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Games of 2012, No. 1: Denton Guyer 57, John Tyler 53

John Tyler’s Justice Liggins (3) and Fred Ross celebrate after Ross’ onside kick recovery that led JT’s go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Lions’ 57-53 state semifinal loss to Denton Guyer on Dec. 14 in Midlothian. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Sixty-three fourth-quarter points. Two successful onside kicks. A 22-point run in a span of less than 2 1/2 minutes.

John Tyler used a game-ending kickoff return touchdown to thwart a comeback for the ages when the Lions beat Plano East in a 1994 state quarterfinal, but this time around, JT was the team suffering the heart-breaking defeat. Cujo roared back from a 50-31 deficit with 6:00 remaining, taking a 53-50 lead with 3:44 left, but Denton Guyer answered with its powerful running game for a go-ahead score with 1:14 to play, then got a last-minute interception to seal a 57-53 victory in an instant classic in the Class 4A Division I state semifinals.

The win sent Guyer and star quarterback Jerrod Heard to the state championship, which it won 48-37 over Georgetown.

Setting the stage: John Tyler and Denton Guyer entered this state semifinal bout on long hot streaks. Each team had won 12 consecutive games after John Tyler started 1-1 and Guyer started 0-2. The game marked the fourth time in five years that Guyer had faced an East Texas team in the state semifinals after the ‘Cats lost twice to Longview in 2008-09 Class 4A meetings and beat the Lobos in the 2010 5A Division II semis. John Tyler was aiming for its first state championship appearance — and sixth in program history — since losing to Katy in the 2001 5A D-II title game. Guyer was shooting for its second state title appearance (lost to Cibolo Steele in 2010 5A D-II championship).

First impressions: A stiff wind slowed John Tyler’s pass-happy offense early on. The Lions started the game throwing into the wind, and that hurt JT in two red-zone possessions. The first ended in a blocked 28-yard field goal in the first quarter, while the second, which occurred early in the second quarter as JT adjusted to throwing with that stiff wind, ended in a 26-yard field goal by Porfirio Benitez. Meanwhile, Denton Guyer moved the ball more effectively with its running game, which became perhaps the biggest story of the contest as the night progressed. Heard ran for three first-half touchdowns to give Guyer a 21-17 halftime lead, which felt larger than four points since John Tyler had no answer for the ‘Cats’ ground attack.

In the moment: For the first 18 minutes of the second half, Guyer continued its ground-based dominance. Heard sprinted 71 yards for a score on Guyer’s first second-half possession and the Wildcats took a 30-17 lead to the fourth quarter. The teams traded two touchdowns apiece in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the fourth, leaving Guyer ahead 43-31 after Justice Liggins’ 65-yard touchdown pass from Greg Ward. The momentum seemed short-lived when D.J. Breedlove scored his second touchdown of the fourth quarter, a 39-yard run for a 50-31 lead with six minutes after Guyer recovered a well-placed John Tyler onside kick attempt.

That’s when everything changed.

John Tyler struck in 62 seconds. Ward found DeQuante Woods for an eight-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 50-38. Noe Diaz booted another great onside kick, and JT recovered.

Boom.

Ward, who had a virtuoso performance to lead John Tyler back from the dead, hit Woods on a 34-yard swing pass touchdown, cutting Guyer’s advantage to 50-45 with 4:54 to play. Yes, that scoring “drive” after the onside kick took all of four seconds.

Again, Diaz kicked a perfect onside kick. Again, John Tyler recovered, grasping all the momentum.

Boom.

The Lions drove deep into Guyer territory, where Tyus Bowser bulled his way into the end zone from a yard away for a 51-50 lead. Bowser’s two-point run gave Cujo a miraculous 53-50 lead with 3:44 to play.

Twenty-two unanswered points in 126 seconds. From down 19 points to up three points.

But Jerrod Heard and company wouldn’t be denied.

Guyer leaned on its running game, which dominated at the point of attack all night. But it was Heard’s fourth-and-4, 10-yard conversion to Arizona State-bound receiver Ellis Jefferson that may have been the biggest play of the game, giving the Wildcats first down at John Tyler’s 21-yard to keep the game-winning drive alive. Two plays later, Richard Whitaker sprinted in from 18 yards for the go-ahead score and 57-53 lead with 1:14 to play.

The Guyer crowd was certainly uneasy considering the way John Tyler’s passing game had shredded the ‘Cats’ defense in the fourth quarter, but Terence Bolton eased their worry, intercepting Ward over the middle of the field on JT’s first play of the ensuing possession. Guyer was able to run the final three seconds off the clock on fourth down inside the JT 10-yard line, sealing the Wildcats’ second state championship berth.

Final impressions: Whoa. Guyer ran for more than 600 yards, including Heard’s amazing performance of 33 carries for 319 yards and four touchdowns, along with the combination of Breedlove and Whitaker, who totaled 285 yards and four fourth-quarter touchdowns. Ward was equally impressive, throwing for 546 yards, five touchdowns, and three interceptions, while rushing for 107 yards and a score on 11 carries. Five JT receivers caught at least seven passes apiece — Darion Flowers (10 grabs, 167 yards), Fred Ross (9-139), Justice Liggins (8-127), DeQuante Woods (7-74), Reggie Gipson (7-16). While karma paid back John Tyler at an unfortunate time, there’s no denying that the game was an instant classic, one that nobody from either side will ever forget.

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