With four teams battling for three playoff positions from District 5-3A (1), Van Alstyne’s destiny rested in their own hands — or so we thought.
For all the dominos to fall right for the Panthers, they would need to beat Pilot Point in their final district game, played at Massey Stadium.
There was another little caveat that most everyone overlooked, or at least took for granted.
Pottsboro would be expected to beat Whitesboro to keep its six-year district winning streak alive.
Van Alstyne, with its 42-31 win over the Bearcats, took care of the former.
Whitesboro spoiled the latter by getting a 13-10, overtime win over the Cardinals, dropping the Panthers into fourth place in the final standings.
Van Alstyne (7-3, 3-2) finished tied with Howe and Whitesboro at 3-2 in the district, but dropped to fourth on a point differential basis.
With so much at stake going into the Nov. 4 trip to Pilot Point it was a little surprising about how lethargic the Panthers were at the start of the game.
Pilot Point could do no wrong in its first two possessions, scoring on both to take a 14-0 lead.
Junior quarterback Quincy Kemp, who missed the previous week’s game at Howe, returned and guided the Bearcats on an 11-play opening drive. He scored on a 13-yard run, then ran in the two-point conversion to give the Bearcats an 8-0 advantage on their senior night.
After forcing a three-and-out on the next Van Alstyne possession, Pilot Point used a lot of game clock on a drive that extended into the second quarter.
From the 15-yard line, Kemp handed off to Ty Hellman, who pitched it back to Kemp. He found Roy Brown alone in the back of the Panther end zone, giving the hosts a 14-0 lead.
After Van Alstyne’s senior Levi Jones had gained five yards on Van Alstyne’s possession, sophomore Rhett Gallagher flipped a pass into the left flat to senior Grayson Leinart. He slipped away from the first defender, cut back to the middle, then raced 63-yards to get the Panthers on the board. Junior Scott Taylor booted the first of six, successful point-after kicks, and even gave a little credit to long-snapper senior Michael Hensley and holder, junior Chase Wilson.
Van Alstyne evened the score later in the period, driving 77 yards for its second touchdown of the night.
Jones wheeled off a 24-yard run to start the drive and a 10-yard completion to Hensley moved the chains to the Pilot Point 34-yard line.
Jones gained eight, then three yards on a pair of runs before Gallagher tossed a fade to Leinart in the left corner of the end zone and Taylor’s kick tied the game at 14-14.
Pilot Point reclaimed the lead on a late field goal by Jaime Tavera to take a 17-14 advantage to the break.
Senior lineman Rhett Covery wouldn’t disclose exactly what was said at halftime, but the message got through.
“Coach Miller and coach Murray talked to us about our lack of effort and that pretty much lit a fire for us,” Covey said.
The big senior offensive lineman spent most of the off season rehabbing a knee injury, and he said he’s glad to be playing.
“It was tough getting through it at first, but it’s good now playing with this line we have,” Covey said.
The two teams traded possessions to open the second half, but it was pretty much all VA from then on.
A 19-yard, Gallagher to De’Angelo Alexander pass keyed a 50-yard drive late in the third period and Gallagher found Leinart for the duo’s third touchdown connection of the night. Taylor’s kick gave Van Alstyne a 21-17 lead.
A three-and-out by Pilot Point gave Van Alstyne the ball near midfield, and Jones went to work from there.
Four consecutive runs by the senior picked up 31 yards for a first down at the Bearcats’ 20.
Gallagher hooked up with Wilson on an 18-yard scoring toss to bump the Panthers lead to, 28-17.
Senior Landon Pardee got his third interception of the season, second in the last two games, and that pick gave Van Alstyne the ball at the Pilot Point 37-yard line.
“I was just watching the quarterbacks’ eyes and really never saw the receiver behind me,” Pardee said. “Just like a rebound, I went up and got it.”
Van Alstyne made the Bearcats pay for that turnover, needing just six plays to boost the lead to 35-17.
Jones had four runs, picking up a pair of first downs, then went out when he lost his shoe.
Taylor picked up a couple yards around the left side on his only carry of the night and Gallagher waltzed in from a yard away after faking a give to Jones.
Jones had 31 carries in the contest, picking up 213 yards, his third plus 200 yard game of the season, He finishes the regular campaign with over 1,600 rushing yards.
After Pilot Point scored with just over six minutes left in the game, Jones scored on a four-yard blast and Hensley, Wilson and Taylor added the final points in a 42-31 Van Alstyne win.
The Panthers will play Sunnyvale, District 6-3A (1) champions at Princeton on Nov. 11.