By Travis M. Smith | Ellis County Sports Sports
All it took was one turn of the head Saturday afternoon to miss one of the biggest plays in the history of the Red Oak football program.
The fact that the drama unfolded in the second overtime and moved Red Oak deeper into the playoffs than ever before only makes the effort by defensive lineman John Mathis that much sweeter.
Lubbock Coronado entered the 5A Division-I Region-I semifinal game at Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls as the 6th-ranked team in Class 5A and with a perfect 12-0 record. And, while we’re on the topic of perfection, Mustang placekicker Devin Samples had converted on all 74 of his point-after-touchdown attempts through the team’s first 12 games. That stat would soon blemish.
Samples did split the uprights on his first four PAT attempts against the Hawks to help the Mustangs to a 28-7 lead with 9:23 to play in the third quarter on Saturday. He eventually added a fifth PAT — but not until the Hawks had battled back to take a 35-28 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Samples’ fifth point-after kick came following a two-play drive capped by a 38-yard touchdown pass from Sawyer Robinson (22-41, 254yds, 4TDs, INT) to Ke’Vondrick Carr with under four minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
Between those two kicks was the Red Oak quarterback show, featuring senior Josh Ervin (12-23, 193yds, 2TD, 3INT) and sophomore Chris Parson (2-6, 46yds, TD).
Ervin bookended the 28-point swing with touchdown passes of 44 and 13 yards to Triston Edwards (6:34 3Q; 8:47 4Q). Parson, meanwhile, capped a pair of lengthy drives with 3- and 8-yard touchdown runs (2:09 3Q; 11:50 4Q).
And that, combined with the Red Oak defense limiting the Mustangs to under 200 total second-half yards and 14 points, is how we got to overtime with the score tied at 35-all.
Neither team threatened the end zone in the first sudden-loss overtime frame.
For those unaware, high school football overtime mimicks NCAA rules, which allow each team an opportunity to score from the 25-yard line until one outscores the other. The teams are forced to forgo an extra-point kick en lieu of a two-point conversion attempt following the second overtime period.
Thanks to Red Oak’s Mathis, the third OT scenario never came into play.
The Hawks opened the second OT with an 11-yard run by Parson. Zach Sanders (17-70, TD) then followed a 5-yard offensive penalty with a 19-yard touchdown run to put Red Oak on top, 41-35.
Placekicker Dakota Santos quietly drilled the extra-point kick and the Hawks and Mustangs went about their business as the teams changed out personnel. Little did Santos or the Hawks know that his routine kick would soon prove to be the difference in the history-making victory.
Coronado used seven plays to find paydirt on its ensuing drive, which Antonio Malone capped with a 1-yard touchdown run. His score pulled the Mustangs within an extra-point kick from tying the ballgame.
Remember that reference to the stellar season by Coronado’s placekicker? His perfect stretch of point-after conversions came to an end when Mathis stretched out his 6-foot-2, 280-pound frame to block Samples’ attempt and seal the Hawks’ improbable 42-41 come-from-behind playoff win.
BY THE NUMBERS
Red Oak ultimately outgained Coronado 494 total yards to 387, which included 357 yards gained by the Hawk offense in the second half and overtime.
The Hawks’ most significant advantage in the second half was with the big boys on the offensive line. Red Oak rushed for 162 yards after the break, ultimately led by Iverson Young (18-90), Zach Sanders (17-70, TD) and Parson (9-66, 2 TDs).
Due to cancelations related to COVID-19 protocols, Red Oak advances to the 5A Division-I Region-I final with “only” a 9-2 record. But history has already been made.
The Red Oak football program had not previously advanced to the fourth round of the Texas high school football playoffs — which changed Saturday.
Red Oak has defeated Justin Northwest (62-7), El Paso Del Valle (55-6) and Coronado (42-41) to make program history.
For historical reference, the Hawks won their first playoff game since 2012 during the 2019 season, ultimately finishing 11-2. That 2019 season also marked the third time for the program to get the regional semifinals and the 11 wins are still the most in program history.
Red Oak has also previously only won 10 games in 2007, ’12 and ’19. The first two seasons came under former longtime head coach Mike Shields, while the most recent charge was led by since-departed Chris Ross (Lucas Lovejoy).
During that historic 2019 run, Red Oak fell to eventual state champion Aledo in the 5A Division-II regional semifinal in 2019. The Hawks had every opportunity to take an early lead in that game, only to squander the goal-to-go situations on a questionable illegal man downfield penalty and a turnover on back-to-back drives.
The Hawks were the 7th-ranked team in 5A at the time of the 34-14 loss against then-No. 1 at AT&T Stadium.
They’ll now have an opportunity for a fourth 10-win season and first-ever state semifinal berth on Saturday.
Red Oak will face District-4-5A-foe (7-4) Mansfield Summit in the 5A Division I regional final.
The Hawks previously defeated Summitt, 37-16, behind Ervin’s 385 yards and four touchdowns on 27-of-34 passing. Raymond Gay II accounted for 189 receiving yards and a touchdown on 12 catches.
Summitt is fresh off its first-ever regional semifinal victory after downing (8-1) No. 10 Colleyville Heritage, 34-31.
Kickoff between Red Oak and Mansfield Summit is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday, Jan. 1 at Globe Life Park (formerly The Ballpark in Arlington).
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith