HOUSTON - Beneath the domed roof of what is called the "Eight Wonder of the World," the Longview Lobos put on an equally wondrous defensive performance to capture a 14-7 Class 5A area playoff victory over Conroe McCullough here Saturday.
The Longview defense account for a touchdown and repelled several McCullough scoring opportunities from close range in the second half as the Lobos improved their record to 9-2-1 and advanced to the regional round of the state playoffs.
And in the process, the Lobos repeated some history. Eleven years ago, Longview won its second round playoff game here in the Astrodome. In that contest, the Lobos used some late defensive heroics to defeat Conroe 14-13.
Longview will now face Highland Park Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Texas Stadium. Conroe McCullough completes it season with an 8-3-1 mark.
But the Highlanders, runners-up in District 15-5A, provided a season's worth of suspense before bowing out of the playoffs.
Longview, which led 8-7 at the half on the strength of Jimmy Smith's 2-yard touchdown run and a bizarre safety on the ensuing kickoff, appeared ready to seal the victory with 3:12 remaining in the third period.
Blitzing linebacker Jeff Smitherman applied tremendous pressure to McCullough quarterback Shawn McConnell, who dumped the ball to avoid the sack.
Just one problem, McConnell dumped the ball right into the chest of oncoming defensive end Alonzo Adams, who held onto the ball and rambled 25 yards for the touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
"I just was making my pass rush and I looked up and the ball was coming. I was shocked," Adams exclaimed.
Not as shocked as Smitherman, who leaped to his feet to celebrate a sack only to see Adams racing across the goal line.
"I got up and I saw Alonzo running beside me. He was gone," Smitherman said. "I thought I sacked him (McConnell). I didn't see him throw it."
What Smitherman and the Lobos did see was an opportunity to knock out a reeling opponent. Longview held a 4-1 penetration advance so the Lobos weren't worried about a tie.
But the worries returned when David Hill missed the extra point, giving the Highlanders a chance. A touchdown and a two point conversion would've provided the winning margin.
However, Longview's defense, which was in the middle of its best showing of the year, refused to allow this game to slip away.
The Lobos limited to McCullough to 81 yards rushing, forced five turnovers (three fumbles, two interceptions) and sacked McConnell five times for 37 yards in losses. But most importantly, Longview kept the Highlanders out of the end zone.
"We played super. Really well," gushed coach Doug Cox. "Whatever we had to do, we did."
What they had to do was stop McCullough's final three drives. They did, but not without some tense moments.
McCullough responded to Adams' touchdown with a drive which reached the Lobo 27.
That marched ended when 6'5, 301-pound junior defensive tackle Chris Fuller blew through the line to sack McConnell for a 9-yard loss on fourth down.
McCullough, though, was threatening again just moments later when Longview gambled, and failed, on a fourth-and-inches try from midfield.
Smith was stopped short and the Highlanders had the momentum.
"If we would've gotten it (the first down) it would've been a great call," said Cox.
Instead, the Highlanders marched to a second-and-goal at the Lobo 5-yard line.
On second down McConnell fired an apparent touchdown pass to Mark Peters, but the ball ricocheted off the tight end and fell harmlessly to the ground.
Darius Jones stopped Mike Garrett for no gain on third down and on fourth down Smith, blitzing from weak side linebacker, swooped down on McConnell from the blindside, forcing a fumble which Terry Williams recovered.
"I knew I was going to get him," said Smith, who is a sprinter on the Lobos' track team. "I was faster than he was and he took too much time."
Smith almost went rom hero to zero, however.
He fumbled a few plays later and the ball bounced back 14 yards to the Longview 27 before Kirt Griffin pouched on it just ahead of several McCullough defenders.
"I just said 'get it Griff, get it," said Smith.
McCullough had one last shot with 1:54 remaining after Mike Bobo's punt gave the Highlanders possession at their won 29.
But cornerback John Reedy intercepted McConnell's pass for Andy Taylor, who caught six for 112 yards, and Longview was headed for regional.
"They had been running that same play all night and I decided to squeeze it," offered Reedy. "I went to work on it and squeezed that rascal."
Ironically, it didn't appear Longview's defense would be the difference early.
McCullough opened the game with an 11-play, 71-yard scoring drive which was capped by Garrett's 6-yard touchdown scamper and Brad Hurley's extra point.
But the trend changed on McCullough's next possession when Taylor fumbled at the end of a 31-yard pass completion and Carwyn Richardson recovered at the Longview 44.
The Lobos got not he scoreboard early in the second quarter as Griffin scrambled and passed the Lobos into scoring position. Smith's 2-yard run completed the drive with 7:38 showing for a 7-6 score.
The Lobos missed a chance to tie when Hill's extra point was partially blocked, but seconds later they had the lead on a weird play.
Garrett fumbled the kickoff and dashed into the end zone asking for a touchback. But when his knee touched the referee signaled a safety and Longview had an 8-7 lead it wouldn't relinquish.