Courtesy The Huntsville Item / DJ Shafer
Trailing by three points at halftime, the Hornets said they felt pretty good. An hour or so later, they didn’t look so good.
After the Panthers of Kingwood Park ran off and left Huntsville 34-14, the Hornets were smarting a bit.
“We can’t lose our minds like we did tonight. We can’t lose control,” Huntsville defensive end Steve York said. “We’ve got to watch what we do out on the field and tonight we fell apart. We fell apart and started running our mouths.”
The Hornets ran their mouths, but not much more after intermission at Turner Stadium. Kingwood Park, which at 5-1 remained tied with Willis for the top spot in District 18-4A, held Huntsville to 21 yards of total offense and three first downs in the second half.
The Hornets rushed for 121 yards in the first half and got two touchdowns from senior tailback Henry Ford. But the Panthers got tough at the break and held Huntsville to 19 yards on 16 carries in the second half. The Hornets completed only one pass in the second half, that for 2 yards.
“We couldn’t get anything going,” Huntsville coach Shane Martin said. “We wanted to throw the ball a little, but every time we threw it they made plays and picked a couple off.”
The Panthers (7-2 overall) intercepted two passes and returned both for touchdowns in their first-place slugfest with Huntsville. Bryce Plant did it in the first half, stepping in front of a Kent Albert throw, then racing 32 yards for a score that put the Panthers on top 17-7 late in the first quarter.
Then late in the fourth quarter, with Huntsville making a last-ditch effort to rally, Tanner Schovajsa broke on a Malik Brown throw and scooted 29 yards for the game’s final touchdown.
Between the two interceptions, the Panthers kicked two field goals and capitalized on a punt that pinned the Hornets inside their own 1-yard line early in the second half. Kingwood Park’s defense held Huntsville without a first down, and after getting the ball back deep in Hornet territory, quarterback Jay Fields busted a 21-yard touchdown run to make it 24-14.
“I don’t think we played as a team the way we have the past couple of weeks,” Huntsville linebacker Cameron Shirley said. “We’ve been reading too many of our own newspaper clippings, I guess, enjoying the limelight a little too much.
“At halftime, we all felt like we were in the game,” Shirley added. “But Kingwood Park came out and gave a strong showing. They were really pumped and they were not willing to give it up. We got behind and didn’t fight as well as we could have.”
Before the break, Huntsville marched 87 yards in 18 plays, taking more than 8 1/2 minutes off the clock. Ford, who finished the game with 95 yards on 22 carries, scored from 8 yards out by keeping his feet going even after being staggered and briefly stopped.
Isaac Guzman’s point-after kick made it 17-14 in favor of the Panthers, but it appeared as if the Hornets were in good shape for the second half.
That was not the case, though. Kingwood Park, which finishes the regular season next week against New Caney, became the aggressor.
Fields and running back Hayden Miller banged the ball forward behind the Panthers’ big and physical offensive line. Miller, who started the scoring Friday with a 79-yard scamper, finished with 121 yards on 11 carries. Fields added 105 yards on 15 carries.
Defensively, the Panthers dominated the line of scrimmage, put pressure on Albert and his sophomore backup Brown and kept Huntsville from making a serious threat at the end zone.
Thanks to the Willis Wildkats, there was some bright news on a night when the Hornets were bumming in the visitors’ dressing room.
It looks like Huntsville is heading back to the Class 4A state playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. Barring a major upset today in a game between 4-1 Summer Creek and 0-5 Porter, the Hornets will book its playoff reservation thanks to Willis’ come-from-behind 17-14 victory over Humble on Friday.
Humble fell to 3-3 in District 18-4A, and because Huntsville holds a head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over the Wildcats, the Hornets will advance to the postseason no matter what happens next week, if Summer Creek takes care of business and beats Porter today.