HUMBLE — The Goose Creek Memorial football team wanted to turn a corner this fall with a new head coach and approach to how the players competed and represented on the playing field.
Shannon Carter took over the program with high expectations and even if the team was not quite able to deliver on all of them, the head coach believed strides had been made heading into the Patriots season finale Thursday night at Turner Stadium.
With no playoff spot to compete for, the Patriots wanted to send their seniors out in style against Kingwood Park and head into the offseason on a positive note.
They certainly did as the Patriots led the playoff-bound Panthers at halftime. Some key missed opportunities to create distance did come back to haunt them in a 30-14 loss that was closer than the score indicated.
"I went in and told the team that I am thankful to be their head coach and for the heart that they played with," Carter said. "We just have to transition to learn how to get out of own way. It's a culmination of our season: We show some flashes and we are a good team and then we shoot ourselves in the foot. That's something where you need a good offseason and get more familiar with schemes."
The first quarter was a mash-up of big plays mixed up with a plethora of referee whistles leading to six actual penalties and a handful of flags that were waved off.
Kingwood Park (6-4, 5-2) got on the board first after GCM fumbled its initial punt return attempt inside its own 10-yard line. After struggling to capitalize at first, the Panthers finally hit pay dirt when Hudson Dezell hit Brandon Acosta for 17-yard scoring pass on a third-and-goal attempt.
GCM (3-7, 2-4) answered immediately when Emerson Haywood took a keeper around the left side and exploded past teammates and opponents alike for a 73-yard scoring run to put the Patriots up 7-6 just 26 seconds later.
Kingwood Park recaptured the lead with 6:20 left in the first quarter when Dezell squirted past the GCM line and untouched into the defensive back seven for a 27-yard run and a 13-7 Panthers advantage.
The teams held serve for a good part of the half as the rain started to make an impact and the defenses slowed the earlier offensive momentum.
Then Haywood did it once again as he exploded for a 54-yard touchdown run and the subsequent PAT put the Patriots up 14-13 heading into intermission. Quite the departure from last season's 63-6 home loss to the Panthers.
"I heard last year against Kingwood Park that they mailed it in," Carter said. "But I told them that there is a scoreboard here and we are playing to win. I was proud of them for that. They laid it out there."
Junior Brice Lane took over on the Patriots second drive of the third quarter, churning out 51 yards on the ground to get GCM into the Panthers red zone. However, the Patriots couldn’t capitalize, missing a field goal attempt and they clung to the one-point lead in the late moments of the third quarter.
Kingwood Park would make them pay as Dezell broke away for a 52-yard scoring scamper and the Panthers took a 21-14 lead with 75 seconds left in the third quarter.
GCM moved the ball into Kingwood Park territory and faced a fourth-and-1 to start the fourth quarter but Haywood was tripped up behind the first down marker and the Panthers took over.
Kingwood Park added a late safety and a Dezell one-yard scoring run to seal the victory.
The game featured 16 total punts. Haywood (120 yards rushing) and Lane (88 yards rushing) led the Patriot attack.
"This was a testament to their character and what they are hearing from us as coaches are sticking with them," Carter said. "We have 18 starters back next year and we have an offseason where we can see what our strengths and weaknesses are and enhance our strengths. We have a group of players that played 10 games and with some things we've been through, I can't see that doing anything but benefitting us very well."
West Brook 47, Sterling 14
The Rangers wrapped up its season with a 1-9 overall and 0-7 District 21-6A record with the loss at West Brook Thursday night in Beaumont.
Sterling trailed 21-14 at halftime before their hosts pulled away and sent the Rangers to their second straight winless district ledger.