AJ Carter woke up Saturday just another senior at Galena Park North Shore.
He’ll go to sleep a Texas high school football legend.
North Shore did the unthinkable with a walk-off, 45-yard Hail Mary from Dematrius Davis to Carter in the corner of the end zone as time expired to stun Duncanville, 41-36, in front of 42,363 in the Class 6A Division I final at AT&T Stadium.
Fitting, in the first year of instant replay at the UIL state championships, the season ended with one.
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The win gives the Mustangs their third state title in as many appearances while the Panthers were in their first final since winning a 24-21 classic over Converse Judson in 1998.
“Proud of the kids,” Duncanville coach Reginald Samples said. “I’d be worse off if they didn’t fight until the end. Who would’ve thought that was going to happen. I’m proud of them.”
Trailing 29-20 at halftime, the Panthers (14-1), ranked No. 5 in 6A, rallied to take the lead with 1:02 to play.
Ja’Quinden Jackson, the No. 2 ranked 2020 ATH in the nation, scored on a 5-yard touchdown run to cap off a 9-play, 85-yard drive that lasted over four minutes to give his team a 36-35 advantage. He rushed for 226 yards.
“If they had quit after the second half, I would’ve felt bad, but they fought,” Samples said. “It was a great season. It was a one-play season, that was the game. It’s not the first time you’ve seen that, you see it in all levels.
“We played great all year long. Character doesn’t quit. We watched Longview come back and felt like we could do the same.”
Both teams came into the night with two of the better defenses in the state, and it was Duncanville that committed the first mistake just one play into the game.
Jordan Revels, who was voted Defensive MVP, body-slammed a Duncanville player that forced a fumble and the ball bounced right into Ashton Reynolds’ hands as he walked in for a 9-yard touchdown.
The Panthers countered with an 8-play drive but only got a 33-yard field goal from Victor Escalona with 8:18 on the clock.
Duncanville, which allowed 6.9 points per game, forced a three-and-out and capitalized with an 82-yard drive that lasted 90 seconds. Trysten Smith rumbled in from the 19 to give the Panthers their first lead, 10-7, with 5:44 left in the first quarter.
North Shore (16-0), No. 2 in 6A, then displayed the Dematrius Davis-Shadrach Banks show. The two connected on 51 and 80-yard touchdowns to help the Mustangs regain the lead at 15-10 and 22-17, the latter ending the opening period.
Smith added his second TD run, from the 7, between the two scores with 29 seconds left in the quarter.
Escalona nailed a 36-yard field goal to get the Panthers within 22-20 in the second, but Davis hit a wide-open John Gentry for a 33-yard TD and 29-20 lead 4:42 left in the first half, which the Mustangs took into intermission.
After a scoreless third quarter, Escalona nailed a 35-yard field goal and Smith scored his third and final TD from 52 yards to push Duncanville ahead 30-29 with 9:42 to play. Smith rushed for 152 yards.
Davis, who was voted Offensive MVP, threw an 8-yard TD to Revels to give North Shore a 35-30 lead midway through the fourth. Davis finished with 333 yards passing, good for fifth all-time in 6A title game history, and a 6A state game record tying 5 TDs.
“I knew he was going to catch it because he’s just long. AJ is 6-3,” the sophomore QB said of the game winner. “I just knew he was going to catch it. It’s a blessing to be one of the best teams in the nation. I just owe it all to my team. None of this is me. It’s my O line, my receivers, it’s all them.”
The attendance this week was 228,105 for all 12 games combined, which is about 15,000 more than last year’s finals.