NEW CANEY - To some, seeing the Crosby Cougars finish second in District 12-5A II was a shock and winning a bi-district playoff game, a miracle
However, the Cougars players and coaching staff knew they had what it took to reach a Region 3 area playoff game at Randall Reed Stadium against The Huntsville Hornets.
The only problem was, Huntsville also expected to be in this position and took advantage of its opportunities, with three unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter and held off a Cougars rally for a 54-44 win to advance to this week’s Region 3 semifinals.
"We just made a couple more mistakes than they did and they made some big plays," Crosby head coach Jerry Prieto said. "We couldn't get them off the field. It was a heck of a ball game where one of us had to lose and unfortunately it was us today.
Crosby (6-5) was led by quarterback Reggie Branch (319 yards passing and four touchdowns, 66 yards rushing and one touchdown, 60 yards receiving and one score, 445 total yards) receiver Jalen Herman (six catches, 174 yards, three touchdowns) and split back Denniquez Dunn (153 total yards, one touchdown pass, one scoring reception).
Prieto noted that Huntsville had not allowed more than 30 points all season.
Crosby took the opening kickoff and immediately sent a message to the reputed Huntsville defense by marching down the field 83 yards and scoring on the 12th play, a six-yard pass from Branch to Herman for a 6-0 lead with 6:25 remaining in the first quarter.
Huntsville answered with a long drive of its own and punctuated it with a 37-yard scoring pass from Matthew Southern to Tyrique Carter with 2:05 left in the first to take a 7-6 lead by virtue of a successful PAT.
The second quarter started dubiously for the Cougars as Branch tossed an interception on a fourth-and-5 attempt inside the Hornets 40 and Jordan Brown returned the Crosby miscue to the red zone.
Southern hit Miles Tatum on a 17-yard scoring pass on a play Crosby coaches contended was an offensive push off and Huntsville moved to a 14-6 lead with 10:29 before halftime.
Crosby appeared to be reeling, moving backwards on a three-and-out drive, but the clouds parted and the Cougars received a gift of a fumble off the ensuing punt with 8:12 left and the ball on the Huntsville 48.
Two plays later, Branch broke away on a busted play and sprinted past Huntsville defenders on a 47-yard scoring run to pull Crosby within a point, 14-13 at the 7:22 mark.
Crosby’s defense stepped up with a pick by Michael Ray and on the next play, Branch caught a 60-yard touchdown off a double pass play from Dunn and a 20-14 lead.
However, Huntsville responded with a 100-yard kickoff return for a score by Jordan Baker and a Hornets 21-20 lead with 6:19 before halftime.
Huntsville got the ball back after a stop on Crosby’s next drive and marched down the field before scoring on a 1-yard run by Quaterian Riles put Huntsville up 28-20 with 28 ticks before the intermission.
Crosby took advantage of a squib kick that put it its own 42 and Branch let loose with a gorgeous 50-yard pass down field to Emonte Wilson, getting to the Huntsville 8.
They had to ultimately settle for a 20-yard field goal attempt by Trevor Helburg who nailed it with no time remaining and Huntsville leading 28-23 at the break.
Branch ran for 69 yards, threw for 128 yards and combined with his touchdown reception finished the first half with 257 total yards offense.
In the fourth quarter Crosby trailed 47-23 but refused to surrender.
"It was a couple of mistakes defensively and we dropped a snap on a punt," Prieto said.
Herman caught a 62-yard touchdown pass from Branch to start the fourth quarter and a two-point pass to Ray made it 47-31.
He added a spectacular leaping grab over a Hornet cornerback with 10:55 left in the game for a 45-yard touchdown catch to pull Crosby to within 47-37. That came after a Reynaldo Ayala interception one play earlier.
"Our kids are fighters, man," Prieto said. "We've been in that position before and we got it down to 10. These kids don't quit and that's what I have loved about them all year. I am sad with the result, but I am proud of my kids.
"I thought they might have elevated this program more than any other group before them because of the perseverance, grit and toughness they have showed. With that start that we had (0-3) they never quit fighting and kept proving people wrong. We just came a couple plays short today."