Football rattles Rattlers

The 24-20 playoff win was their first since 2017

Noah+Flores+prepares+for+a+snap.+Flores+made+plenty+of+key+contributions+to+Friday%27s+24-20+win%2C+including+an+interception+and+long+punt+return.

Tim Tschoepe

Noah Flores prepares for a snap. Flores made plenty of key contributions to Friday’s 24-20 win, including an interception and long punt return.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

Football rallied back from a 20-3 halftime deficit Friday to beat Reagan, 24-20, in their bi-district playoff game. They’ll move on to the area round and defending state champion Austin Westlake on Dec. 18.

The Rangers struck first, on a 35-yard Austin Hosier field goal following a long drive that saw six different players record touches. It was their first and last first-half drive to reach Reagan territory, save for a last-minute-of-the-2nd-quarter desperation charge against the Rattlers’ prevent defense.

The Rattlers immediately punched back, as quarterback Britton Moore found sophomore wideout Derrick Bohler behind the secondary, and he ran the rest of the way for a 91-yard touchdown. 

On their first drive of the second quarter, Reagan scored again, this time on a 44-yard clinic of a rush by sophomore running back Carson Green, who finished the game with 20 carries, 136 carries and (spoiler alert) 2 touchdowns. 

But their special teams unit, typically the model of consistency, allowed defensive end Trey Moore to burst through the line and block Nick Hernandez’s kick. It was his first missed extra point of the season, and left the score at 13-3.

The Rangers hoped to narrow the lead on their next drive, but wide receiver Maverick Freeland bobbled a screen pass, which Rattler defensive back Bryce Hamilton nabbed and returned to the Smithson Valley 19-yard line.

The defense forced a three-and-out, and Hernandez uncharacteristically missed his second straight attempt, shanking it low and left from 37 yards out. The Reagan kicking game had left four points on the board, but they still led, 13-3.

On their next drive, Green carried the offense down the field, toting the rock on seven of nine plays for 55 yards and his second touchdown. Hernandez got his mojo back, and his extra point extended the lead to 20-3 with just over a minute to play in the first half.

Smithson Valley head coach Larry Hill, who appeared frustrated with the game clock manager the entire game, managed to get six seconds tacked on to his team’s final drive of the half. Quarterback Jalen Nutt’s 42-yard desperation heave fell incomplete, however, and the Rangers headed to the locker room with a 20-3 deficit.

But they burst back out the gates with confidence. Nutt used his legs to convert on two fourth downs, and again on a 4-yard touchdown run, to extend the second half’s opening drive to 79 yards and eight minutes.

Meanwhile, as Smithson Valley blew the hinges clean off their gate, Reagan struggled to open theirs (metaphorically, of course). They burned a timeout to avoid a delay of game on their first offensive snap after halftime, and Moore tossed an interception a few plays later. The opportunistic David DeHoyos returned said interception for a touchdown, narrowing a 17-point gap to just three points in just under 10 minutes.

But the Rangers weren’t done. Early in the fourth quarter, they leveraged prime field position (cornerback Noah Flores returned a Rattler punt to the Reagan 22-yard line) and poor officiating (an accidental first down by way of the chains being moved after a 7-yard gain on 1st-and-10; a 3-yard penalty for illegal shift rather than the textbook five yards) to hand the ball off to running back Gabe Hoskins, whose goal line-clearing sweep flipped the lead the Rangers’ way for the first time since the first quarter. 

The Rattlers responded to the adversity by throwing a second pick, again snagged by DeHoyos, who out-tracked a Reagan wide receiver for the deep interception.

Reagan’s defense became the fourth team this season to force four Ranger punts in a game, but the offense they were handing off to was in a major funk – the unit gained just five net yards in their first four second-half drives, throwing two interceptions in that time.

The offense managed to nearly quintuple their prior second-half yardage output in four plays, totaling a net 24 yards gained. But after a wide-open drop by Bohler deep down the field set up 3rd-and-10, Moore slung the ball deep. Flores read the ball perfectly and jumped the route, then returned the ball to the Reagan 15-yard line. It was Moore’s third interception of the night.

With 2:52 to play and Reagan’s timeouts already squandered, the game appeared all but over. But the defense held firm for three plays, and rather than take a chip shot field goal on 4th-and-4 to go up seven points with 40 seconds left, the Rangers attempted their third fourth down conversion of the game.

Sack.

For the first time in three attempts, the Rangers had failed to convert on fourth down. And now, that failure gave a four-point game to a Rattler offense that gained double-digit yards 10 different times in the first half – and zero times to that point in the second half.

Unfortunately for Reagan, it was their second-half offense that took the field yet again. Their biggest play of the game was a hook-and-ladder attempt on the game’s final play … but Ranger linebacker Malachi Lane caught the final lateral as the clock expired.

It was a tale of two halves Friday night. In the first, Reagan displayed everything formidable about them – namely, their explosive offense. In the second, Smithson Valley showed off their own strength: a defense that forced four turnovers, held the Rattlers under 60 total yards and scored a touchdown.

The Rangers will continue their playoff journey at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 18 against defending 6A Division 2 champion Austin Westlake. The game will be hosted at Pflugerville’s The Pfield.