The McKinney football team didn't lack for opportunity in Thursday's home finale against No. 6-ranked Denton Guyer.
Of the Lions' first 10 drives of the night, they operated in Guyer territory during eight of those series — no small feat against a defense that had allowed just 236.4 yards and 12.9 points per game.
But missed opportunities are death against a well-oiled machine like the unbeaten Wildcats, and for however many chances materialized for McKinney (6-3, 4-2) on Thursday, Guyer (9-0, 6-0) gained the upper hand more often than not in a 42-21 win from McKinney ISD Stadium to clinch the District 5-6A championship.
"We've got to execute and we've got to finish," said Marcus Shavers, McKinney head coach. "I'll have to watch the film and see what happened. Obviously, Guyer has a really good defense. They do a really good job on that side of the ball and credit to coach (Reed) Heim, who's one of the best defensive guys in the area. I know from the sideline it just felt like we weren't executing well."
The Lions entered Thursday's showdown assured of a playoff spot following last week's 42-10 rout of Prosper Rock Hill and suddenly within earshot of forging a tie atop the 5-6A standings with Guyer for the district title.
But the Wildcats have been a cut above the rest of the district this year, amassing their five prior 5-6A wins by at least 17 points thanks to the rare ability to generate game-changing plays in all three phases. That remained the case on Thursday, opening the ballgame with an 84-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by senior Peyton Bowen just 12 seconds into the contest.
"That again just came down to execution," Shavers said. "There are things that you're supposed to avoid there and if you don't then it opens up lanes and that's what happens."
Two-and-a-half minutes later, Guyer doubled its lead on a 33-yard strike from quarterback Jackson Arnold to Josiah Martin to build a 14-0 advantage with 9:19 left in the opening quarter. It marked the second straight week that the Lions stared down a double-digit lead in the game's early going, but whereas McKinney managed to overcome a tough start against Rock Hill, the unbeaten Wildcats weren't as accommodating.
But it wasn't for a lack of chances for the Lions to apply some pressure.
McKinney outgained Guyer 427-406 on the night, owning a decisive edge in time of possession and generating 80 offensive snaps to the Wildcats' 51. Forty-two of McKinney's snaps came in Guyer territory, but the Lions only managed to produce points on three of the eight drives that wound up on the Wildcats' side of the field.
All three touchdowns materialized behind the play of senior quarterback Keldric Luster. The SMU commit's mobility came in handy on McKinney's second drive of the night, buckling a Guyer defender on an 8-yard scramble to the end zone that cut the Wildcats' lead to 14-7 with 5:38 left in the first quarter.
Denton Guyer 14, McKinney 7 @ 5:38/1QKeldric Luster gets the Lions on the board after an 8 yd scramble. Bit of ankle breaker on a Guyer LB to open up a lane for that TD. @McKinneyHS_FB pic.twitter.com/uPsALKcNNB— Matt Welch (@MWelchSLM) October 28, 2022
Luster added a pair of scores in the second half — one on a 4-yard run on third-and-goal and another on a 14-yard strike to junior Makhi Frazier — but Guyer stifled its share of scoring chances elsewhere in the ballgame. Of the Lions' five other drives spent in Wildcat territory, two ended on interceptions, two others on turnovers on downs and another on a blocked field goal attempt.
"There are a lot of valuable lessons from this game that I think will help us going forward," Shavers said.
It was a swift reminder of the margin for error required to upend the state's elite. McKinney was on the doorstep of doing so just two weeks prior in a 31-28 loss to Allen, and another opportunity will present itself next week in the Lions' district finale at Prosper, a 7 p.m. Thursday kickoff from Children's Health Stadium.
Denton Guyer 35, McKinney 21 @ 6:13/4QKeldric Luster buys time and slings one to a wide-open Makhi Frazier for a 14 yd TD. Lions find the end zone in just 2 plays, both on passes from Luster to Frazier. @McKinneyHS_FB pic.twitter.com/KsM3h0cBZ7— Matt Welch (@MWelchSLM) October 28, 2022
And whereas McKinney can draw plenty in its effort on Thursday, compiling 297 rushing yards with Luster and junior Bryan Jackson combining for 170 on the ground, Guyer's efficiency in all capacities was too much.
The Wildcats' 406 yards came on nearly 8 yards per play, able to counter a grinding, 16-play touchdown drive by the Lions with a two-play sprint to the end zone in a fraction of the time. But such is the plight of seemingly any defense opposing five-star Guyer quarterback Arnold, who tallied 324 passing yards and totaled five touchdowns in the win — extending plays with his legs until a breakdown occurred to find an open receiver.
"We work a lot on scramble drill," Shavers said. "We're playing some young sophomore corners and when he starts scrambling around, the play takes too long and we just took our eyes off their guys for a moment, and [Arnold] is good enough to find them when they're open like that."
Thursday's loss locks in McKinney to the bottom seed from 5-6A in the Class 6A Division II playoff bracket. Despite that assurance, the Lions hope to rekindle a spark next week prior to the postseason at the expense of a Prosper team ranked No. 11 in 6A.
"We want to win this one," Shavers said. "It'll be another short week playing on Thursday, but we'll go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan to try and beat a really good football team and try to get some momentum going into the playoffs."