EL PASO, TX — High school football playoffs kicked off as the San Angelo Central Bobcats (4-6) traveled back to El Paso to take on the Eastlake Falcons (9-1) at Socorro Stadium at 6 p.m.. The ‘Cats had their struggles throughout the season but finally pulled everything together for a strong performance. Though the Bobcats played well enough to win the game, last-second heroics by the Falcons ended the ‘Cats hopes of advancing to the second round of the playoffs as they fell 21-17.
The Bobcats won the toss and deferred to the second half. The Falcons started their first drive of the night at the 25-yard line. The Bobcats’ defensive front penetrated the backfield early, and after two incomplete passes and a run for minimal gain, forced the first punt of the night.
The ‘Cats offense trotted out onto the field led by QB1 Tyler Hill, who had an injury scare the previous week. Hill looked healthy on the first drive, completing several short passes to his running backs and receivers, as the Bobcats steadily moved down the field. Strong running from both Darius Floyd and Samuel Navarrette pushed the Bobcats deep into Falcon’s territory, and a 10-yard run by Navarrette moved the ball to the Falcon’s 3-yard line. The turnover bug bit the Bobcats on the following play as Navarrette had the ball punched out. The Falcons dove on the ball and recovered at the 12-yard line.
Eastlake made the most of their takeaway on the ensuing drive. None of the plays looked flashy, and as the Bobcats had done, the Falcons went on a long, numerous play drive that consisted of short runs and short passes that nickeled and dimed the ‘Cats down the field. The ‘Cats had several opportunities to get off the field but never quite managed to stop the Falcons on 3rd down. The Falcons quarterback connected with one of his receivers in the end zone from 10 yards out, and Eastlake struck first, 7-0.
Central faced more adversity on their following offensive possession. The Falcon’s defensive front toughened up, and the holes that appeared on the first drive for the Bobcats to run through disappeared. Three straight plays for minimal gain forced the ‘Cats to punt the ball away.
The Bobcats’ defense fixed their issues of the previous drive and stopped the Falcons from going anywhere. Faced with a 4th and 6 yards to go with the ball at the Eastlake 20-yard line, the Falcons nearly had a punt blocked. Immediate pressure from the Bobcats had the punter scrambling. An incomplete pass on the scramble gave the ball back to the Bobcats at the Eastlake 20-yard line.
The ‘Cats’ defense gave their offense a gift, but the offense did not score. The ‘Cats ran three straight plays into the mouth of the Falcons’ defense and came up short. Faced with a 4th and 2 yards to go, Eastlake stopped Darius Floyd in the backfield, and the Bobcats turned the ball over on downs just outside the 10-yard line.
Eastlake’s offense answered their defense’s effort with a trick play that went for a huge gain. The Falcons’ quarterback threw a quick pass to his receiver, who then pitched the ball back to Uribe on a hook and ladder. Uribe raced up the sidelines for a gain of almost 70 yards. The ‘Cats defense responded and dug their heels in the dirt, and held firm. After three plays that gained nine yards on the ground, the Falcons attempted a 4th and 1 at the 11-yard line. The defensive front penetrated into the backfield and did just enough to stop the runner cold and force a turnover on downs.
With their backs against the goal line, Hill got the Bobcats out of trouble with an 8-yard run to the Central 18-yard line. A facemask called on the Falcons on the next play pushed the Bobcats to the 35-yard line. Hill then connected with WR Jacob English on a 65-yard bomb that English took to the house. This scrappy Bobcat squad pulled even, 7-7.
With time running out in the first half, the Bobcats’ defense hoped to make a final stand to keep the Falcons off the scoreboard. The Falcon QB threw up a deep pass to a wheel route that the secondary had well covered. Hameister jumped in front of the pass and intercepted the ball at the Central 40-yard line. Now with 1:05 remaining in the 2nd quarter, the ‘Cats’ offense had one more opportunity to score before heading to the locker room. The Bobcats failed to execute, however, and punted the ball away.
Eastlake attempted some last-second heroics with less than 30 seconds left on the clock, but the Bobcat defense held firm. Central headed back to the locker room at the half still tied, 7-7.
The Bobcats came out in the 3rd Quarter firing on all cylinders. Much like their first drive of the night, a methodical, multiple first down drives pushed the ‘Cats deep into Eastlake territory. First, Hill connected with Rice and English on two different occasions to move the ball across midfield. Then, Navarrette, Floyd, and Hill ran the ball into the red zone. However, the drive stalled, and the ‘Cats kicked a 38-yard field goal to take the lead, 10-7.
Central’s defense continued to have success against the Falcons following the field goal. Strong tackles at the line of scrimmage forced Eastlake into 3rd and long. The Falcons failed to find an open receiver and had to punt. For the second time of the night, Eastlake attempted to convert via a fake punt. The defense responded instantly, however, and dropped the Falcons for a loss.
The turnover on downs gave the ball back to the Bobcats on the Falcons 40-yard line. But, just as before, the ‘Cats struggled to move the ball and failed to capitalize on their defense’s efforts. Three straight plays that went for negative or little yardage forced the Bobcats to punt.
Momentum shifted in favor of the Falcons as the 3rd quarter came to a close. Starting this drive at the Eastlake 25-yard line, the Falcons went on another multiplay drive that consumed the clock and ate up the field. The Falcons converted a 3rd and 14 around midfield that moved the ball deep into the Bobcats’ side of the field. Elijah Uribe had several hard runs that went for positive yardage, and as time expired in the 3rd quarter, the Falcons retook the lead on a 5-yard touchdown run, 14-10.
Undeterred at the deficit, the Bobcats put together their most impressive drive of the night. Going a spectacular 16-play 75-yard drive, the ‘Cats consumed more than 8 minutes off of the clock in the 4th quarter. Tyler Hill and the rest of the offense converted on 4th down on two different occasions on their way to another score. Navarrette continued to succeed in the running game, and as the Bobcats approached the goal line, Tyler Hill took over. With last week’s injury nowhere in sight, Hill ran a designed quarterback keeper to the right side of the defense. No holes opened up, so he then reversed the field, found a lane, and scored a 6-yard touchdown. The Bobcats retook the lead with less than four minutes to play, 17-14.
Unfortunately for the Bobcats, the Falcons answered almost immediately. Uribe took the second snap of the drive 70-yards down the field and almost to the house. The ‘Cats held up for just two more plays before Uribe powered his way into the endzone. On a drive that took less than two minutes, the ‘Cats faced another 4-point deficit, 21-17, with less than two minutes to play in the game.
Now with 1:58 left in the game, the Bobcats had one more opportunity to save their season and win the game. Hill got the drive started when he connected on a pass to Keevon Rice. Rice made a move and broke free of the defense on his way to a 17-yard gain. Hill loaded up and heaved the ball deep to Jacob English. The defender wrapped up English and took him to the ground, and the ball fell incomplete. Shaking off the previous play, the Bobcats moved the ball across the midfield stripe to the Eastlake 41-yard line. Another incomplete pass in the end zone and the clock ticked under 1 minute to go in the game. Hill completed another pass to get the Bobcats inside the 30-yard line to the 26, but the drive ended there. Hill threw another pass to the endzone on the next play, but Eastlake undercut Rice and made the game-ending interception. The ‘Cats played their most complete game of the season but lost in heartbreaking fashion, 21-17.
The San Angelo Central Bobcats’ season ends in heartbreak tonight, but we must commend the ‘Cats on their performance. The Bobcats’ coaching staff came into this game with an excellent game plan, and their players put themselves in a position to win this game.