STORY BY: JORDAN MESEROLE
BRYAN – A stand on fourth down with 30 seconds left in the game was all that stood between the Rudder Rangers and victory on Friday night at Merrill Green Stadium in Bryan.
But the C.E. King Panthers couldn’t be stopped from tying up the game in the fourth quarter, ultimately pushing the matchup into three overtimes, where the Panthers finally finished off the Rangers 22-16 in a game that lasted three hours and thirty minutes.
Rudder’s offense for the most part had trouble getting into a rhythm for the second week in a row, tallying up only 45 yards of offense in the first half, and finished the night with only six first downs.
Rudder’s troubles started early in the game, as a bad snap to senior punter Austin Baron in the first quarter of the game forced him to make a hasty scramble deep in his own end zone, who was unable to prevent the safety as he was dragged down behind the goal line.
On the ensuing possession, C.E. King marched 40 yards down the field, and capped the short drive off with a five-yard touchdown run by senior receiver Barnard Mackey, pushing the Panther’s lead to 9-0.
Rudder would finally hit the score board in the second quarter, after forcing C.E. King to punt on a three-and-out situation. Rudder’s Baron took the punt 51-yards down the sideline to the end zone, cutting the Panther’s gap to 9-7.
Both offenses sputtered coming out of the locker room after halftime, facing a tough defensive front and mishandling many snaps. Each team botched a minimum six snaps on the night, with Rudder coming away with two of those fumble recoveries and C.E. King with one on their side.
Rudder’s offense would wake up in the fourth quarter, when just seconds into the last quarter Rudder senior receiver and backup quarterback Brendan Steptoe broke many tackles to run 32 yards into the end zone. Steptoe finished the night with 66 yards on 14 carries. A missed point-after by Baron gave Rudder the 13-7 advantage.
Baron would make up for the mistake on the next possession by nailing a 20-yard field goal with 6:27 in the game to push Rudder’s lead to seven points at 16-9.
Rudder’s defense looked like it was going to force C.E. King to hand the ball back over with just minutes left in the game, but C.E. King junior quarterback John Portillo converted on a long fourth down play by connecting on a 25-yard pass to junior wide receiver Carlos Smith.
Faced again with another fourth down disadvantage on the same drive, Portillo connected on an eight-yard touchdown pass to wideout Mackey to tie the game up 16-16 in the fourth quarter with only 27 seconds remaining on the clock.
Portillo finished the night with 243 passing yards on 18 completions and two touchdown passes.
The overtime looked to be favoring Rudder, as senior linebacker Kenjuan Kelley made a big fourth down sack in the first OT, forcing the turnover on downs. And in the second OT, senior Trent Mitchell recovered a botched snap to Portillo, giving Rudder another shot at the end zone.
However a 26-yard field goal attempt by Baron in the second OT was blocked by a diving C.E. King senior Joele Norman.
One the next possession for the Panthers in the third OT, Portillo connected with Smith for a 14-yard touchdown pass, to push the lead to 22-16, and is where the score remained after a three-and-out by Rudder on their next possession.
The loss dropped the Rangers to 1-2-1 as they prepare to enter district play next Friday night against Hutto.