So close...  Longhorns heroic comeback efforts fall short in loss to Hallettsville, 28-21

Senior George West running back Jared Zuniga scored a 36-yard touchdown for the Longhorns with 2:26 left in the regional semifinal game against Halletsville.

SAN ANTONIO – A heroic second half comeback bid fell short for the George West Longhorns in the regional semifinals, 28-21 against the Hallettsville Brahmas at Dub Farris Stadium.

George West finished the season 12-1, improving upon a three-season streak (2016-2018) in which the Longhorns won 10 games.

George West Coach Brent Kornegay told the team after the game that he appreciated them and the effort they gave.

“I love each and every one of you — your effort was fantastic,” Kornegay said. “Never question that.

“There’s not a whole lot to say. I’m proud of you.”

Senior Brenden Henicke, one of the Longhorns’ team leaders, said he also appreciated those who had fought so hard for the team all year.

“I’d give my life for this team.” Henicke said. “I give all the credit to the team, to God and to my family.

“The boys who played with me gave everything and I’ll never forget them or this season.”

Henicke is one of the Longhorns that played in his final game in high school, but he encouraged the younger players who are returning to build on the success of the 2019 season — and to improve upon it.

“I’m extremely proud of the underclassmen, and I think great things are ahead for them.”

As for the regional semifinal loss, Henike said the team battled to the end but that Hallettsville played well enough to secure the win.

“We gave everything we had, it came down to the little mistakes,” he said. “Hallettsville is a great team and took advantage of the opportunities.”

For a moment, it seemed like the Longhorns would snare an incredible comeback.

Down by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Devon Jackson had a great kick return to set the Horns up at the Hallettsville 46-yard line.

The Brahams defense forced two plays for negative yards, but on second and 18 with Upton poised to outrun the Hallettsville defender, that defender grabbed the back of Upton’s jersey\. A referee saw the play and called pass interference, moving the ball to the Brahma 36-yard line.

A pass thrown to the end zone by quarterback Coltan Orr was just past the fingertips of Hunter Freeman, setting up a third and 10 play.

Jared Zuniga stormed through the Brahma defense on the next play, charging 36 yards for a touchdown. Neil’s kick put the Longhorns within striking distance at 28-21 with 2:34 left in the game.

It would take an onside kick to give the Horns a chance for victory, and that’s just what they got. John Zuniga recovered the ball with 2:23 left as the George West fans roared in appreciation and the Hallettsville fans were forced to endure a couple moments of discomfort.

Coltan Orr was shaken up on that play, forcing junior Devon Jackson to play quarterback on first down until Orr could return to the field.

On that first down play, Henike ripped past the Hallettsville defense for eight yards, followed by a 13-yard run by Orr to move the ball to the Brahma 29-yard line.

Henike then rambled for 15 yards to the Hallettsville 14 as the clock dropped down to near the 1 minute mark.

At that point, the Brahma defense rose to the occasion and shut the door on the Longhorn comeback bid.

A two-yard loss was followed by a run for no gain and a pair of incomplete passes — the last with just one second left in the game.

Hallettsville had survived the furious GW flurry, but the game wasn’t truly decided until the second to last play.

It was the Horns dominating performance in the third quarter that gave George West a chance in the fourth quarter.

After completely dominating the third quarter, the Longhorns trimmed Hallettsville’s two touchdown halftime lead in half, thanks to a four-yard touchdown plunge by junior running back Michael Upton. Keaton Neil’s kick made the score 21-14, with Hallettsville still leading.

A big difference-maker for the Brahmas was workhorse running back Jonathan Brooks. Although there were many plays in which the George West defense stopped Brooks for little to no gain, Brooks kept plugging away and was impossible to completely contain.

On one play in which the Longhorn defense appeared to have stopped him, Brooks danced, spun and twirled away for a 21-yard run.

One a play in the first half, Brooks showed he is not only a workhorse but also a racehorse, breaking away from the pack on a 75-yard touchdown run.

With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Brooks was able to escape the Longhorn defense on a three-yard run to give Hallettsville a seemingly comfortable 28-14 lead with just 4:16 left in the game.

But the Longhorns showed a never-say-die spirit that refused to give up, and George West came close enough to throw a scare into the Brahmas late in the fourth quarter.

The first half was by far the most mistake plagued 24 minutes the Horns had played all season.

Several miscues, including penalties and turnovers, meant GW had its back to the wall.

George West forced the Brahmas to punt on their first possession, holding Hallettsville to negative yards.

Instead of being able to build on that great defensive momentum, the Horns fumbled the punt return, gifting the Brahmas offense with another opportunity and outstanding field position.

On second and 8 with 9:41 in the first quarter, Hallettsville quarterback Lane Leonard threw a dart to No. 6 Travis Matilda for a 32-yard touchdown. The extra point gave the Brahmas a 7-0 lead.

Five plays later, the Longhorns tied the score with a 32-yard touchdown pass on second and seven with 7:06 left in the first quarter — after Keaton Neal’s kick.

The TD was set up by a 12-yard Coltan Orr run and a 13-yard Hunter Freeman run.

An unfortunate unsportsmanlike conduct play on the touchdown put the Brahmas at the 45-yard line after the kickoff went out of bounds.

Logan Carroll and Orr both made great tackles on Hallettsville workhorse running back Jonathan Brooks to force a punt.

The Brahmas responded with a massive punt effort to push George West back to its own seven to start the next drive.

The Longhorns began that drive with 4:59 in the first quarter and Henicke ran for 5, 5 and 17 yards on the first three plays.

An 18-yard run by Orr on second and 6 from the GW 49-yard line had the Horns primed and moving.

A 10-yard run by Orr after an incomplete pass moved the ball to the Hallettsville 23-yard line.

A pass by Orr to a wide open GW receiver was dropped, setting up fourth and 8.

Orr scrambled for 11 yards  to move the ball to the Brahma 9, but that was as close as the Horns would get on that drive.

A wild snap and a pair of false start penalties left GW with a fourth and 21 play, and Brooks — the Brahmas main weapon on offense, proved he was also valuable on defense, intercepting the ball at the goal line to snuff out what had started as such a promising Longhorn drive.

Henike intercepted the ball on the next drive, but George West was unable to capitalize, as another drive ended with the inability to convert on a fourth down play.

Those close calls proved to be the difference, as Hallettsville was able to fend on George West and advance to the state quarterfinals.

Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. He can be reached at 361-786-3022 or theprogress@mysoutex.com.