Sabine’s Brannigan Willige (center, 23) looks for a hole against West Rusk, back on Oct. 18, in New London. Sabine finished its season last Friday night, a loss to Pottsboro in a UIL Class 3A second-round game in Paris. It was the most successful season in Sabine’s football history: a 10-2 record, the most wins in a single season, and included the program’s first playoff win over Mount Vernon.

Sabine’s phenomenal 2019 football season came to an end at Paris’s Wildcat Stadium on a windy Friday night, but in a barnburner of a game that came down to the final moments.

Pottsboro remained unbeaten (12-0) and continuing in the UIL’s Class 3A, Division I playoffs, but they got all they wanted from Sabine, who finally fell in defeat, 47-35.

Sabine had its best football season in the history of the program, dating back to 1937. The Cardinals went 10-2, breaking the record for single-season wins (nine, on two occasions, back in the 1950s), and won the school’s first-ever football playoff game. Sabine’s only regular-season loss was to Gladewater, in the next-to-last regular season game.

Pottsboro advances to take on Malakoff in round three; Malakoff knocked Pottsboro out of the playoffs last year.

The scoring was at a frantic pace for much of the contest. Pottsboro scored first, the first of three touchdowns by running back Cy Shope. But the extra point was blocked, and returned about 90 yards for two points by Sabine’s Kile Stripland. That took a little of Pottsboro’s momentum away, leaving the score 6-2, early-on.

On Sabine’s first possession, Landon McKinney found A.J. Gresham for a 46-yard touchdown, and Fernando Jaimes hit his extra point, giving Sabine a 9-6 lead after the seven-play, 68-yard drive.

The scorefest continued. Shope scored again, giving his team the lead once more, and the extra point left Pottsboro in front, 13-9.

As it has all season, Sabine bounced back. McKinney completed a long pass to Jace Burns for 29 yards, down to Pottsboro’s 27-yard-line, and after missing on three attempts to convert, coach Rex Sharp sent Jaimes back out for a field goal, a 45-yarder. He hit it, and got Sabine within a point, 13-12.

In the second quarter, Sabine looked to have forced Pottsboro to kick, from Sabine’s 28, but Pottsboro quarterback Braden Plyler – who along with Sabine’s McKinney, put on quite a show Friday night – dropped back on fourth and 10 and found Titus Lyons, who elbowed into the end zone for the score. The Cardinals – the Pottsboro version – went up 20-12.

Defensive play could barely slow the offenses in the first half, and Sabine would answer. After a pair of big runs, McKinney found Weston Pritchard on a pass down to Pottsboro’s 12, and two plays later, the duo connected again for an 8-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, though, and left Sabine trailing, 20-18.

Here’s where things got tricky. Sabine got a stop on the Pottsboro defense with four minutes left in the half. Then, McKinney got Pottsboro to jump on a fourth-and-inches at Sabine’s 37, to give Sabine a first down.

But the ball was knocked loose on the first down play, and a fumble gave Pottsboro the ball back at Sabine’s 44.

That would be the difference in the half. Pottsboro would drive down and score – Shope again, on a 1-yard push – to give his team a 27-18 lead. The first half ended when Jaimes just missed a 40-yard field goal; the wind seemed to push the ball just wide right.

Sabine’s second turnover of the game came on the first possession of the second half, when Jasek Hooker picked off McKinney at Pottsboro’s 35. Plyler would score after a couple of third-down conversions on a 3-yard touchdown, and Pottsboro took a 34-18 lead. It looked like Pottsboro was pulling away, but Sabine wouldn’t let them go.

Sabine pulled off a fake punt, with B.J. Stidham making a 19-yard catch on fourth and 9, and ultimately Jaimes was asked to kick another field goal. He did, making it 34-21 Pottsboro, late in the third quarter.

Sharp called for an onside kick and Sabine got it, but a fumble – Sabine’s third turnover of the night – led directly to a score, as it was scooped up by Pottsboro’s Keatyn Eitelman and returned 50 yards for a touchdown. That put Pottsboro up, 41-21.

Pottsboro fans must have felt like they were in “Groundhog Day,” as Sabine got the ball back and again quickly got into scoring position. McKinney found Stidham for a 25-yard pass, and a roughing-the-passer call on Pottsboro moved them even closer, to Pottsboro’s 13. McKinney scored on the very next play, and got Sabine within two touchdowns, 41-28.

The Cardinals elected to try another onside kick; this time, it failed. And how. Pottsboro’s Plyler scored on the next play, like McKinney, running it 54 yards for a touchdown and a 47-28 Pottsboro lead (a two-point conversion failed).

Sabine had one more score left in it: a 2-yard run by McKinney with 10:51 left, set up by a 29-yard completion to Jaimes.

A third onside kick went to Pottsboro, who didn’t score again, but did serious damage to Sabine’s hopes by running clock. Sabine’s defense stopped them at the 12, and took over with 4:45 left, still down 47-35. But an interception by Tyler Farris gave Pottsboro the ball back for a final time, as they were able to run out the rest of the two minutes left on the clock.

The two teams combined for 928 total yards. McKinney went 18-of-33 for 327 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, and ran for 93 yards and three scores on 21 carries.

Shope finished with the three scores for Pottsboro, and 123 rushing yards.


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