While the dejection and disappointment is still culpable, the St. Pius X football team and its fans must know what a great season the team had.
The Panthers came up a point short last Saturday night in their efforts to win a Division I TAPPS football state championship, falling 42-41 to Plano Prestonwood Christian at Midway Panther Stadium in Waco. But while the loss was a tough one, it was really the only speed bump on a magnificent journey that saw them make not only major local headlines but also national ones.
For this great team (and they truly were a great team), it started back in late August with Hurricane Harvey forcing the postponement of their first two games. But even Mother Nature really didn’t slow them down because once head coach Stephen Hill’s team got on the field in College Station in Week Three, they never took their foot off the gas until the final whistle in Waco.
The orange-and-white whipped the Tigers, 58-41, that evening and that same College Station team is alive and well and still playing this week in the 5A Division 2 state semifinals against McCallum after the Tigers won their Region III championship last Friday night with a 49-47 victory over Fort Bend Marshall.
While scoring nearly 60 points a game with their high-powered offense and all of its Division I college prospects was turning heads, the St. Pius X program started garnering national attention the final weeks of the regular season when first wide receiver Jalen ‘Boobie’ Curry caught 28 passes in one game to tie a state record for passes caught in one game. Then, there was a lot of national attention a couple of weeks later as the football stadium was renamed after former player and 1979 graduate Gary Kubiak. Just less than two years ago, Kubiak, who played in the NFL for 12 years and coached the Houston Texans for nearly nine years, led the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl championship.
Then the Panthers took out former nemesis Dallas Bishop Dunne in the third round of the TAPPS Division I playoffs to find itself in the state championship game for the first time in 10 years.
And what a wild back-and-forth state title game it was.
The Panthers held a 41-23 lead over Plano Prestonwood late in the third period before the team from the Metroplex scored the game’s final 19 points to rally for the win that gave them the state trophy.
St. Pius X held the lead at every break except the final one. The TAPPS District 3 champs led 7-3 after the first quarter and 28-23 at halftime before the Panthers scored the first 13 points of the third period to push their advantage to 18. From there, the Lions scored two touchdowns in the last four minutes of the third period to cut the Panthers’ lead to 41-36 to start the dramatic fourth quarter.
After both teams exchanged possessions to start the fourth, Prestonwood took its first lead since the second period with just over seven minutes to play on an 11-yard touchdown run.
With a chance to retake the lead, the Panthers turned the ball over on their next ownership. But Prestonwood couldn’t build on its lead when the Lions’ 35-yard field goal attempt with just under five minutes to play bounced off the post. From there, St. Pius X drove for a potential game-winning score, but a 40-yard field goal attempt for the lead came up just short with exactly 3:31 showing on the clock.
Taking over of offense, Prestonwood was too able to run out the clock from there by converting a couple of big first downs, including an eight-yard run on a third-and-seven with less just over a minute left that allowed Prestonwood to seal the deal.
St. Pius X quarterback Grant Gunnell finished the game with 486 yards passing. He also threw five touchdown passes to four different receivers and ran for another to account for all six of the Lions’ TDs. Chase Lane had an 80-yard catch-and-run to start the game’s scoring and Curry later in the first half had an 83-yard touchdown catch as the Panthers were making the big play through the air. Senior Jacob Jefferson caught two other scoring passes while Trenton Waggoner had a 31-yard scoring reception for Gunnell’s fifth and final one of the night.
St. Pius X finished 10-2 on the season.