TYLER – For the first time in six years, the Palestine Wildcats are returning to the playoffs, a joyous occasion for the Palestine community.
Following his team's 28-21 win over Chapel Hill, however, Coach Lance Angel wasn't entirely pleased, especially with himself.
“We executed poorly in the second half,” Angel said. “Poor play-calling on my part. We didn't come out ready and they did. But in the end, our kids held on and fought.”
At halftime, the Wildcats held a 28-0 lead over the Bulldogs. They dominated both sides of the ball and were primed to end a six-year playoff drought with an exclamation point.
But Palestine's offense seriously downshifted in a scoreless second-half. Chapel Hill, on the other hand, woke up, putting together its best drive of the game on the team's opening possession.
A methodical five-minute 11-play drive from the Bulldogs was capped with a Tyson Berry 10-yard touchdown reception. Their ensuing onside kick attempt failed, but the Bulldogs defense held Palestine to a three-and-out.
Chapel Hill could not repeat its success on its second drive. The team was forced to punt after three plays. Neither offense had much to show in the third, as both went scoreless for the remainder of the quarter.
Wildcat defensive back JK Lockett snagged his first of two interceptions that halted a promising Bulldog drive at the end of the third, setting up the Palestine offense on its own 10-yard line.
The Bulldogs took advantage of Palestine's poor field position, as an aggressive front forced a fumble six that trimmed Palestine's lead to 28-14 with 10 minutes left in the game.
The Wildcat offense continued to sputter as the Bulldogs forced a turnover on downs on their ensuing possession. Chapel Hill composed another methodical, 12-play drive, capped by a four-yard touchdown run from Elijah Demus.
After Palestine watched Chapel Hill post 21-unanswered points, it went three-and-out, shifting all momentum back to the home team.
“Calling stuff at the right time is my job,” Angel said. “At times, I didn't do that. “They changed their defensive alignment and we didn't do a good job of adjusting to it.”
With three minutes left, the Bulldogs had a chance at another scoring drive to force overtime, or win it all. But on the final drive Palestine's defense only allowed a single yard.
Quinton Cook stormed in for a second-down sack and Keshawn Nonette followed with a third-down sack. Faced with fourth and a mile, Chapel Hill was forced to chunk up a prayer that landed safely in the arms of JK Lockett to officially end the game.
“The kids deserve this,” Angel said. “It's something these guys haven't been around since they were sixth graders. This senior class deserved this.”
In winning the game, Palestine also made some history. At the half, the Wildcats were sitting pretty largely because of Jeremiah Davis' four-touchdown first half that moved him into the top-10 in school history for single-season touchdowns.
Davis' historic night started on the first play from scrimmage when he took his handoff 55 yards to the endzone. The extra point attempt failed.
Chapel Hill nearly gave the ball right back to Palestine on the first play of their opening series with a near interception from Kemon Ross.
The defense forced a three-and-out and gave the ball back to their offense with 80 yards of field in front of them.
Marquise Thompson began the drive this time with a 17-yard sprint towards midfield. A pass interference call on Palestine's first pass of the game moved them up 15 yards, before Davis took his second handoff 23 yards a few plays later.
Another Bulldog penalty set the Wildcats up inside the red zone, allowing Davis to cap the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.
With eight minutes left in the first, Chapel Hill's offense continued to struggle. Palestine forced them into an early fourth-down attempt, but the pass was incomplete.
Both defenses clamped down for the remainder of the first quarter, as the Bulldogs forced two straight fourth-down failures on Palestine.
The Wildcats' defense forced another three-and-out from the Bulldogs to close out the quarter. The Bulldogs' matched their opposition efforts, until a devastating roughing the kicker call erased another three-and-out from Palestine.
Quinton Cook wasted little time capitalizing, taking his first handoff 10 yards to kick-start the offense. A few plays later, Davis found his third rushing score from 38 yards out, and Palestine took a commanding 20-0 lead with seven minutes left until half.
The rushing onslaught continued after the Wildcat defense forced another turnover on downs. Nine plays and 60 yards later, Davis crossed the pylon from two yards out for his fourth score.
After a bobbled catch pinned Chapel Hill on their eight-yard line, aggressive pressure from Palestine's front four gave the Wildcats their first safety of the season to close out the half.