After an up-and-down, 3-3 start to their first season without the late John Outlaw as head coach since 1995, few expected the Lufkin Panthers to reach the third round of the postseason.

But after defeating defending 5A Division II state champion Spring Dekaney in the first round, followed by a win over Pflugerville -- which knocked off five-time defending state champion Lake Travis in the first round -- that's exactly the situation Lufkin found itself in.

The Panthers fell behind by 24 points early in the third quarter, rallied to take the lead, gave it up again and had a chance to send it to OT before it was all over.

Hard to believe, but Lufkin's heartbreaking 55-52 loss to Plano West in their Class 5A Division II Region II semifinal on Dec. 1 in Waco only ranks second on our countdown of the top high school football games of 2012.

Setting the stage: Lufkin entered this game with a 9-3 record, having won six straight since a 49-21 loss to district rival The Woodlands. As mentioned before, the Panthers took out Dekaney, 35-20, in the first round and dispatched of Pflugerville 56-43 for Lufkin's furthest playoff trek since 2005's state semifinalist team. Plano West, one of the highest scoring offenses in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, was also riding a six-game winning streak into this one. The Wolves defeated Richardson Lake Highlands (42-35) and South Garland (37-27) to reach the regional-semifinal round.

First impressions: Plano West jumped all over Lufkin, building a 24-3 lead on a Sotonye Jamabo 2-yard touchdown run just 1:22 into the second quarter. Zakk Myer's 39-yard field goal with 2:07 remaining in the half pushed the Wolves' lead to 41-17 before Lufkin quarterback Tyler Stubblefield hit JaBryce Taylor for a 33-yard touchdown pass that cut the deficit to 41-24 with 17 ticks until halftime. Plano West then scored off a Lufkin turnover to begin the third quarter, going up 48-24 with 9:28 left in the third.

In the moment: Then, Lufkin's defense began to get stops and the Lufkin offense put it in high gear, scoring the game's next 28 points. It began with a 47-yard TD pass from Stubblefield to Taylor with 8:18 to go in the third and continued with a 35-yarder to Key'vantanie Coutee with 29 seconds remaining until the fourth quarter. Stubblefield brought Lufkin to within three points, 48-45, with a 10-yard run at the 6:53 mark in the fourth. The Panthers completed the comeback, taking a 52-48 lead on Kendrick Mapp's 4-yard run with 3:28 remaining. However, Plano West's offense reappeared, retaking the lead with a Jamabo 1-yard run with 1:12 to go. Lufkin wasn't finished, however. A 42-yard completion from Stubblefield to Jamal Jeffery set the Panthers up with a first down at the 16. But on fourth down, Luis Garcia's potential game-tying 29-yard field goal misfired as time expired, ending a great game and a great season for Lufkin.

Last impressions: As you might imagine, there were some video-game numbers when it was all said and done. The two teams combined for 1,119 yards, 56 first downs and 157 total offensive snaps. Stubblefield finished 23 of 42 for 457 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. Taylor had nine receptions for 237 yards and three scores. Plano West had two 100-yard rushers -- Jamabo (162 yards, three TDs) and Auston Anderson (145 yards, two TDs).