MIDLOTHIAN — It couldn’t happen again, could it?
It nearly did.
Actually, Part II of the “Greatest High School Game Ever Played” featured a similar finish to the first one held in 1994.
Eighteen years ago at Texas Stadium, John Tyler and Plano East gave the sporting universe the ultimate tale of comeback glory. Plano East erased a seemingly insurmountable Lions margin in the final minutes of its playoff game by scoring and recovering onside kicks to come back and take the lead. Only for JT to return the ensuing kickoff back the other way for the game-winning touchdown en route to a state title.
On Friday in the Class 4A Division I state semifinals at Midlothian Multi-Purpose Stadium, the shoe ended up on the other foot.
John Tyler rallied from 19 points down in the final 6:51 to take the lead 53-50 with 3:44 remaining. Denton Guyer had enough time to respond, however, and did just that with Richard Whitaker scoring from 18 yards out for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.
JT had one final chance to answer back, but an interception denied the Lions and gave Guyer a 57-53 state semifinal victory.
“That was a perfect example of never quit, never die; never laying down and never knowing that you can’t win a game,” said JT coach Ricklan Holmes. “We put ourselves back into a position to win the game and we came up short and ran out of time.”
Many of the JT players remember the Lions historic comeback against PEHS; Denton Guyer head coach John Walsh certainly remembers and thought he could be witnessing a similar deal as he saw a double-digit lead evaporate in a matter of minutes.
“I read about that game, and I admit it did come to my mind, but we just refused to let it happen,” Walsh said. “We knew if we could ever get the ball back, we could ice the thing. We left too much time on the clock and we knew they could score in bunches, but the defense came up with key interceptions.”
The game featured more than 1,300 yards of total offense and one- and two-play scoring drives as Guyer ran the ball at will while John Tyler passed the ball at will.
It looked for all the world like Guyer had built up enough of a cushion to see the game out when Whitaker scored on a 21-yard run to make it 43-24 with 6:51 remaining.
Some of the Cujo faithful began heading for the exits and an early start on the trip back to the Rose City, but Greg Ward and Justice Liggins had no intentions of calling it a night. On first down, Ward connected with Liggins across the middle and the senior receiver did the rest, racing for a 65-yard touchdown.
Guyer fired right back with a 39-yard scoring run from D.J. Breedlove to once again establish an 18-point advantage.
Then craziness ensued.
Ward led JT down for another touchdown, this time on an 8-yard pass to Fred Ross. JT’s Tyus Bowser then recovered the onside kick and Ward made it count, connecting with DeQuante Woods for a 34-yard scoring strike to make it 50-45 with 4:44 remaining.
Another onside kick and another recovery — this time by Ross.
A stunned Guyer seemed disbelieving while JT powered down to the goal line. Bowser bulldozed in from a yard out to give JT the lead and he followed up with a two-point conversion to make it 53-50 Lions with 3:44 left.
But Guyer and, more importantly, quarterback Jerrod Heard had one final chance.
JT did not kick an onside kick, relying on its defense to stop the Wildcats. On third-and-9, Heard willed his way for a 12-yard gain and continued to pilot Guyer down inside JT’s 20 before Whitaker scored to put Guyer back in front.
The Lions still had a chance for the final reply, but an interception ultimately proved too much for JT to overcome.
“They expected to go down and score and Greg forced a throw down the middle of the field and it was probably one of those we wish we could take back,” Holmes said.
Terence Belton leapt and made his second interception of the game. All Guyer had to do was hold onto the ball and run out the remaining minute or so to achieve victory in a game Walsh admits he will never forget.
“I’ve been in a lot of big games the last five years; the semifinals last year we won on the last play,” Walsh said. “This one will rank right up there.”