A cruel end to a football season chocked full of highlights was handed to Fossil Ridge last weekend.
The Panthers ended one of their most successful seasons Saturday at Apogee Stadium in Denton after an improbable turn of momentum sent them into defeat against Denton Ryan, 42-37.
Fossil Ridge had relinquished a seemingly meaningless score to Ryan with less than 10 seconds left in the first half to go in at the half with a comfortable 31-7 lead.
Maybe it was too comfortable.
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Without worrying about the ifs and buts of the Class 5A Division II Regional playoff game loss, the Panthers may some day be able to realize the achievements they earned.
Finishing the season at 9-4, Fossil Ridge repeatedly showed they possessed one of the area’s top defenses. The final game excluded, the Panthers defense was holding opponents to an average of just over 13 points a game.
The defense saw outstanding play from players such as Lee Sudduth, Anthony Villalobos, Charles Walker, Austin Ingraham, Bryce Hines, Matthew Loyd, Nick Foster, Orhan Jumerovski and others.
The 42 points given up to Ryan seemed an impossibility, if not surreal.
Fossil Ridge head coach Tony Baccarini said, “The most we lost by all season was six. [The] total difference in losses was 16 points.”
Offensively, the Panthers seemed to feed off the tone set by the defense.
After the defense had held Ryan to no first downs in the first half, the offense couldn’t convert first downs of their own in the second half.
Quarterback Jacob Gnacinski returned to pick up where he left off last year in developing as a talented operator of the offense. He threw for over 2,900 yards, 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Ryan Parker became a big-play threat, scoring 19 touchdowns, and Keshawn Mitchell became another threat for defenders to contend with.
Special teams became a solid contributor to their facets of the game and kicker Cody Seidel had 11 field goals on the season.
In an interview with the Star-Telegram following the loss to Ryan, Baccarini said, “I’m extremely proud of all we accomplished this season. We were picked fifth in district and to do what we did with these seniors speaks volumes of them.”
Fossil Ridge bounced back this year after finishing just 3-7 last year.
The senior class also endured a freshman campaign of 2-8 and a sophomore record of 6-5, their only other winning season.
The whole team, though, was led to perform as a group, and the emergence of any individual stars was never promoted.
Baccarini continually heaped praises on his troops as full units and commented on individual accomplishments only as a warranted acknowledgment.
“I am very proud of our players and staff,” he said.
Whether the Panthers can repeat their success next year is far from known. What can be stated for sure, though, is that the 2013 Fossil Ridge team had accomplished much. Discussions will undoubtedly continue as to how much farther they might have gone, “if only.”