SAN ANGELO, TX — A game with serious conference championship implications kicked off at San Angelo Stadium tonight, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m. as the San Angelo Central Bobcats took on their long time rival, the Odessa Permian Panthers. What was a hot start with four wins in conference games leading up to tonight turned into the most lopsided losses this year for the Bobcats. Turnovers and an exhausted defense ultimately led to the first defeat for the ‘Cats in district as they fell to Mojo 58-38.
The ‘Cats offense rocketed out of the gate with real chemistry early in the between QB Malachi Brown and WR Jalen Leifeste as the offensive duo racked up four catches for more than 70 yards. First, a quick connection for 26-yards. Next, facing a 3rd and five at midfield, Brown found Leifeste again with a hookup of another 20-yards. Two more catches by Leifeste put the Bobcats inside the 10-yard line. The promising drive came to an end, however, when Brown threw a pick in the endzone.
The Bobcat defense took the field following the turnover and shut the Panthers down. Three straight runs that failed to gain any significant yardage led to the first punt of the night.
Starting their second possession of the night at the Central 45-yard line, Brown and the rest of the offense sought to make up for the previous turnover. Brown wasted no time getting the offense going again as he connected with WR Cayden Box for a 15-yard strike. The Panther defense reared its head again, however, stalling out the Bobcats’ attempt to score. A failed 4th and five at the Permian 30-yard line gave the ball back to the Panthers.
Next, the ‘Cats defense came up with a huge momentum swing with the turnover on downs. After stuffing Permian on first down, an errant pitch off the hands of the Panther running back allowed the ‘Cats to fall on the football. Bobcats get their first takeaway of the night and hand the ball back to the offense.
Following the takeaway, sloppy play by the Bobcats inside the 10-yard line saw the ‘Cats put the ball on the turf. Centrals’ offense continued to roll, marching straight down the field once again, but the turnover bug bit them again as Brown put the ball on the turf at the Permian 3-yard line.
Although the offense continued to struggle with turnovers, the Bobcat defense did what they needed to cover for their offense. Three straight plays of little to no gain had the Panther punting from the back of their own end zone. Following the fair catch, the offense set up shop at the Permian 40-yard line.
Looking to rectify his fumble on the previous drive, QB Brown took the ball himself on a quarterback keeper for 25 yards into the Permian red zone. Two plays later, Brown hooked up with Leifeste for a 19-yard score. Bobcats were on the board first, 7-0.
The Bobcat defense continued to be a stalwart wall against the Panthers in the 2nd quarter. Following the ‘Cats’ score, the defensive front pinned their ears back and attacked the interior of the offense. Odessa Permian found little success running the ball, and did no better with their passing game. The defensive line sacked QB Harper Terry on 2nd down, pressured him badly on 3rd down, and forced another punt.
Starting their next drive with excellent field position at the Permian 40-yard line, thanks to a great punt return by Kyson Snelson, the offense failed to punch the ball into the end zone. A great catch by Leifeste did set up the ‘Cats with a field goal opportunity. K Ethan Aguilar nailed the kick from 39-yards out, and the Bobcats extended their lead, 10-0.
Mojo finally found success on offense after the Bobcat score. Several successful runs and a costly 15-yard penalty against the ‘Cats put the Panthers into scoring position for the first time of the night. The Mojo QB connected on a pass for 18 yards into the endzone, and the Panthers struck back. After the failed extra point, Bobcats still led, 10-6.
Trying to prevent a momentum shift, the Bobcats needed to answer, and the offense delivered. Starting at the Central 30-yard line, the Bobcats took only four plays to march the ball 70 yards for another touchdown. Jalen Leifeste snagged a pass from Brown and proceeded to sprint the remaining 49 yards for the touchdown. Bobcats led 17-6.
The ‘Cats defense started to show cracks defending the running game when Permian went on a grueling drive next. Driving the ball more than 60 yards, Permian threatened to score again as they faced a made it inside the Bobcat 10-yard line. The Bobcats’ defense was able to thwart the Panthers’ attempt at a touchdown and forced a 23-yard field goal from K Tate Terry. Permian pulled closer 17-9.
Disaster struck for the Bobcats on the ensuing kickoff. A muffed catch led to a Panther recovery. The next play, a trick play, fooled the ‘Cats, and Rodney Hall connected on a 32-yard touchdown pass. The 2-point conversion attempt succeeded, and Mojo tied the game up at 17-17. This was the point where the Bobcats lost all the momentum they built in the first half; it was their turnovers that destroyed their lead.
Receiving the 2nd half kickoff, Mojo continued to roll. The Bobcats’ defense suddenly had no answer for the triple-option attack by the Panthers. Although the Bobcats managed to stop Permian on occasion, big plays that gashed the ‘Cats defense for huge chunks of yardage allowed Permian to score 14 unanswered points and take their first lead of the night. 24-17.
With the defense reeling, the Bobcat offense desperately needed an answer. Starting at their own 30-yard line, Brown found Leifeste over the middle for a 20-yard catch and run near midfield. Brown then found WR Weston Hill for another 23-yards down to the Permian 26-yard line. Two straight incompletions and a costly sack on 3rd down pushed the ‘Cats out of field goal range. Faced with a 4th and 16, Brown failed to connect with his receiver, and the Bobcats turned the ball over on downs.
This turn of events continued to worsen for the Bobcats as the Panthers torched the secondary for a massive gain. The Panthers only took five plays to drive 68-yards and another touchdown. Without the momentum and on their heels, the Bobcats fell further behind, 31-17.
Despite the score, the Bobcat offense refused to give up the fight. Brown connected with Box, Leifeste, and a long touchdown pass to WR Tyler Hill to put the Bobcats within striking distance. Taking only 29 seconds off the clock, Bobcats inch closer, down 31-24.
For a defense that started off the game so strong, the Bobcats had zero answers for the Panthers in the second half. Following the offensive touchdown, the ‘Cats defense gave up massive yardage during a screen pass on the drive’s first play. Next, a 19-yard run by QB Terry put the ball at the Central 1-yard line. Terry kept it himself a play later and scored from a yard out. Panthers look comfortable early in the 4th quarter, up by two touchdowns 38-24.
On the ensuing Bobcat possession, the Mojo defense finally got to Malachi Brown. Forcing two incompletions and sacking Brown, the Bobcats punted for the first time of the night.
The defense came out with a sense of urgency on the following Panther possession. With time running out and down two scores, the Bobcats needed a stop. They failed to get one. Terry gashed the defense for another considerable run, and the Panthers threatened to score again. Permian drained an additional two minutes off of the clock before scoring on the ground again from four yards out. Odessa Permian put this game out of reach for the Bobcats, up 45-24.
The ‘Cats struck back quickly following the Permian score. Brown connected with several different receivers as the Bobcats marched down the field in seven plays. Tyler Hill caught a pass from Brown, broke a tackle, and then took the ball the final 30 yards to the house. Bobcats still trailed 45-31.
An exhausted Bobcat defensive unit failed to stop the Panthers following the Bobcats’ touchdown. Permian scored easily on two more possessions, one off of another Bobcat turnover. The ‘Cats scratch the score board one more time in garbage time, and the game ends in a blowout for Permian. Central lost their first conference game of the season 58-31.
Turnovers sunk the Bobcats’ chances at a win tonight. In the first half, sloppy play should have had the Bobcats up by at least two touchdowns at halftime, but instead led to 7 Permian points and a tied ball game. The Permian defense deserved all the credit for stopping the game from getting ugly early.
Malachi Brown meshed well with his receivers tonight, completing passes to more than five of them. The running aspect of the Central offense tonight all came from Brown as the running backs failed to do anything even when they touched the ball. Other than that, the offensive line played a well rounded game, keeping Brown clean for most of the night, and only allowing one sack.
Jalen Leifeste had the best game of his career tonight. Not only did the offense run through him, but he also had three touchdown catches. He also threatened the school reception record and the total receiving yard record. The connection he has with Brown should be leaned on heavily in the coming weeks.
For as bad as the game ended, the Bobcats’ defense did their best. Holding the Permian offense on multiple occasions, even after the offense turned the ball over on three separate occasions, showed grit. Permian’s offensive line is incredibly talented and slowly took over the game. Head Coach Brent Davis echoed this sentiment after the game.
“They just wore us down. Their offensive line is just good. They are big. As the game went on, they were wearing on us with their size and the offense they run,” he said.
Barring how exhausted the defense ended up in the second half, without the turnovers by the offense in the first half, this was a winnable game. Central needs to forget this loss and move forward.
The ‘Cats travel to Grande Stadium to take on the Midland Lee Rebels on Black Friday next week, Nov. 27, at 2 p.m.