BULLARD – Sabine and Mineola were once regular opponents on the football field, but on Friday night, they met for the first time in a handful of seasons, this time in the first round of the University Interscholastic League’s Class 3A Division I playoffs.

Unfortunately for Sabine and its fans, Mineola running back Dawson Pendergrass – one of the leaders in rushing in the East Texas region – did his best Derrick Henry impersonation, rushing for 261 yards, grabbing 75 receiving yards and scoring five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving), allowing the Yellow Jackets to deal Sabine a 40-33 season-ending loss.

The Cardinals, coached by Rex Sharp, finished the season with a 7-4 record. Mineola advances to face West in Forney this Friday.

Sabine gave a good account for itself against Pendergrass and the Yellow Jackets.

Quarterback Jace Burns, who helped Sabine have a balanced offense all season, picked up 21 yards on a rush, and then the returning Brannigan Willige, who missed the last few games due to injury, picked up 2 more. Burns went to the air and found Alex Galyean for 8 yards, and a first down into Mineola territory.

Burns found Cayden Fortson open in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown pass. Dylan Stafford hit the extra point and put the Cards up, 7-0.

For Mineola, it’s mainly the Pendergrass show, and it’s no wonder. He broke free for a 40-yard gain, then after an 8-yard gain by teammate Cason Davis, Pendergrass reeled off a 12-yarder, then the 8-yard touchdown. Kicker Christian Martinez tied the game at 7-all, still in the first quarter.

Mineola’s defensive line held the Cardinals in check and forced them to punt. Following the return, the Jackets were near midfield. They went to Pendergrass again, and he wasted no time, getting loose for a 43-yard scamper and score. Martinez’s extra point gave the Jackets a 14-7 lead late in the first.

The Cardinals were methodical and continued to rely on their ground game. Willige gained 10 yards before Burns went to the air again.  He found Fortson again, this time for a 20-yard gain, ending the first quarter. 

Facing a third-and-13 to start the second quarter, Burns found Galyean for 9, then on fourth down, he spotted Caden Hardin for an additional 9 and a first down.

With the run game being held in check, the Cardinals again faced a fourth down. Burns went to the end zone, but Pendergrass – seemingly everywhere – picked off the pass. Trying to return it, though, he fumbled the ball and Galyean fell on it, to give the Cardinals first and goal.

But that was was short-lived too, as the Jacket defense held and on third down, the Jackets’ JJ Gandy picked Burns’ pass off in the end zone, and this time, it held up.

Having squandered the opportunity, the Cardinal defense came to life. They forced the Jackets into a three-and and-out. On second down, Burns kept the ball and squirted out of the backfield and sprinted on the right side for a 59-yard touchdown run. The extra point evened the score at 14.

After forcing a Mineola punt, Galyean hauled in a Burns pass for 9 yards. Willige got the first down, then caught a ball from Burns that he took 26 yards. With only about a minute left in the first half,  Fortson leaped over a defender to haul in a pass from Burns, and shed tacklers for a 28-yard score, and a 21-14 halftime lead.

The Jackets took the second half kickoff and went right to work. Following an 11-yard run by Pendergrass, he then went 51 more for the score.

It looked like the game would be deadlocked in another tie, but Martinez’s kick was blocked. Fortson, who had three interceptions a week ago, scooped it up and returned it 90 yards, for two points, leaving the Cardinals ahead 23-20.

Sabine began mixing it up and Burns found Kyle Stripland and Galyean for gains of 10 and 6 yards, respectively. Then Willige added 36, but the Jacket defense held up, and the Cardinals were forced to attempt a field goal. Stafford split the uprights for a 30 yarder and a 26-20 lead. 

But Pendergrass was simply the difference in the game. On the third play from scrimmage, he split the defense and hauled in a 66-yard catch and run for the score. The extra point was missed again, so the teams were tied – again – this time at 26-all, at the end of the third quarter.

After punting right before the quarter ended, the Cardinals’ defense was called on to hold the Jackets’ offense. But again, Pendergrass was too much, as he broke free for the go-ahead touchdown and a lead Mineola would not lose.

Burns tried to rally the Cardinals, but on their next possession he was intercepted by the Jackets. The next play, Mineola quarterback T.J. Moreland found a wide-open Gandy for a 49-yard score. With the extra point the Jackets were up 40-26.

Unwilling to give up, the Cardinals got a 36-yard connection from Burns to Galyean, and a run that put them at the Mineola 1-yard-line. Burns took the last yard for the score and cut the lead to 40-33, Mineola.

The Jackets were not sitting on their lead, though, and Malone went to the air. His receiver was out muscled by Burns who took the ball away, intercepting it to give the Cardinals some hope.

But with four minutes left they were forced to punt, and the Jackets ran the clock down to four seconds.  A desperate pass from Burns fell to the ground, though, and Sabine’s season was over.

The Cardinals were led on offense by Burns, with 225 yards through the air and 137 on the ground. Willige added 94 on the ground and 36 receiving. Galyean led the receivers with 97 yards.

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