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Games of 2012, No. 5: John Tyler 45, Whitehouse 38

Whitehouse’s Ryan Cheatham protects the ball from John Tyler’s Terry Ausborne (13) and DeQuante Woods during the Lions’ 45-38 win on Nov. 9 in Tyler. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

You know it was a great season when this classic, heavyweight showdown for the District 16-4A championship on the regular season’s final night only checks in at No. 5.

But don’t get it twisted.

In any other year, John Tyler’s come-from-behind, 45-38 win over Whitehouse in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Tyler’s Rose Stadium could’ve been at the top.

Setting the stage: The entire regular season had been building to this all year long, a battle between preseason district and state championship favorite John Tyler and undefeated Whitehouse for the 16-4A title. Ever since the Lions’ drop to 4A prior to the 2010 season, a fierce rivalry between the two Smith County schools had been growing at an accelerated pace. The second-ranked Lions entered the game at 8-1 overall and 4-0 district, having won seven straight since an early-season loss to Lancaster. Whitehouse, meanwhile, was also perfect in district and 9-0 overall and looking to make a statement in head coach Randy McFarlin’s last season on the sideline for the Wildcats.

First impressions: It was clear from very beginning that quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Whitehouse weren’t the least bit intimidated by the favored Lions. After settling for a field goal, Whitehouse scored touchdowns on three of its next four possessions to build a 24-0 lead midway through the second quarter. Mahomes had scoring tosses of 17 and 34 yards to Brannon Beaton and Jaylon Dews, respectively, sandwiching a 10-yard scoring run by Mahomes. John Tyler had a hand it creating the deficit as well with several costly penalties and a pair of lost fumbles.

In the moment: From that point on, the Lions seized control, and by halftime everyone in the building knew the Lions weren’t just going to lay down and play dead. JT quarterback Greg Ward’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Fred Ross pulled the Lions to within 24-10 with just 17 seconds to go until halftime. JT got the ball to start the third quarter and didn’t waste any time in cutting the deficit to one touchdown when Ward found Darion Flowers for a 25-yard score just three minutes into the half. Whitehouse immediately went back on top by two scores, 31-17, on Mahomes’ 35-yard scoring strike to Dylan Cantrell. But the game was tied, 31-31, entering the fourth quarter after a 54-yard pass from Ward to Ross and a 54-yard scoring run by Ward. JT had a chance to take the lead early in the fourth, but the Whitehouse defense came up with a goal-line stand on fourth down. The Wildcats then went on a 16-play, 99-yard drive that ended with a 25-yard TD toss from Mahomes to Jake Parker that put Whitehouse in front, 38-31, with 7:24 remaining. With all of the momentum resting with the Wildcats, it took one play to completely change all of that. Ward hit Ross on a short pattern and the speedy receiver took it 71 yards to the end zone, tying the game at 38-38. Despite all the offense, the game ultimately came down to defense. Lions star defensive end Tyus Bowser recorded his fifth sack of the night, and in the process, stripped the ball from Mahomes and it was recovered inside the Whitehouse 20. Two plays later, DeQuante Woods ran it in from 9 yards out for the eventual game-winner with 4:47 to go.

Last impressions: John Tyler won its district championship and then set its sights on a state title, something that had eluded the Lions since its state-final appearance in 2000. Whitehouse, despite the loss, felt pretty good about its chances in the upcoming playoffs. The Wildcats had the faster and more seasoned Lions on the ropes for much of the game, and knew that the game would have been theirs if not for a few key defensive breakdowns and the lost fumble at the end. All told, the game featured 48 first downs, 1,067 yards of offense and 156 plays from scrimmages — 101 of which belonged to Whitehouse. Mahomes finished 28 of 57 for 441 yards and five total touchdowns, while Ward went 20 of 24 for 323 yards and four TDs passing and ran for 162 yards and another TD.

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