WHITEHOUSE — As frustration goes, the Nacogdoches Dragons’ 19-14 District 9-5A DII setback at the hands of Whitehouse here at Wildcat Stadium is one that won’t be soon forgotten by the coaches and players on the NHS squad.
The question is, will it motivate the team to bounce back or will the team continue to slide as the Dragons fell to 1-5 on the year and 1-2 in league play, now two games back of Marshall (3-3, 3-0 dist.), Pine Tree (4-2, 3-0 dist.) and WHS (4-2, 3-0 dist.) with four district games remaining.
The Dragons appeared to have turned the corner in this contest, once again establishing the running game, which finished with 160 yards on 40 carries (4.0 avg.), as Nacogdoches outgained Whitehouse 297-268 in total yards. Camorian Thacker broke big gains time and time again, finishing with 105 yards and a score on 23 carries.
But the deciding play in the heart-wrenching loss came late in the fourth quarter and was the result of a rule interpretation by the officials.
But there was plenty of action before the controversial play.
The first half saw the Dragons outgain the Wildcats, 169-122, and a 34-yard NHS field goal attempt bounced off the left upright and missed going through by inches, but Nacogdoches still led 7-3 at the break thanks to a blocked 30-yard field goal by the Dragons junior B.J. Williams with the clock running out.
Nacogdoches suffered a muffed punt in the second half, which the Wildcats turned into a five-play, 23-yard drive that WHS quarterback Kaden Casey scored on from six yards out with 7:23 left in the third on a scramble out of the pocket. That put the Wildcats ahead 10-7.
But the Dragons came back late in the third quarter, moving 58 yards in eight plays, as Quay Burleigh scored from two yards out with nine seconds left in the third to put NHS back on top, 14-10.
Nacogdoches also gave Whitehouse a second chance on a field goal when a Dragon defender was called for “leaping,” according to a call explained by Allman. After missing a 26-yard field goal, the penalty gave the Wildcats a first down and WHS kicker Cooper Clemons converted a 23-yard field goal with 5:36 on the clock to pull the ‘Cats to within 14-13.
The Dragons had an opportunity to run out the clock, but could only pick up one first down and punted back to the Wildcats at the NHS 49-yard line with 2:38 remaining.
The play of the game came with just over a minute and a half left. Forced into a fourth-and-12 situation, Whitehouse attempted a trick play, shuffling players on and off the field, leaving Austin Barron next to the coaches on the sideline — unaware by the NHS defense. With the punter in position to kick, the ball was short-snapped to Casey and he found Barron racing down the Wildcat sideline all alone for a 51-yard touchdown to give WHS a 19-14 lead with 1:33 on the clock.
Allman protested to the officials that it was an illegal play, but to no avail.
“It’s an illegal play that used to be legal,” Allman stated after the game. “It’s called a deceptive play, where you run a group of people off and a group of people on and they all pow-wow along the sideline and the rest line up in formation. There is one player who is literally left standing on the sideline with his back turned to everybody so the defense can’t ‘see’ him. He was in on the play before so he had already been inside the numbers (on the field). The deception rule was put into place precisely for that reason.
“That’s not why we lost the game, it’s how we lost the game. It was the little things that we did to ourselves, like penalties and a lack of consistency that reared it’s ugly head again this week. We should have been up by two touchdowns at that point. It’s frustrating for sure.”
Despite the controversial play, the Dragons used what little time was left to close in on the endzone again. Quarterback Jake Smith hit Nazavian Floyd for completions of 10 and seven yards, then Ja’tavious Deckard caught a four-yard pass, before outleaping two WHS defenders for a 40-yard gain to the Whitehouse 14-yard line.
A spike by Smith stopped the clock at 38 seconds, but another incompletion and a sack, before a third incompletion in the endzone with 3.1 left ended the wild finish.
“I was proud of the way the kids fought back at the end,” Allman said. “With everything that went wrong we had a chance to win it at the end. But where we hurt ourselves was the drive before when one more first down was all we needed to run the needed time off the clock.”
Smith completed 10-of-19 passes for 137 yards, with Floyd catching four for 49 yards, Deckard pulling in three for 46 and Williams being on the receiving end of a 37-yard throw.
Casey completed 9-of-16 passes for 115 yards and a score, with an interception by the Dragons’ Williams.
Nacogdoches will now attempt to bounce back this week, facing Pine Tree at Dragon Stadium Friday night at 7:30 p.m.