BRYAN – The Palestine Wildcats proved tonight history can repeat itself.
For the first time since their 2004 area round victory over Huffman-Hargrave, the Wildcats are moving on to regionals, following their 19-14 victory over the previously undefeated Hargrave Falcons (11-0).
The Wildcats exited halftime with a 7-0 lead and the mindset of making history.
"Remember, I told you at the beginning of the season we're going to do it," running back Jeremiah Davis said about breaking their playoff woes. "I said we're going to be the ones."
The Wildcat defense remained stout and forced a three-and-out on Hargrave's opening second-half possession. Set up near midfield, the Wildcats needed only four plays before Jakerian Conley broke left side for a 21-yard touchdown run.
The Falcons began to feel their undefeated season slipping away. Return man Luke Thomas snatched some momentum back on the ensuing kickoff with a 40-yard return to the PHS 40.
Palestine's defense hung tough and forced the Falcons into a fourth-and-9 attempt. Quarterback Justin Shivley showed poise, connecting with Thomas for a 25-yard strike to the PHS 13.
Palestine forced another fourth-down attempt inside their own three. Once again, Hargrave converted on a three-yard touchdown run from Peyton Pierson.
It appeared the crowd packed inside Merrill Green Stadium was in for a game. Then Hargrave booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, setting Palestine up near midfield.
A pair of runs from Jeremiah Davis bled the clock into the fourth. On the second play of the final quarter, quarterback Christian Hutchinson fooled the defense on hard play-action and dropped a dime into the waiting arms of Keshawn Nonnette for a 35-yard score. Two-point attempt was no good.
Hargrave looked for a response with 11 minutes left in the fourth. Another large gain from Thomas had the Falcons offense rolling. Set up on the PHS 43, Shively attempted to squeeze a spiral down the middle. Nonnette tipped it in the air before Quintin Cook tracked it down. Cook returned the turnover to the HHS 10, but unsportsmanlike conduct penalties brought it back to the PHS 29.
The offense went three-and-out but was gifted the ball back on an Elvin Calhoun fumble recovery off of a fourth-down attempt from the Falcons.
"The players and the defensive coaches have that mindset," coach Lance Angel said about winning the turnover battle. "When you start getting a few turnovers it starts to snowball."
Palestine gave the ball right back in three plays and watched the Falcons compose a lengthy 10-play, 72-yard drive to trim the lead to 19-14. But their onside kick attempt failed and a couple of Jeremiah Davis handoffs put the final nail in the Falcons coffin.
The Wildcats will move on to play Midlothian Heritage next Friday.
The lone highlight of the opening quarter was a fumble recovery from junior Dominique Milton on a mishandle from Hargrave quarterback Justin Shively.
After a stagnant first quarter from both sides, the Palestine Wildcats offense began to roll on their first possession of the second quarter. Jakerian Conley got things rolling with a six-yard run on the first play, before the game quickly turned into the Jeremiah Davis show.
Three straight runs of 14, 19, and 15 set the Wildcats up on Hargrave's 34-yard line. Quinton Cook momentarily spelled Davis with a three-yard run before the workhorse back was reinserted into the game.
His next three carries tallied 24 yards before the senior back capped off the drive with a physical nine-yard touchdown run down the middle of the line.
Huffman-Hargrave got the ball back with 5:36 remaining until half, facing a first-half shutout for the first time all season.
A near interception from Daelan Williams almost gave the ball right back to Palestine on their second play. Hargrave took the near game-changing mistake as Shivley connected with Luke Thomas on a 10-yard pass. Shivley found Peyton Pierson a couple plays later as their offense began to gain momentum.
Another seven-yard pass to Thomas kept the drive moving as they sat on the PHS 45. Then, an unfortunate turn of events for the Falcons. A.J. San Miguel darted down the middle of the defense before he was tackled by the referee for a 13-yard gain – preventing a sure 45-yard TD run.
A couple plays later, Palestine's JK Lockett came away with his fifth interception of the playoffs to take the Wildcats into the half with a 7-0 lead.
"We've been in tight ball games all year," coach Angel said. "We knew that was our advantage. Playing a tough schedule like that. I can't tell you how many times we came in behind at half or tied. That was normal stuff for us.