PAULS VALLEY — The mood amongst the Lone Grove players and supporters after a 28-20 season-ending loss to Pauls Valley on Friday night at Thompson Field was one of stunned silence.
Tears flowed down the eyes of seniors Marshall Zabonik and Ryan Good as they exchanged a hug near the line for the postgame handshake. A few feet away, Lone Grove coach Trey Owens consoled teary-eyed senior Lyle Graves, who was down on two knees.
Winners of back-to-back District 3A-4 championships, this was not the way that Lone Grove envisioned its season coming to an end, albeit the Longhorns struggled to a 2-8 record.
“If you invest so much, it hurts,” Owens said. “That’s the way that it’s supposed to be. And they played their tails off. They’ve been through a lot. They’ve been through a lot since last year when things changed. They knew that their life was going to change with new people coming in. And they have worked their tails off. They did a great job. I’m so proud of those guys.”
Missed opportunities in the red zone did in the Longhorns.
Lone Grove drove inside the Pauls Valley 20-yard line on three consecutive drives midway through the game but didn’t come away with any points.
The game plan for Lone Grove coming into Friday was to limit the production of Pauls Valley running back Colton Skadal.
The Longhorns followed through on their game plan but forgot to account for Pauls Valley quarterback Jack Grimmett.
Grimmett completed a 55-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Tyler Thompson on the second play of the game and a 46-yard run on the next Panther drive led to a 1-yard TD run for Skadal and a 14-7 lead.
Lone Grove’s defense stiffened and held Pauls Valley scoreless over the second and third quarters.
Lemons and Anderson had the Longhorns’ passing attack clicking.
Anderson hauled in a 65-yard touchdown with 7:05 left in the first half and hooked up on an inside route for a 27-yard pass play less than two minutes later for a 20-14 Lone Grove lead.
Lemons finished 13 of 27 through the air for 232 yards. Anderson caught six balls for 166 receiving yards.
“I know where I can put it up to him and he can just run it and get to it,” Lemons said. “He’s got the ability to run past the corners and all I have to do is to lay it up to him. It makes it a lot easier on my part to throw to a receiver like him.”
Lone Grove was in position to gain a two-touchdown possession going into halftime but a Lemons pass into the right side of the end zone on fourth and goal from the Pauls Valley 11-yard line fell incomplete.
The frustrations were only beginning to mount for the Longhorns. Twice in the third, Lone Grove failed to produce any points after it drove inside the Pauls Valley 15-yard line. Panther defender Kobe Payton fell on top of a fumble at the 12-yard line. Later, a pass attempt by Lemons was thrown low of his intended target.
“We came out and we sputtered,” Owens said. “We shot ourselves in the foot. It’s hard because we have done that the last few weeks. It’s always like we’re kind of our worst enemy in some situations.”
Owens didn’t rule out the possibility of attempting a field goal on each of those three possessions.
“That crossed our mind a little bit,” Owens said. “We were good on extra points early. I was still a little timid on everything because we were shuffling. Landon Lee, the receiver who was our placeholder, until the Madill game where he broke his leg. So, we had a new holder. It was his second week into it. We had a new short snapper as of those game and we didn’t even know that was going to happen until Wednesday of this week. There were a lot of variables that I thought could have went wrong if we were to attempt a field goal.”
The Longhorns turned the ball over four times during the second half with two interceptions and two lost fumbles.
A muffed punt by Anderson that was recovered by the Panthers’ Kobe Payton at the Longhorns 27-yard line proved to be the costliest mistake.
With Pauls Valley facing 4th and goal from the 15-yard line, Grimmett rolled to his left and connected with Perry who was left wide open in the end zone, for a 21-20 Pauls Valley lead.
An interception by Perry on Pauls Valley’s next drive led to a 41-yard touchdown run by Skadal for a 28-20 lead. Prior to that long run, Skadal had been held to 55 rushing yards.
Lone Grove gave it one final go and drove all the way to the Pauls Valley 40-yard line where a Lemons pass on fourth-and-10 fell incomplete.
“Every time that we would shoot ourselves and not get any points out of our possessions, you could tell that it took a little wind out of everybody,” Owens said. “That kind of deflated us a little bit. We weren’t out of it until the very end. But if we were to capitalize on those red zone opportunities, it would have been different.”