HALTOM, TX — The Central Bobcats went into Haltom with one thing on their mind, extending their season. It looked shaky in the first half and took a double digit comeback to secure their postseason berth, but they did just that in the swampy conditions of the old Birdville Stadium.
Johnny Smith-Rider got things started with a 20 yard kickoff return that gave Haltom starting field position at their own 45. Central’s Boston Johnson swallowed up quarterback Adam Hill for no gain on first down, but the Buffalo senior picked up 12 on the next play to move them across midfield.
Hill then found Jace Washington on an out route on second down to make it 3rd and 2 from the 35. Central could not force them off the field, though, as Hill picked up five on a designed run.
On the next play, Hill tried to exploit the significant height advantage Washington had on every Central defensive back by throwing a fade to the end zone. The pass fell incomplete, but Haltom would come back to it frequently throughout the game.
A two yard run on the next play made it 3rd and 8 from the 28, and Hill’s athleticism allowed them to convert it. Central was able to get pressure on him, but he scrambled around before finding Kevin Elizondo open on the right side to put the ball on the Central 12.
One play later, Hill found big tight end Jared Beene wide open in the seam after a fake handoff fooled the entire Central defense. 7-0 Haltom.
It took Central three plays to answer. Starting at their own 20, running back Kris Jackson picked up 15 on the first two plays. On second down from the 35, the Bobcats called a wide receiver screen to their home run threat, Tanner Dabbert. Dabbert took the screen at the line of scrimmage and outran everyone 65 yards to pay dirt. 7-7 with 8:25 remaining in the first.
Haltom’s ensuing possession got a huge boost on a completion to Derek Ocasio. Ocasio hit the Central secondary with a double move and jumped over two defenders for a 28 yard completion to the Central 38. He followed it up with a toe tap catch along the sideline three plays later to put the ball on the 18.
Central clamped down in the red zone, however, and forced a Haltom field goal to go down 10-7 with 4:45 to play in the first.
Central looked like they would match them again. Brown found junior Jalen Leifeste on a beautiful 32-yard flag route on the left sideline. On the next play, Ashton Hartsfield worked his way to the Haltom 25, but the drive stalled after that.
A zero-yard run on first down was followed by two bad overthrows by Brown that could have each been for six. Kicker Erick Rodriguez’s 42-yard attempt missed left and the Bobcats walked away empty-handed.
The defense gave it right back to, though. Safety Kente Nichols jumped a short pass from Hill on first down and dove to make an interception. Central now had the ball at Haltom’s 28.
This time, Jackson broke free and was brought down at the 10, but two more bad misses from Brown brought Rodriguez back on the field for redemption. He drilled the 25-yarder to tie the game.
Haltom’s offense bounced right back from the turnover. A combination of Hill and Kenneth Cormier runs had the Buffalos back in scoring position. Hill tried to find Washington in the end zone but failed to connect again. On 4th and 2 from the 18, Hill was clogged at the line of scrimmage but bounced it outside to move the chains. He punched it in on a keeper two plays later. 17-10 Haltom with 10:32 in the second.
Haltom extended their first-half lead after forcing a Central turnover on downs. Starting at their own 28. Hill hit Ocasio on first down across the middle and the tall receiver took off down field, evading tacklers before finally being brought down at the Central 8. On second and goal from the 5, Washington finally made a play and jumped over Kyson Snelson for the score. 24-10 Haltom.
Central cut the lead to 11 with another Rodriguez kick. Jackson put the Bobcats in scoring position with a 57-yard sprint to Haltom’s 16. A huge missed opportunity came on 3rd and 10 before the field goal. Brown rolled to his left, luring the defense to follow him, and threw it back to his right to Jackson on a screen. The running back had a bevy of linemen to lead the way, but failed to bring the ball with him. The incompletion set up the 33-yard try. 24-13 Haltom at halftime.
The second half opened up just like the first. Brown hit Leifeste on a screen for 21 yards to their 44. Jackson and Brown followed it up with 5 and 2 yard runs, respectively. There was a noticeable change in Central’s play calling in the second half. They ran a lot more screens and used Brown in the ground game heavily.
The change worked out. Brown got to the Haltom 31 for a first down on a designed run and immediately hit Dabbert on a screen that he turned into a touchdown. 24-20 Haltom.
The four-point deficit would not last long. Haltom came right back with their powerful back Cormier. On first down, the senior was stuffed on an inside run for no gain. On second, he took a short dump-off pass from a pressured Hill and shook a handful of Central defenders off for a 74-yard touchdown catch.
Besides that one play, Central did a fantastic job limiting him all night.
The teams traded punts for the rest of the third quarter with Haltom leading by 11.
In the fourth quarter, Central, who knew they needed to lose by less than 11 points to make the playoffs, punched it to another gear.
Dabbert secured his third touchdown of the evening on another misdirection pass. This time, Brown rolled out to his right before throwing back to Dabbert who was crossing the field on a post route. The throw was a little behind him, but the sure-handed receiver held on. 31-27 with 11:53 to play.
Haltom immediately put the pressure back on Central. Smith-Rider made another nice return taking it all the way to the Central 34. They would get a first down, but was all Central would allow as defensive end Anthony Gonzales sacked Hill on fourth down to end the drive.
The Bobcats could not take the lead quite yet. Their offense was forced to punt after a couple incompletions and a holding penalty killed their momentum.
Once again, though, Central’s defense stepped up when it mattered most and hounded Hill on passing plays. He completed a handful of short passes, but ultimately had to throw it away on third down resulting in a punt.
The game-winning points came on the next drive. With five minutes left, Dabbert saw open space on the punt return and took it 20 yards to Central 40. From there, Brown thought about handing off to Jackson on a run-pass option, but pulled the ball out at the last second and slung it to Dabbert. Like his three other scores, he turned on the afterburners and bolted for the end zone for a 60-yard score. 34-31 Central with 4:41 to play.
Haltom had one last chance to win the game, but they came up short. On 4th and 7 from the Central 44, Hill couldn’t find an open receiver and decided to try and reach the marker himself and was tackled four yards short. Bobcats' ball.
From then on out, all Central had to do was run the clock out and wait to see who they’ll face in the playoffs.
As for Haltom, their season is over. They needed to win and have a couple other things go their way to sneak into the postseason, but could not get it done.
Sic ‘em cats.
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