The Panthers advance to the semi-finals with a 14-0 record. Refugio finishes its season with a 13-1 season record.
The Cats fought hard but everything seemed to go against them. Five intercepted passes, a key fumble, several dropped passes were paramount in bringing about Refugio’s defeat. Blanco, on the other hand, played almost flawless football and certainly proved they were the best team on the field Saturday.
The game started out like it was going to be a close contest and continued so until the second half. That’s when Blanco began to control the game and make the plays that mattered.
To open the game, Refugio kicked off to the Panthers who started at their 38. Even though the Panthers moved up to the Cat 40, the Bobcat defense forced them to punt. The punt placed the Cats deep in their territory at the 8-yard line and after three plays, they were forced to punt. Jacob Garcia’s punt was a good one but a good return brought the ball back to the Cat 33.
Two plays later Keith Gray rounded the right end behind good blocking and out-raced the Refugio secondary into the end zone 29 yards away. Dal Dechert kicked the extra point to put the Panthers in front 7-0 at 8:16 in the first quarter.
No pressure was on the Cats as they took the following kickoff at their 49-yard line and then started to move the ball. Quarterback Kyle Hendley pass to Jourdan Ortiz on second down put the Cats at the Blanco 29 but there the drive stalled and the ball went over on downs to the Panthers at their 24.
The Panthers moved up to the Cat 38 but fumbled the ball back to the Bobcats on a Bobby Arcand recoverery at the Cat 33. Refugio then moved back into Blanco territory and seemed to be marching again.
Hendley hit Ortiz again with a pass but a hard hit caused another fumble which the Panthers recovered at their 28. The Panthers started another march but this one ended with a punt from the Cat 48 to the Cat 28 as the game moved into the second period.
Refugio then started the longest march of its season, covering 16 plays. The Cats got to the Panther 14-yard line but failed to score in four plays and had to turn the ball back to the Panthers at the 11-yard line. Two plays later the Cats had the ball back on a fumble recovery at the Blanco 13.
The Cats made 7 yards on the first two plays but a fourth down pass play was intercepted in the end zone and the Panthers got the ball on the 20-yard line. With time running out the Panthers started a drive and in only six plays went the distance to score on a 25-yard pass to Gray from Derek Tesch. The kick for the PAT hit the left upright but the Panthers had a 13-0 lead going into halftime.
The Bobcats still were in the game when they came out at halftime and took the ensuing kickoff. They started at their 32 and moved up to their 44. Facing fourth down and 4 yards, the Cats went for the first down but came up short and the ball went over to Blanco.
The Cats held on and forced another Panther punt to the Cat 32. Several plays later the Panthers intercepted yet another pass, one of five for the game, and the Panthers were back in business at the Cat 43. The Panthers moved to the Refugio 11 and there Tesch hit 290 pound fullback Anthony Vela with a TD pass. The extra point was good by Dechert and Refugio found itself trailing 20-0 near the end of the third quarter.
The Bobcats were in dire straits by now and desperately in need of a touchdown to get back in the game. A good kickoff return by Charlie Henderson set the Cats up at their 38.
Terrence Smith made 9 yards on a run and another run put the Cats in Blanco’s territory at the 48-yard line. Hendley hit Ortiz with a 35-yard pass to the Panther 13. Henderson then brought the Refugio crowd to its feet as he zipped into the end zone from there for Refugio’s initial score. Eric Martinez kicked the PAT and the Cats now trailed by 20-7 heading into the final stanza.
Martinez then kicked a “boomer” into the end zone and the Blanco return man started out of the end zone and stepped on the line and then back, giving Refugio a hope for a safety.
However, the official failed to call it and the Panthers got the ball at their 20. The Panthers then asserted their football skills and moved through the Cat defense to score again, this time on a 31-yard run by Layton Dworacyck.
The conversion kick made it 27-7 and Refugio hopes were fading. Interceptions of Refugio passes on their last two possessions “put the nail in the coffin” and Refugio exited the playoffs.
The Panthers had a decisive edge in statistics and led 17-14 in first downs and 351 yards to 255 yards in total yardage gained. Hendley hit 17 of 33 passes with several passes dropped due to timely hits. Ortiz caught 5 passes for 64 yards followed by Cory Brown with 7 for 41 yards.
The loss was most devastating to the Bobcat players as well as the coaches and fans. It was clear that Refugio did not have its “A” game but also that Blanco was a step better than the Cats.
However, Coach Jason Herring and his team can look back on a great 13-1 season which was much a carbon copy of the 2007 team which went 13-1 and exited in the quarterfinals.
“I’m proud of the kids and I’m proud to be that far in the playoffs and I’m proud of another good year,” said Coach Jason Herring. “We’ve got a lot of returning players and we’ll go to work again.”
The boys played hard and overcame deficits in their first three playoff games to win but this one was much more difficult to win. The Bobcats deserve congratulations from the fans for the ride through the season.
“The Bobcats have won eight gold footballs in two years and that’s a lot to be proud of,” Herring said.
Coach Herring will lose some key players such as Bo Adams, Christian Espindola, Irwin Fox, Tomas Canchola, Bobby Arcand, Josh Newman, Randy Harvey, Wayne Frazier, and Eric Martinez; just to mention a few.
Certainly they will be missed but coming back will be a good number of veteran players for next year’s team. This reporter can hardly wait for next year.