MESQUITE — Go ahead, now you can finally relax and exhale.
On the night after Thanksgiving the Wildcats were grateful for every point scored.
Sulphur Springs went to the metroplex on Black Friday shopping for a big holiday win and got one.
In heart-stopping, nail-biting fashion, Sulphur Springs took a 33-31 win over Frisco Liberty in the Class 4A, Division II, Regional Semifinals at Mesquite Memorial Stadium.
The Wildcats have played many exciting games in Mesquite over the years, this game is another chapter.
A late 18-yard field goal by Fernando Arellano of the Wildcats proved to be the game-winner with 1:26 remaining.
Both quarterbacks played important parts of the game for their teams.
Frisco Liberty’s Brandon Brotzman connected on 21 of 50 passes for 262 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Brotzman completed 50 percent of his passes in the first two quarters. In the second half it was a different story, the Wildcat defense increased pressure and Brotzman was forced to threw 20 incompletions out of the 32 passes he attempted.
Colton Lee of Sulphur Springs accounted for 330 yards on the night. Lee ran 19 times for 127 yards, seven times he ran for a first down to keep a drive alive. He also completed 21 of 32 passes for 203 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Lee said, “Not all the passes I threw went right where I wanted them to go. So I used my legs to pick up some yards. They (Frisco Liberty) were dropping eight into coverage, we knew I would have running lanes. So I took what they gave me.”
Sulphur Springs (10-3) plays the winner of the Marshall/Denison game at a time and location to be determined later in the regional final.
The game was not decided until the final 33 seconds. A big sack of Frisco Liberty quarterback of Brandon Brotzman by Texas Tech pledge hulking 6-5 defensive end Kedrick Dial to force a long yardage situation and help preserve the win. Dial came into the game slowed by a hip injury.
“I was on my knee praying, then the play started and I got around the guy to make the play,” Dial said with a big grin. “I did not want this game to be my last high school game. I want to play some more and now I can. The teams you remember, play in December.”
The chilly fans were warmed up by see-saw action, especially in the final five minutes.
Sulphur Springs was up 30-24 but the game was far from decided. A Lee pass was tipped and intercepted by the Redhawks.
Taking over at their own 44-yard line, the Frisco Liberty team covered the field in seven plays. Running back/receiver Malcolm Hill got the drive going bursting around the corner and off to the races for a 38-yard gain down to the Wildcats’ 18-yard line. Brotzman threw to Hill for a gain down to the 5-yard line. After Sulphur Springs forced two consecutive incomplete passes, Brotzman went back to Hill for a five-yard scoring connection. The extra point by Connor Hirt gave the Frisco Liberty team a slim 31-30 lead with 4:03 remaining in the game.
Sulphur Springs came storming back with a 64-yard scoring drive over the next three minutes. Lee threw to Bryant “Day Day” Jackson for a 12-yard gain and a first down. Lee then ran up the middle for an eight yard pickup. After an incomplete pass, Lee called his own number again and raced for a first down. Lee threw went back to the airways and threw to Shane McQueen for a 12 more yards and a first down at the 11 of the Redhawks. Sulphur Springs started running to move closer to the goal and eat up the final time off the clock. But Frisco Liberty called two time outs to save some time.
Fernando Arellano was called into try an 18-yard field goal. Arellano had seen an extra point and an earlier field goal try blocked by the Redhawks. This time the soccer style kicker’s boot was perfect, splitting the uprights out of a Garrett Ferguson hold. The Wildcats had a 33-31 lead with 91 seconds left in the thrilling contest.
“I was nervous, but I knew I could make it. I could have made it from up to 47-yards. The snap and hold were good, the blocks were good and I did it,” Arellano explained.
Frisco Liberty would not go down without a fight. Sulphur Springs kicked the ensuing kickoff out-of-bounds. Following a good runback by Pereese Joas the Redhawks set up at their 40. Brotzman ran for a first down to the Sulphur Springs 48. An incomplete pass stopped the clock at 1:07. Then Dial came in for the sack that led to a loss of yardage. Sulphur Springs held with the next pass incomplete. A final pass from Brotzman to Hill was not enough to pick up a first down.
The Wildcats took over on downs and ran off the final seconds off the clock to claim the hard-fought 33-31 win.
Both teams scored in the first period to let everyone know it was going to be a barnburner of a game.
The Wildcats took the opening kickoff and marched 62-yards in eight plays. Lee completed passes to Ferguson and Jackson for short gains. Lee ran for a first down along the way. Facing a third and 1 from the 40 of Frisco Liberty, the Wildcats went to their “Tubow” formation which features center Colby Suggs at quarterback behind a beefed up line. Suggs, a standout baseball player who has committed to Arkansas, took off on the short yardage play and went around the end like he was cutting the third base bag heading to home. Suggs, a 220-pounder slipped behind blocks for a 36-yard gain down to the 4-yard line of the Redhawks. The regular lineup returned, Lee cashing in the opportunity with a short scoring bullet pass over the middle to Jackson. The extra point by Arellano was good and with 9:01 left in the first period, the Wildcats were up 7-0.
The first possession by the Redhawks did not materialize into anything positive for the Frisco Liberty team. Brotzman threw two incomplete passes. Then a draw play to Jay Ajayi was upset when Wildcat linebacker Joe Scott grabbed the runner’s foot for a four-yard loss. The Hill punt was returned by Jackson allowing the Wildcats good field position. Sulphur Springs started their second possession of the night from near midfield.
Lee kept the drive going, first with a 14-yard scramble for a first down. Three plays later he threw to Jackson for a first. Lee ran up the gut for a 16-yard gain down to the Frisco Liberty 15-yard line. A pass to Kody Chester was stopped for a three-yard loss. Lee’s next pass fell incomplete and his following run netted just four yards, bringing up a fourth and nine from the 14 of the Redhawks. Arellano was called to try a field goal, a bad snap ruined the play. Corvellas Cage picked up the pigskin spinning on the turf and raced 87 yards for a score. The point after touchdown by Hirt was perfect and with 2:49 left in the first period the game was deadlocked at 7-all.
The Wildcats took over the following kickoff and had a drive going which featured key runs by Lee and a big interference call against Frisco Liberty on a passing play to keep the drive alive as action moved to the second period.
Chester had an 18-yard run to move the ball to the 16-yard line of the Redhawks. Lee threw to McQueen for a gain down to the 1-yard line. Chester capped the drive with a run behind splendid line blocking up the middle for a touchdown. Arellano was good with the kick and with 11:36 remaining in the first half, Sulphur Springs had a 14-7 lead and the excitement was just starting.
Arellano’s kickoff boomed into the end zone for a touchdown. Forced to start at their own 20, the Redhawks were struggling against the Wildcat defense.
Tylan Harris picked off a Brotzman pass. Sulphur Springs got the ball at midfield with 9:37 left in the first half.
The scoring drive for the Wildcats took exactly one pass, 50 yards in eight seconds. Lee looked off the defense and then threw a deep bomb to McQueen for a sizzling touchdown toss. Arellano’s extra point gave the Wildcats some breathing room up 21-7 with 9:37 left on the second half game clock.
Then the spunky Redhawks turned a bad break into a tremendous play. The Arellano kick was a low knuckling kick which forced Joas to field the ball as he went into the end zone. He looked up and saw a trio of Wildcats ready to trap him for a safety. A shake and bake fake, along with breakaway speed took him out of the end zone, he ran untackled until the 39-yard line. The Redhawks took the break and scored six plays later. The capping play was a slant over the middle, the pass going from Brotzman to Hill at the 7:40 mark. The Hirt kick was good and the Sulphur Springs’ lead was cut to 21-14, but the Frisco kids had more tricks up their sleeve.
A pooch onside kick was not fielded by the Wildcats as the Redhawks swooped in to cover the ball. With less than eight minutes left in the first half, the Frisco Liberty team had a first down at the Wildcats 42. Brotzman found Hill over the middle for a clutch 23-yard gain down to the Sulphur Springs’ 18-yard line. Two plays later Brotzman threw to David Smith for a touchdown from nine-yards out. Hirt’s extra point tied the game at 21-all with 5:57 left before the bands took the field.
Sulphur Springs drove 65-yards for their next scoring, taking 3:20 off the clock. Lee twice ran for first downs to keep the possession going. Sulphur Springs had an apparent touchdown called back due to a holding call. The Wildcats did not let the call slow them down as Lee went to the airways and connected with Jackson for a 33-yard scoring pass. The extra point was blocked, but the Sulphur Springs squad was up 27-21 with 2:35 remaining in the second quarter.
Sulphur Springs held the Redhawks on downs. Frisco Liberty got the ball back an an interception late in the second period. The first half ended with the Wildcats holding a 26-21 lead.
Neither team scored in the third period. But the action was fast and furious. Twice the Sulphur Springs defense held Frisco Liberty on downs, getting the ball back.
But a holding call on the Wildcats and later an interception thrown by Lee halted drives.
The tough competition moved to the fourth period with the Wildcats hammering the Redhawks with hard hits by Joe Scott and Erick Simmons. Hill went back in punt formation for Frisco Liberty. He fielded the low skidding ball, but his knee touched down on the fake green grass before he could punt. The ball was whistled dead at the spot. The Wildcats caught a tremendous break, taking over the Redhawks’ 5-yard line. Lee and Chester could just manage one yard each on back-to-back runs. Lee’s pass missed the mark. Sulphur Springs had to settle for a 20-yard Arellano field goal. But the kick game the Wildcats a nine-point lead at 30-21 with 9:57 left in the game and a little wiggle room.
The Frisco Liberty drive was not pretty with several Brotzman passes falling harmlessly to the turf, incomplete. But he completed a 22-yarder to Smith and later converted a fourth down with a 14-yard pass to Hill on a slick screen call. The Redhawks could not advance past the 8-yard line. Hirt booted the field goal from 25-yards out to reduce the Wildcats lead to six points, 30-24 with 7:33 left in the thriller.
Sulphur Springs gave up a touchdown to fall behind 31-30. But the Wildcats got a field goal by Arellano with 1:31 left to go ahead to stay 33-31.
The Wildcats advance to the fourth round of the playoffs with the win. The spirited Frisco Liberty team, playing in their third postseason game in school history, went home dejected.
“Frisco Liberty is a good football team. They did a fantastic job, they can put up the points, we had a battle,” Sulphur Springs head football coach Greg Owens said. “We had opportunities to extend the lead and kind of shot ourselves in the foot. We dropped some interceptions. We persevered we kept getting after it. Fernando hit the big kick, he‘s been kicking them all year. It was one of those games and this is one of those years. We battled through it to win.”
The coach added, “In the second half, our defense cranked it back up. We started getting some pressure on the quarterback. We made the plays we had to make. We kept bringing the heat and the pressure. We’re striving to do something special, it’s one week at a time.”
The season ends at 7-6 for the Frisco Liberty team. A squad which began the year 1-3 and regrouped to make the playoffs and set school history.
The Wildcats are now 10-3 for the year. Sulphur Springs is 24-5 over the last two years, going 9-0 in the playoffs.
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