Plano West was a fourth quarter away from the long-awaited end to its seasons-long nightmare.
Instead, as Plano Senior senior wideout Jayden Chambers scampered into the end zone in the middle of the final frame, the sliver of hope building on the West side of Plano began to evaporate.
The Wildcats used a pair of fourth-quarter scores through the air from junior Oliver Towns to Chambers to overcome a 14-13 deficit entering the frame and take the District 9-6A contest, 26-14.
The win propelled Plano to 1-1 in league play, while the loss dropped the Wolves to 0-5 overall and ran West’s losing streak to 31 straight contests.
“(I thought this was the one) the whole time. Yeah, absolutely. Our kids were determined to play for four quarters, and I think that they did,” said Tyler Soukup, West head coach. “(Chambers) made two unbelievable plays and just out-athleted us. In the end, that was the difference in the game.”
A late score from the Wolves from senior signal-caller Andrew Picco to fellow senior Kamryn Settles would cut the lead to 26-21, but Plano would ice the clock on the ensuing drive with help from senior workhorse Cody Crist. A good punt from senior Aidan Christensen pinned West at its own 19 with less than a minute to play, and that would prove enough.
On the opposite sideline from Soukup and his Wolves, Plano head coach Jaydon McCullough said he and his Wildcats weren’t surprised by the spirited effort from West.
“We knew. I knew they were a better team,” he said. “In fact, that’s exactly what I told the team when I came into (the locker room). I said, ‘Hey, guys, I didn’t lie to you.’ Because I knew what we were getting into, and I think our kids were prepared for it.”
After the Wildcats got out to a 13-0 lead, a second-quarter fumble in the red zone as the program looked to extend that advantage allowed West to wrest both possession and momentum from its crosstown rival. Though a pair of called-back touchdowns for the Wolves late in the second half preserved a 13-7 Plano lead heading into the locker room, West seemingly had that momentum firmly in its corner.
The Wolves leveraged it on their first drive of the second half, marching 79 yards on four rushing plays to go up on the Wildcats, 14-13. From there, a mess of turnovers in a game that featured eight total complicated matters, but the Wildcats’ late strikes would prove the killing blow.
It wasn’t for a lack of offensive production from the Wolves, who out-gained Plano 414-373 and gashed the Wildcat defense for 284 yards on the turf. Picco had 134 of those yards himself, adding 130 yards and two scores through the air against three interceptions.
Picco, Settles and junior Tabren Yates combined for 283 rushing yards for the Wolves as part of a three-headed attack Soukup said he hopes to continue to leverage moving forward.
Penalties hamstrung the West effort once again, however, particularly late, when the Wolves’ offense couldn’t get out of its own way. West committed 14 total infractions for 101 yards.
“The message was, as harsh as it might sound, we’re going to go back and look at that, and there’s only one group to blame, and that’s us,” Soukup said. “I think, when it’s all said and done, we probably had eight or 10 offensive penalties. We missed some tackles in the fourth quarter. I think we can look in the mirror and go, ‘The difference between 26 and 21 is all on our sideline.’”
Of Plano’s 373 yards, 277 came through the air. Chambers finished the night with 133 yards and three scores on six catches, while Towns offset a pair of picks with his 16-for-27, 277-yard, three-touchdown effort.
That success through the air, McCullough said, highlights a Wildcat willingness to utilize the program’s athletes.
“Really, to me, it tells me that we’re trying to do a good job, because we’re trying to use the talent that we have,” he said. “There have been a lot of years where we would have sat there and tried to pound it out, but we have confidence in what we’re doing. … You know what, they took (the run game) away from us tonight, so we had to do something else, and I’m proud of that.”
Plano will now look ahead to McKinney on the other side of the district-wide bye next week, which McCullough said will offer his club a much-needed opportunity to get some players healthy and to regroup before the second half of the season.
As for West, the Wolves will pick up the pieces from Friday’s heartbreaker and forge ahead toward a matchup with McKinney Boyd.
“There’s nothing that’s going to make this one feel any better. It hurts,” Soukup said. “It’s the Plano rivalry, and we were right there. We had an opportunity to win it, and we didn’t.”
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