ARLINGTON -- At the end of the third quarter, Pleasant Grove was still in position to win back-to-back state championships.

The Hawks entered the final quarter with a slim lead, but it wouldn't last long. Cuero, led by athlete Jordan Whittington, scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, claiming a 40-28 victory against PG in the 4A D-II state title game at AT&T Stadium.

For PG, which won its first championship in 2017, to be back in the state title game was a laudable feat. The Hawks had few starters returning from last season. Ben Harmon, Bladen Reaves and Tyler Kelley took the reigns as leaders and coach Josh Gibson said though the team finished short, he'll look back on this season fondly.

"There wasn’t a lot of seniors, but the ones we had were pretty special," Gibson said. "For us to come back here and have a bad day, but it’s at AT&T in Week (17), that’s not a bad place to have a bad day at. I think as much as anything, it hurts right now, but we’re going to end up celebrating the fact that they were able to do something special and bring a team back from Texarkana, Texas two years in a row. I’m very fired up about our younger guys that get to come back.”

PG (13-3) came out strong, with Bruce Garrett leading the way downfield for a 12-yard touchdown to start things off. Whittington responded with a 69-yard touchdown run on the first play of Cuero's opening drive, but after that, the Hawks controlled the tempo.

Garrett scored three touchdowns and finished with 191 yards in the first half. With a little more than three minutes to go in the second quarter, the Hawks held a 21-7 lead.

Then, Whittington took over. He scored a 54-yard touchdown with 3:03 remaining in the half to make the score 21-14. When the Gobblers (15-1) got the ball back with about a minute remaining, he led them downfield. After a 26-yard touchdown catch was called back on instant replay, he scored the next play with two seconds remaining.

Although the extra point kick failed, Cuero entered halftime with all the momentum on its side.

"All you can do is tip your hat and go, ‘Holy smokes,'" Gibson said. "Our best corner went down somewhere in the middle of that second quarter, but I’m not taking anything away from (Whittington). I think it gave them a little momentum going into halftime and I think their coaching staff did an unbelievable job scheming us. That’s the hardest I’ve had to work halfway through the second quarter on. We can barely pee a drop on offense and it wasn’t these guys’ fault. I gotta mix it up and do some stuff.”

After a scoreless third quarter, Whittington opened the fourth with a 1-yard touchdown run, which also followed a touchdown that was overturned via replay.

After he scored again with 5:24 to play on a 12-yard run, things began to look bleak for Pleasant Grove. But the Hawks weren't ready to give up, using a trick play in which Garrett acted as quarterback and passed to Harmon, who gained 46 yards down to the 1.

Harmon finished off the drive with a QB sneak on the next play, making it 33-28 with 4:36 top play.

But, as had been the story all afternoon, Pleasant Grove's defense had no answer for Whittington. He scored a 20-yard touchdown with 2:54 left to put the game out of reach for good.

In all, Whittington finished with 334 yards rushing -- a UIL 11-man state championship record -- and six total touchdowns.

PG's offense, which normally controls time of possession and has no trouble scoring, struggled mightily in the second half. The Hawks scored only 7 points and had just 88 yards in the half.

Despite the heartbreak, PG senior defensive back Tyler Kelley said he'll remember the lessons he learned under coach Gibson. They don't plan for their relationship to end here.

“No matter what, you always keep fighting," Kelley said. "Always play the game no matter what is going on. Last year was definitely special. This year, we had close games, but we won those games and came together. The future for them is very bright and I would not be shocked at all if I saw them on TV next year at this time.”

Cuero 40, Pleasant Grove 28

Class 4A Division II Championship
At AT&T Stadium, Arlington

Pleasant Grove       14    7      0      7    –    28
Cuero       7      13      0      20    –    40

First Quarter
PG—Bruce Garrett 12 run (Dillon Williams kick), 8:46.
CUE—Jordan Whittington 69 run (Isaiah Mungia kick), 8:28.
PG—Garrett 9 run (Williams kick), 0:00.
Second Quarter
PG—Garrett 69 ru (Williams kick), 3:44.
CUE—Whittington 54 run (Mungia kick), 3:03.
CUE—Whittington 26 pass from Michael Barta (kick failed), 0:00.
Fourth Quarter
CUE—Whittington 1 run (two-point failed), 9:43.
CUE—Whittington 12 run (Mungia kick), 5:24.
PG—Ben Harmon 1 run (Williams kick), 4:36.
CUE—Whittington 20 run (Mungia kick), 2:54.

                                         PG               CUE
First Downs                       11                   24
Total Yards                       359                523
Rushes-Yards             33-241           47-387
Passing Yards                  118                136
Comp.-Att.-Int.              6-16-1          8-19-1
Punts-Avg.                       4-38.8             1-26.0
Fumbles-Lost                   1-0                 1-0
Penalties-Yards                5-25               4-45

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING—Pleasant Grove, Bruce Garrett 21-208, James Wiggins 8-21, Ben Harmon 3-12, Ryan Pickelman 1-0.. Cuero, Jordan Whittington 28-334, Keiran Grant 7-44, Chance Albrecht 7-22, Michael Barta 2-5, Team 3-(-14).
PASSING—Pleasant Grove, Harmon 5-15-1--72, Garrett 1-1-0--46. Cuero, Barta 8-17-1--136, Whittington 0-2-0--0.
RECEIVING—Pleasant Grove, Harmon 1-46, Brett Walker 1-34, Jackson Cobb 2-27, Wiggins 1-7, Garrett 1-4. Cuero, Whittington 3-43, Trent Haynes 2-39, Trey Moore 1-30, Deondrae Lang 2-24.