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Normangee holds off Price Carlisle 27-21 in area playoffs

Normangee holds off Price Carlisle 27-21 in area playoffs

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PALESTINE — Normangee quarterback Mason Hardy and a resilient defense helped the Panthers make history, but not before some anxious moments.

Normangee’s Izaha Jones went airborne to break up a pass in the end zone on the final play as the Panthers held on for 27-21 victory over the Price Carlisle Indians on Friday night in the Class 2A Division I area playoffs at Palestine Westwood.

Carlisle’s Brett Roland was open in the back corner of the end zone, but a sprinting Jones batted the ball well out of play to save the game.

“When I saw the ball in the air, I just had to jump and get it,” Jones said.

That gave Normangee, ranked ninth in the state by the Harris Ratings, an 11-0 record for the first time in program history. The only other team to start the season with 10 victories was the 1989 squad that lost in bi-district. This team got over the hump behind Hardy, who accounted for three touchdowns, and a defense that came up with a trio of fourth-down stops in the red zone in the second half.

Price Carlisle (7-4) focused on preventing Normangee’s speed beating it on the perimeter via jet sweeps. It also doubled Jones, the Panthers’ leading receiver. That freed the middle for the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Hardy, who rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. He did most of his work by faking to the motion man, then running through, over and around would-be tacklers as he stormed into the middle of Price Carlisle’s defense.

“Mason is just a physical runner for a guy his size,” Normangee coach Keith Sitton said. “He just finishes runs so well. He has a lot of heart and character.”

Mason also had great blocking. He wasn’t sacked and caught behind the line only once. Freshman center Hunter Garner, senior Julius Potts and junior Jose Molina at guard and junior Zayven Henson and senior Vinny Navarro at tackles paved the way for Mason and Jeremy Johnson, who added 68 yards on 13 carries.

“The line was on point tonight,” Hardy said.

Carlisle limited Jones to four catches for 15 yards, but Hardy still passed for 151 yards and two touchdowns and Jones was a star on defense.

“This was huge,” Hardy said. “We’ve done a lot of things this year that we haven’t done before.”

Hardy’s big night almost wasn’t enough, because of Price Carlisle’s two-headed quarterback attack as seniors Carlos DeLeon and Matthew Rigdon accounted for 310 yards. Both were typically in the lineup together, usually in shotgun formation with DeLeon mainly lining up at running back. The 5-10, 230-pound Rigdon was a high school version of the NFL’s Ben Roethlisbeger. Rigdon seldom was tackled by the first or even the second tackler as he rushed for 105 yards on 11 carries.

But with the game on the line, Normangee’s unsung defense found a way to stop Rigdon and Carlisle.

“The difference between this year and last year is how hard we run to the ball and how many guys we have around the football,” Sitton said. “That’s really been the difference in our play defensively.”

That was the case late in the third quarter with Normangee clinging to a 20-14 lead and Carlisle driving. Rigdon, who converted a fourth-and-4 with a short pass, faced another fourth-and-4 from the Panthers’ 12-yard line. Two defenders hemmed him in, but he managed to pitch the ball to Jamion Turner, who was gang tackled 3 yards short of the line to gain.

“We had a lot of guys around the football,” Sitton said.

Normangee turned the stop into a 27-14 lead with an eight-play, 89-yard drive. Normangee’s Garrette Douga made a dandy 19-yard touchdown catch. Douga stretched for the ball and appeared close to dropping it out of the back of the end zone, but he gathered it in just before crashing to the ground with 50 seconds left in the third quarter.

Normangee’s defense came up with another fourth-down stop as blitzing linebacker Tyler McAllister tackled DeLeon for a 2-yard loss at the Normangee 18.

“They’ve just made plays. We’ve bent throughout the year,” Sitton said. “That’s been our philosophy, bend but don’t break. It was apparent tonight. We made some huge plays.”

Price Carlisle’s defense came up with a big stop of its own, and it took the Indians only two plays to pull within a score with 6:08 left. DeLeon threw a lateral to Rigdon, who at times lined up in the slot or even at wide receiver. Rigdon heaved a rainbow 42-yard completion to his brother, Griffin Rigdon, then DeLeon skirted the left end from 10 yards on the next play to cut Normangee’s lead to 27-21.

Price Carlisle got the ball back with 3:53 left and covered 70 yards in nine plays. The big play was a 30-yard scramble by Rigdon to the Normangee 10. Normangee caught a break on the next play when Price Carlisle was called for a holding penalty. The Indians, who had to take a pair of timeouts early in the half, opted to let the clock run down to 3 seconds for the fourth-down play.

Rigdon rolled right, drawing defenders. He tried to float the ball to a wide-open Roland, but Jones was too fast.

“We were in a cover-four,” Jones said. “We knew he liked to run it out and just toss the ball up. That’s just a fine man. You shouldn’t let him throw, but when he threw the ball, I just had to go get it. That was a 50-50 ball, and we came out on top and made history.”

Normangee advances to play Beckville (9-3), which ended Hearne’s unbeaten season and prevented an All-Brazos Valley matchup with a 41-38 victory Thursday.

An entertaining first half ended with a pair of touchdowns in the final 90 seconds.

Carlisle tied the game at 14 on an 18-yard run by Rigdon who started around left tackle, but cut back, picking up a couple blocks as he lumbered into the end zone at the pylon with 1:28 left. The four-play, 70-yard drive started with an interception by Normangee’s Denton Young waved off for pass interference. Rigdon added runs of 14 and 8 yards on the drive.

Hardy and Normangee managed the clock well, answering with six-play, 67-yard drive. Hardy worked the sidelines for four completions, reaching the Carlisle 35 with 31 seconds left. Hardy, on third-and-8 and under pressure, threw the ball up for grabs toward the end zone. Young came back toward the ball, making a leaping catch at the 5 with teammate Jones and two defenders within a few yards. Young broke free from Carlisle defensive back Roland, fighting his way into the end zone with 15 seconds left.

NOTES — Beckville finished second in 9-2A, a game ahead of Carlisle, which a 21-point underdog to then 10th-ranked Joaquin but won the bi-district matchup 35-28. Carlisle was a 17-point underdog to Normangee. ... The Rigdons transferred from Richland Springs during the summer.

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