For the first time since 1993, the still-undefeated Haltom Buffalos are advancing to the regional round of the Texas high school football playoffs after the Buffalo defense stepped up big in the second half of a 42-27 Class 6A Division II victory over perennial power Midland Lee on Saturday at Wildcat Stadium.
The Buffalo (11-0) defense held the explosive Rebels (9-3) out of the end zone on seven consecutive second-half possessions, then put the game away with a late fumble-sack and a 41-yard interception return by Keyon Shannon for a clinching touchdown.
“We told our defense they would be a little undersized, but they got after it,” Haltom head coach Jason Tucker said during the post-game celebration. “We told them they’d have to start making plays and not only did they show up late, they showed up the entire second half.”
With the score tied 27-27 at halftime, the Buffalos got the only second-half score they would need as Decorian Mitchell broke free for his third touchdown catch of the game, scampering 39 yards with a pass from Michael Black. Kenneth Cormier then slipped in for the two-point conversion to give Haltom a 35-27 advantage, setting the stage for the second-half defensive stand.
The score mattered because Mitchell and the Buffalos had cashed in a game-tying touchdown on the final play of the first half on a 75-yard catch-and-run to overcome a 27-21 Midland Lee lead. A pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties took them out of range for the extra point.
The two teams combined for 871 yards of offense, but points were at a premium after the first half — especially with the way the Haltom defense was playing. After halftime, Lee had possessions end twice with punts, four times on downs and then with a Justo Perez sack/fumble and the Shannon interception as the Rebels tried desperately to score a potential game-tying touchdown and conversion late in the game.
After the Rebels opened the game with a 54-yard touchdown run by running back Josh Traylor, the Buffalos countered immediately with a 58-yard scoring pass to Julian Johnson. Before the first quarter was over, the two teams had each scored again, but Haltom held a slim 14-13 lead after a missed extra point.
Lee retook the lead midway through the second period, but Mitchell showed his strength, yanking loose a ball from a defender and racing 46 yards to give Haltom a 21-20 lead. The Rebels then punched in the go-ahead score with just :30 left before the break, but the Buffalos got the wild Mitchell play as time expired to tie the score.
“This is a great group to coach,” Tucker said. “I don’t have to worry about motivating them much at all because they love football.”
Informed that the Buffalos had only advanced once to the third round of the playoffs in the history of the school, Tucker wrapped it up by saying, “Well, I guess we’ll have to set some new goals now.”
The game was over when: With Midland Lee needing just one touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game late, Haltom’s Keyon Shannon grabbed a bobbled reception and raced 41 yards to put the Buffalos up by 15 with just minutes left.
Play of the game: A third-down sack/fumble by linebacker Justo Perez stopped the Rebels at the Haltom 30 that was recovered by Gavon Lane.
Offensive player of the game: Haltom quarterback Michael Black couldn’t find much room to run, but completed 16-of-28 passes for 346 yards and four touchdowns. Receiver Decorian Mitchell grabbed five for 173 yards and three of the scores.
Defensive player of the game: Linebacker Justo Perez, who made multiple key stops, including at least two sacks.
What’s next? The undefeated Buffalos move to the regional round of the playoffs for only the second time in school history and will meet Hebron at a site and time to be determined.