Football falls short in fourth round

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Olivia Lauter

Sophomore quarterback no. 10 Alexander Franklin runs the ball. Franklin had nine rush attempts.

With 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter, sophomore Payton Pierce runs the ball two yards into the endzone for the leopards’ last touchdown of this season. The football team closed out their 2021 season falling short 42-21 to South Oak Cliff in the regional final. 

“We worked so hard to get to the fourth round,” junior outside linebacker Bennett Slaughter said. “We knew from the start that we were going to make a statement. Everyone knew this game was going to be a dog fight, but no matter who we play, we aren’t backing away.”

South Oak Cliff came into the game sharing the same record of 12-1 with the leopards. Oak Cliff defeated last year’s state champions Aldeo in the third round of playoffs, 28-33. 

“Coming back to the fourth round was super special,” senior inside linebacker Dillon Magee said. “Though that wasn’t our goal, I’m super proud of the way our team came together this year and the relationships we built that will last forever.”

The leopards stayed at zero points until the third quarter, until sophomore quarterback Alexander (Hondo) Franklin made a 46-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Parker Livingstone to make the game 7-28. 

“On the defensive side, it was a challenge as South Oak Cliff had skilled offensive players all over the field,” Slaughter said. “We struggled to hold them in the first half, but we managed to pull ourselves together more in the second half.”

The defense held South Oak Cliff to 2 touchdowns in the second half. Franklin had one touchdown pass and one run, followed by Pierce’s touchdown run in the final seconds of the game. 

“[The season] didn’t end up how we wanted, but I still loved being around the guys this whole season,” senior right guard Will Craft said. “We faced a load of challenges and were able to push through which is when we developed and improved the most.”

The team finished their season with a district record of 7-1 and overall record of 12-2. They finished the season ranked #29 in the state and #4 in the 5A-2 district. 

“We faced some challenging opponents in our close games, and those are my favorite games of the season,” Slaughter said. “ Even if the outcome isn’t in our favor. The tough games are the ones you will remember, grow, and learn from.” 

Going into the fourth round of playoffs, the team had one loss to Frisco Liberty 27-24 in the last district game. The team pulled off close wins in the second (28-23 against Burleson) and third (24-20 against Mansfield Timberview) rounds of playoffs. 

 “This team improved when responding to adversity this year,” Craft said. “After the Liberty game, we were more prepared to not panic in the big moment and just do what we do which paid big dividends in close games in the second and third rounds of the playoffs.

Throughout the season, the football team had one goal: a state championship title. Although they fell short to this goal, Magee said the team greatly improved during the season in all aspects.

“Special teams, offense, and defense [improved through the season],” Magee said. “We learned how to fight back in those dark times and prove people wrong. That is something that will help us in whatever aspect in life.” 

The past two years, the team has advanced to the fourth round of playoffs and the players and coaches believe that a state championship is achievable in the future for the football program.

“This football team will just continue to get better and better with a state championship in the near future,” Craft said. “Coach Ross and his staff are great coaches and even better men teaching my teammates and I the core values of life. With them continuing to leave their fingerprints on this program I believe that this program will continue to get better.”