LANCASTER — For three-and-a-half quarters on Thursday, The Colony and Lancaster football teams penned a script chock-full of big plays in all three phases and a myriad of frenetic momentum swings.
And yet, it was one of the night’s only sustained drives by either side that ultimately spelled the difference in helping the Tigers at last fend off the Cougars for a 44-29 victory from Tiger Stadium in the Class 5A Division I bi-district playoffs.
After The Colony pulled within 37-29 with 10:39 left in the fourth quarter — thanks to a 75-yard touchdown pass from senior Mikey Harrington II to senior Christian Gonzalez, followed by a two-point conversion toss from Harrington to senior Myles Price — the Tigers put the contest out of reach by orchestrating a 14-play drive that bled more than seven minutes off the clock before running back Karon Neblett upped the Tigers’ lead back to two possessions with a 1-yard run with 3:14 left in the ballgame.
The Cougars, who never led during Thursday’s playoff tilt, turned the ball over on downs on their ensuing possession, and Lancaster salted away the remainder of the game clock to punch its ticket to the second round of the postseason.
“We had our chances, but there were a lot of mistakes and a lot of turnovers — all which resulted in points for [Lancaster],” said Rudy Rangel, The Colony head coach. “Against a good football team like that, you can’t make those mistakes, but my focus is on my kids. They played really hard against a good football team. It was just a tough draw.”
The Cougars, who entered Thursday’s matchup sporting one of the area’s more explosive offenses, were limited to just 230 yards on top of four turnovers committed — several generated by a speedy Lancaster defense, which had allowed less than 13 points per game on the season.
The takeaways stifled repeated attempts by The Colony to seize a lead on a Tiger squad ranked No. 9 in all of Class 5A Div. I, including a lost fumble in Lancaster territory midway through the third quarter that halted a run of 14 unanswered points to help the Cougars pull within two points at 23-21.
The Colony gained a measure of a momentum heading into the second half thanks to a 10-play, 47-yard drive fueled by a slew of direct-snap runs to Price, who scored on a 2-yard carry to close the gap to 23-14 at halftime. The Cougars later added a 36-yard touchdown pass from Harrington to Gonzalez with 8:54 left in the third quarter to inject new life into the ballgame.
Initially, it was Lancaster’s defense that dictated the proceedings early on and directly generated nine of the team’s 23 first-half points. Barry Green broke the scoring seal with a 48-yard interception return touchdown for the game’s first points and Waymon Smith later sacked Harrington in the end zone for a safety that swelled the Tigers’ lead to 23-7 with 6:59 left in the first half.
“We had a hard time all the way around. They’ve got some really good skill guys and got good pressure on us,” Rangel said. “They just made a couple more plays than we did.”
Such was the case late in the third quarter with the Colony still trailing 23-21, when Lancaster running back Tre Bradford turned an attempted fourth-and-three conversion into a 37-yard touchdown to up Lancaster’s lead to 30-21.
Moments later, the Tigers snuffed out The Colony’s own fourth-down try after bringing down Price in the backfield for a turnover on downs near midfield. Two plays later, Lancaster quarterback Glenn Rice Jr. broke free for a 55-yard touchdown run for a 37-21 advantage.
Gonzalez’s 75-yard, quick-strike touchdown followed, offering momentary solace for the Cougars on a night where they were out-gained by Lancaster, 484-230, including a 343-89 disparity in rushing yardage — led by 248 yards and two touchdowns for Bradford, with much of the Tigers’ rushing assault coming in the second half.
“I felt like we played defense well in the first half — half of their points came on a safety and a pick-six,” Rangel said. “I felt like we were in it all night, but they were just a little too much for us at the end. Hats off to those guys.”
The Colony had its own big-play punch cooking as well, with Gonzalez logging two catches for 111 yards and two scores, plus a lengthy kickoff return by Price that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by freshman Kamden Wesley for the Cougars’ first points of the ballgame.
Generating steady offense elsewhere proved tricky, though. The Tigers limited Price to just 91 total yards of offense (59 rushing, 32 receiving) and senior Keith Miller III to just 2 receiving yards, on top of a 9-of-25 passing night for Harrington, who threw for 141 yards, two touchdowns and three picks.
The Colony generated two turnovers of its own — one on a first-quarter kickoff return and another midway through the second stanza by senior Denoreon Beasley pick that set up Price’s touchdown run. Senior Jose Escobedo made his imprint on the ballgame in the third quarter by stuffing a fake punt by the Tigers that preceded Gonzalez’s first touchdown catch.
“My kids don’t quit. I’ve been here for 15 years and it’s taken some time to get us to where we don’t quit and I’m proud of the character of our guys,” Rangel said. “I’m going to focus on my seniors, because they’re hurting right now, but they’ll learn from this.”