COLLEGE STATION — It was within their grasp.
Yet, once again, it was the Harker Heights players reeling from another agonizing loss of their own undoing.
Needing a win to avoid elimination in the District 12-5A playoff hunt, the Knights imploded in overtime with three penalties — including a personal foul that negated a defensive stop and put A&M Consolidated in position for the go-ahead score — as Heights fell 30-23 Friday night at Tiger Stadium.
“Just mistakes,” Heights senior quarterback C.J. Rodriguez said. “We’re right there every game, and mental mistakes and little things that can easily be fixed happen to us, and it just seems like everything from there goes downhill.”
Tied at 23-23 after Knights kicker Jake Harler nailed a 36-yard field goal with 3:24 left in regulation, Heights’ defense did what it struggled to do all night and stopped dynamic Tigers tailback Quinton White behind the line of scrimmage twice in the final minute of the fourth quarter to force overtime.
But once there, the wheels fell off as Heights linebacker Han Yoo was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after throwing the ball in disgust when a second-down defensive stop of Consolidated’s Durasis Nutall, where the ball popped loose at the last second, wasn’t ruled a fumble.
The play gave the Tigers (5-4, 5-1 12-5A) a first down at the 8-yard line. Two plays later, quarterback Jacob Bronowski — who was picked off three times in the first half — found a wide-open Justin Benden in the left corner of the end zone for go-ahead touchdown. An extra point by Dillon Moore made it 30-23 Consolidated.
Since the Knights (5-4, 3-3) won the toss in overtime and elected to defend first, they still had a shot to answer.
But, after Rodriguez amazingly sidestepped several Consolidated defenders for a desperation 5-yard run on a do-or-die fourth-and-5 situation at his own 20, Heights was called for a false start. What followed were back-to-back negative yardage plays and a delay-of-game penalty on third-and-21.
And not even a sensational 20-yard screen play by Greg Haynes was enough as the Heights senior receiver was knocked out of bounds 6 yards shy of the first down to end the game.
“We were just hoping for something great to happen there at the end, and we just came up about two or three yards short,” Heights coach Mike Mullins said.
Consolidated outscored Heights 17-3 in the second half on the legs of White and Nutall, who combined for 260 yards of total offense, to negate a 27-second scoring frenzy in the final minute of the first half that put the Knights ahead 20-6 at the break.
It started with a little trickery as Haynes took the reverse handoff from Rodriguez only to throw back to a wide-open Rodriguez for a 40-yard completion to the A&M 13. Three plays later, Rodriguez powered it in 1 yard out with 57 seconds remaining in the first half.
That’s when the fireworks started.
Six-foot-4 safety Naashon Hughes stepped in front of Bronowski’s first-down pass and returned it 25 yards untouched for a Knights’ touchdown, but a second straight extra point try was blocked for a 12-6 lead with 46 seconds left.
Then it was a combined effort for Heights as 320-pound defensive tackle Darius James and defensive end Brian Torres blitzed from the right side on first down and sacked Bronowski at the 25-yard line, forcing the ball to pop out as fellow defensive lineman Marcus Reo scooped and scored from the 16 for the Knights’ second defensive touchdown in 16 seconds. As the holder on the extra point try, Haynes took the snap and ran it in for a two-point conversion to give Heights a 20-6 lead with 30 seconds left before halftime.
“I feel for the kids because they played hard for 48-plus minutes and they’re pretty torn up right now,” Mullins said.