in their first meeting, at 7 p.m. Friday at Lobo Stadium in Longview.
Sunnyvale (12-1), who was ranked fifth in the state entering the week, suffered its first loss of the season, ending a run that saw it tie the program record for victories in a season and advance to the regional semifinals for the second time ever.
The Raiders actually outgained Texarkana Pleasant Grove on the night, but a pair of defensive touchdowns proved to be huge for the Hawks in allowing them to keep Sunnyvale at arm’s length.
The Raiders were hoping to duplicate the feat of the 2015 team, which made it to the regional finals before falling to eventual state champion Mineola, but they hurt themselves early on.
Texarkana Pleasant Grove marched down the field on the opening possession, with Ben Harmon finding Sergio Rodriguez on a 30-yard touchdown pass to take an early 7-0 lead.
The Hawks forced a quick punt and needed only three plays to add to their advantage, as a 27-yard scoring run by KJ Hicks made it 14-0.
The Raiders again went three-and-out and Pleasant Grove again went right back to work, putting together a long drive that was capped by a 1-yard run by Harmon and it was suddenly 21-0 late in the first quarter.
The Sunnyvale offense began to put things together on their third possession. The Raiders marched 75 yards with a 48-yard pass from Tripp McAda to Max McAda setting up a 4-yard touchdown run by Devin Sterling to get them on the scoreboard.
Sunnyvale had a chance to narrow the deficit later in the second quarter, but a fumble was scooped up by Texarkana Pleasant Grove’s Landon Jackson and he took it back 64 yards for a touchdown and instead of potentially being a one-score game, the Raiders trailed 28-7 at halftime.
Sunnyvale kept things interesting in the third quarter, opening the half with a nice drive that culminated with a 6-yard touchdown run by Tripp McAda to close the gap to 28-14.
The Hawks responded with a touchdown run from Hicks, but the Raiders came right back, moving down the field, with Sterling bulling into the end zone from a yard out to make it 35-21.
Sunnyvale again had a chance to make it a one-score game late in the third quarter, but Texarkana Pleasant Grove’s Quinn Bingham intercepted a pass and returned it 59 yards for a back-breaking touchdown to push the lead back to 42-21.
The Hawks tacked on another score midway through the fourth quarter, and while Tripp McAda added a 29-yard touchdown run late that made it 49-28, that was as close as it would get.