Time almost seemed to stop for Hays Rebel senior linebacker Coleman Johnson Friday as he prepared to deliver the biggest tackle of his career to date.
By virtue of a blind side blast to Dripping Springs Tiger quarterback Preston Alford late in the fourth frame, Johnson forced a game-ending turnover that sealed a wild 22-21 Rebel comeback win. The victory marked the second time in as many years Hays used key fourth quarter plays to edge Dripping Springs by a point.
For Johnson, who after three years is now getting his chance to play on the varsity stage, it was all a moment to relish.
“I’ve been on varsity for three years now and I’m finally able to play,” Johnson said. “To be able to be in that position and make a play like that, it’s awesome to do.”
Defense was a primary component Hays (2-0) used to orchestrate a furious fourth quarter rally.
Dripping Springs (1-1) led 21-10 after three frames, but the Rebels tallied 12 unanswered fourth quarter points to score the victory.
Hays head coach Les Goad said “winning the fourth quarter” was key to the comeback. Goad lauded the Rebel defense which pitched a shutout in the first and final quarters of the contest.
Limiting the output from Alford, who rushed for 96 yards and two third quarter touchdowns, was essential for success in the final few minutes.
“I’m so proud of the perseverance,” Goad said. “I’m so proud of these guys.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Goad said the Rebels overcame not only a formidable Tiger defense, but also self-inflicted wounds that limited success.
Hays was limited to 57 total yards of offense in the first half. Tiger head coach Galen Zimmerman said he was proud of the effort from his team, but added Hays “made a couple of plays” down the stretch.
“I didn’t feel like it was us giving them anything. They made a few plays that we needed to do at the end,” Zimmerman said.
Dripping Springs (1-1) took advantage of early Rebel struggles on offense to take a 7-3 halftime advantage. It was highlighted by an interception returned for a touchdown by Tiger lineman Liam Dahl.
Dripping Springs outscored Hays 14-7 in the third quarter, aided by a pair of touchdown runs from Alford.
Momentum shifted early in the fourth frame when Rebel quarterback Durand Hill tossed a 27-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Bryant Lewis, which cut the Tiger lead to 21-16.
Five minutes later, Hays running back Xavier Green punched in a 13-yard go-ahead touchdown run that gave the Rebels a 22-21 advantage with just under three minutes to go.
In between those events was a Rebel defense that kept Alford and the Tiger offense in check. Hays forced back-to-back punts, followed by Johnson’s turnover in the final minute to seal the deal.
“It was a great battle between two good programs. We’re proud and happy to come out on top again,” Goad said.
With a week off before district play begins with a Sept. 19 road trip against Anderson at Nelson Field, Goad said focusing on “getting things we need to get better at” will be priority.
Johnson said starting 2-0 for the second straight year was exciting.
“We feel stronger than we do last year. We’re not as big,” Johnson said. “We’re kids compared to our team last year, we fly around and we do our job.”