TYLER - Heartache and pride.
Twenty-one unanswered points by Longview in the second half had the pride swelling on the visitor's side of Rose Stadium. Unfortunately, heartache prevailed as a field goal in the closing seconds lifted Lufkin to a 24-21 victory in Saturday's Class 5A Division II state quarterfinal between the two District 11-5A rivals.
Before an overflowing, standing room-only crowd of some 15,000, the defending state champion Panthers jumped out to a 14-0 halftime advantage - only to see Longview battle back behind their all-everything quarterback Joel Armstrong to take a 21-14 lead with eight minutes to play.
"I kept saying how important it was for us to put four quarters together, and I thought our defensive unit in the first half played absolutely fantastic. I thought our offensive unit did the same thing in the second half. What we were trying to do was find the right combination to pull it all together," said Lobo head coach Pat Collins.
"The players have done so much, and they've worked so hard. I just hate to see them have a loss like that. That just hurts all the way down to the bone."
Just two years ago, the Lobos finished 3-7 in Collins' first year at Longview High School. Senior plays like Armstrong, LaRandall McKind and Alex Cammack were part of that first team.
Longview finishes the season at 10-4, while Lufkin moves onto the state semifinals at 12-2. The Panthers defeated the Lobos for the third time this season, but this was by far the toughest game. Lufkin is now 27-3 over the last two years.
Armstrong rallied the Lobos with 124 yards passing on 6 of 12 completions and two touchdowns , and with 100 yards rushing on 14 carries and a touchdown.
With a 6-yard option carry, where he faked the pitch to the right and then ran to the left side for a touchdown with 8:03 remaining, Armstrong put the Lobos ahead for the first time. Cammack tacked on the extra point.
The 80-yard, 11-play drive was reminiscent of Longview's game-winning drive in its regional semifinal victory over Spring the previous week. Armstrong picked up 42 yards on three carries during the series, including a 33-yard run that set up a first-and-goal at the Lufkin 10. Runs by Fred Hawkins and Chris Jones gained just four yards, before Armstrong pulled the trigged for his 17th rushing touchdown of the season.
"We really came together and played our best I thought," said Armstrong, who threw touchdowns passes for 11 yards to Tate Casey and 54 yards to Rogers Taylor in the third quarter to tie the game at 14-all. "They were just a better team and they beat us.
"We knew we were beating ourselves at first. We were stopping them, but we just couldn't make it happen. Once we got it all working together, things were working out for us."
McKind helped set up the Lobos first touchdown as he intercepted Lufkin quarterback Terrance Parks for the second time in the game. The senior cornerback's pick came on the Panthers' opening possession of the second half. He returned the ball 27 yards to the Lufkin 10, setting up first-and-goal.
Armstrong was sacked for a 1-yard loss, and Casey dropped a pass in the end zone on second down. However, Armstrong went right back to the 6'7 junior tight end for the six points while scrambling to his left.
Longview would call upon its defense to hold the Panthers numerous times. The Lobo unit had forced the ball over on downs at its four-yard line, had McKind intercept a pass in the back of the end zone with Lufkin driving late in the first half, and then forced a punt after the offense gave the ball back to the Panthers following the touchdown.
A holding penalty on Lufkin, and three incompletions by Parks resulted in the Panthers having to punt the ball a second straight time back to Longview. Lufkin did not attempt a punt in the first half.
Hale's punt went off the right side of his foot for a 15-yard boot. Taking over at their own 39, Armstrong picked up 7 yards on first down, and then hit Taylor in stride over the middle for a 54-yard catch-and-run touchdown with 5:46 to play in the third quarter.
The comeback was on.
"Joel's a warrior," said Casey, who caught three passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. "He's one of the toughest quarterbacks I've had to play either against or for. He's one of the toughest guys I've ever seen and I give him all the respect in the world."
However, Parks wasn't done, rallying the Panthers for the game's finale 10 points after Longview appeared on the verge of ending Lufkin's reign as state champs. He finished the game with 166 yards passing on 19 of 32 attempts and one touchdown - he was 8 of 9 for 86 yards in the two closing drives - and he led the Panthers on the ground with 70 yards in 13 carries.
Parks directed a 79-yard, seven-play drive, connecting on a perfect 4-for-4 passing for 56 yards, then pitching the ball on the option to Brian Rogers for a 17-yard touchdown run with 5:40 still left on the game clock.
Longview got the ball back with 5:29 remaining, picked up a first down, but couldn't convert on third-and-three at its own 34. The Lobos punted away and Lufkin began the final drive from its own 33, with 1:33 to play.
Panther receiver and school record-holder Quentin Holman, who caught just three passes, picked up 11 yards on a reverse to near midfield. Terrance Mott move the ball into Lobo territory with a 10-yard reception, then Parks ran three consecutive plays for 33 yards, setting up Hale's 27-yard game winning kick. The conversion came with five seconds to play, and redeemed the Panther placekicker who had earlier missed on a 37-yarder in the first quarter.
"We got some big stops and big turnovers, probably used up a pretty good bit of gas early in the game," said Lobo defensive coordinator John Berry. "I thought the defense was laying it on the line. To give up 10 points in the fourth like that was pretty tough. If we could have done something there we could have pulled off the win.
"But they laid it on the line today, they left everything on the field. We were maybe just a little short at the end. But, you got to give it to Lufkin too. They've got a heck of a good football team."
Lufkin scored both of its first half touchdowns in the second quarter. Armstrong's lone interception resulted in a 41-yard, seven-play drive for the Panthers, who Jorvorskie Lane going the final 6 yards with 10:06 showing. Parks also got the Lobos to jump offsides on a fourth-and-two play, resulting in a first down.
One series later, after a botched fake punt attempt by Longview, where McKind was tackled for a loss, Parks hit Lane with a pass at the goal line for the second Panther touchdown.
The Lobos' deepest drive of the first half was to the Lufkin 32, but a busted play resulted in a sack of Armstrong and the ball being turned over on downs.