Poth took a 14-7 lead late in the third quarter of the battle between the only two unbeaten teams in District 14-2A, and Karnes City responded with its longest drive of the game to tie the score at 14-14 early in the fourth.
However, with 10:11 remaining in the game, Poth executed a 19-play, 78-yard drive that ate nearly nine minutes off the clock and ended with the game-winning touchdown on fourth-and-two. Pirate tight end Billy Korzekwa caught three third-down passes on the drive, and running back Phillip Garza did the rest, finishing the game with 198 yards rushing and all three Pirate touchdowns.
Senior J. Boyd Vaughn was an icon of Karnes City’s never-give-up attitude all night long. Vaughn played the game of his life for the Badgers, finishing with an interception, a crucial fumble recovery, a big stop on third down, and the touchdown reception on fourth-down that kept Karnes City’s hopes for victory alive.
Despite dropping their first contest of the season, the Badger team received perhaps its loudest ovation of the season from a standing-room-only crowd as they joined hands on the field at the end of the contest. The Badgers will finish up the regular season Friday night with another big matchup against Three Rivers, which will determine second place in district and the playoff pecking order.
“They just made a few more plays when they needed to,” head coach Tom Warlick said. “Our kids fought they’re tails off and I’m really proud of them all.”
Neither Poth nor Karnes City’s offenses moved the ball particularly well during the first half, but the Badgers got the first break of the ballgame when Vaughn recovered a dropped punt on the Pirates’ 10-yard line after Karnes City punted on the game’s opening possession. Badger running back Mike Kinney ran in the ball in for a touchdown three plays later for a 7-0 lead with 8:06 remaining in the first period.
Vaughn intercepted a pass on Poth’s next possession, and made a leaping catch of a 28-yard pass on the first play of the ensuing drive, but Karnes City would not make another first down until its final drive of the first half. Poth tied the game at 7-7 with a 64-yard run from Garza with 4:58 remaining in the second quarter, but the Badger defense largely held the Pirates at bay throughout the first two quarters.
“Our defense really played its heart out,” Warlick said. “These kids truly embody what a team is and no one let up despite everything that was thrown at them.”
Vaughn downed Karnes City’s second punt of the game at Poth’s 13-yard line and the Badger defense went to work. Senior linebacker Lorenzo Salinas made a tackle for no gain on fourth down of that drive, and senior defensive back Nick Pacheco intercepted a pass to end Poth’s next drive.
After the Pirates tied the score 7-7, their defense forced Karnes City to go three-and-out, but senior defensive end Garrett Schulz got the ball back to the Badger offense with sacks on second and third down to force a punt. Karnes City took possession with 1:32 remaining before halftime, and a 23-yard catch from Kinney and a 20-yard catch by Pacheco set up a 26-yard field goal with 4 seconds left. However, the kick sailed wide and the score remained tied at 7-7 at the break.
Poth was just 2-for-7 on third down conversions in the first half but was successful on 7-of-10 third-down conversion attempts in the second. After Poth picked up three first downs on their first drive of the second half, John Mendoza made a stop for no gain on first down and Vaughn brought down Jay Garza on third down to force a Poth punt. Karnes City picked up one first down on its ensuing possession but punted again three plays later, setting up the Pirates for their second score.
The Pirates minimized Karnes City’s possessions in the second half with a pounding running attack. Poth ran 46 offensive plays in the second half against 23 for Karnes City. Poth executed a 13-play, 73-yard drive that ended in Garza’s second touchdown of the game to give Poth a 14-7 lead with 1:58 remaining in the third. Garza carried the ball 11 times on that drive and touched the ball on 30 of Poth’s 46 second-half plays.
The Badgers, however, did not go down quietly. After an illegal procedure penalty put them in a second-and-15 situation, Vaughn caught two straight passes to pick up the first down. Kinney and Kevon Shelton took over from there, carrying the ball on the next six straight plays to set the Badgers up with first-and-goal from the Poth 10. Poth defenders made good plays on second and third down to prevent the Badgers from scoring, but quarterback Clayton Labus hit Vaughn with a 5-yard strike on fourth down to tie it up at 14-14 with 10:11 remaining in the game.
“The way we fought back in this game shows a lot about the character of these kids,” Warlick said.
Poth leaned heavily on its running game on the game-winning drive, but Korzekwa, who was picked by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football as the preseason district offensive MVP, made the biggest plays of the night to keep the chains moving. Korzekwa caught two passes on third-and-nine and one pass on third-and-eight during the drive, one of which was an impressive across-the-body, diving catch for a 17-yard gain. After 18 plays, Karnes City and Poth faced off on fourth-and-1 from the 2-yard line with just under two minutes to go, and Garza scored his third touchdown of the night with a 2-yard run.
Karnes City went three-and-out on its last-chance possession, with Korzewka batting down the Badgers’ final pass attempt at the line on fourth-and-five.
“Our fans, this community, they’ve supported us all along,” Warlick said. “They’re behind us all the way, and it just makes me so proud to say I’m a Karnes City Badger.”
Poth locks up the district championship with Friday night’s win, while Karnes City still has somewhat of a fight on its hands in the final game of the regular season. The Badgers will travel to Three Rivers to face the Bulldogs (6-2, 4-1) for second place in the district standings. Three Rivers has made fairly easy work of everyone in District 14-2A with the exception of Poth (they lost 34-7), and the Bulldogs have a similar offense to Poth with two running backs averaging better than 7.5 yards per carry and quarterback Larry Hatten leading the team with 416 yards and four scores on the ground.
Karnes City would give itself an easier road through the early part of the state playoffs with a second-place finish in district. The Badgers would play the third-place team from District 13-2A, likely Ozona or San Saba, in the first round of the playoffs if they finish second before playing the winner of District 15-A, likely Schulenburg or Boling, in the second round.
If Karnes City finishes third, it would face the second-place team from District 13-2A in the first round of the playoffs before facing the No. 1-ranked team in the state, Refugio, in the second round.
Karnes City was ranked No. 8 in the state after its win against Dilley on October 22 and Schulenburg was ranked No. 10.