Tommy Mann Jr.
The Port Arthur News
SOUR LAKE —
It was a tale of two halves on Friday night, but the Orangefield Bobcats could not overcome early miscues and the clock in a loss to the Hardin-Jefferson Hawks.
Orangefield fought valiantly to the end, but the Hardin-Jefferson Hawks used a stingy defense and a late fourth quarter fumble recovery to secure a 35-30 victory over the Bobcats in District 21-3A action on Friday night.
Despite having to punt on its first series of the night, luck appeared to be on Orangefield’s side as the Bobcats recovered a fumble by the Hawks punt returner after a big return into Bobcat territory. However, the Bobcats could not move the ball and were forced to punt again.
Hardin-Jefferson took the lead on its first possession after its third offensive play as Logan Thompson scorched the Bobcats defense for a 48-yard blast and 7-0 lead.
The Bobcats were forced to punt on the following possession. A bad snap sailed over the Orangefield punter’s head and was recovered by the Hardin-Jefferson defense at the 2 and carried in for the touchdown and 14-0 lead with 4:11 left in the first quarter.
Orangefield (4-3, 1-2) was unable to get any rhythm going in the first half as the Hawks played smash-mouth defense most of the night, taking the Bobcats best and giving it right back.
Another Bobcats punt was followed by another Hawks touchdown, this time a 31 yard toss to Tanner Jones from quarterback Camden Dubois and a 21-0 lead with less than one minute lapsed in the second quarter.
The Hawks (4-2, 1-1) struck quickly on their next possession as running back Jared Gieske, who had 12 carries for 103 yards, soared by the Orangefield defense for a 51-yard jaunt and 28-0 lead.
Just when it seemed like the game may have been all but over, the Bobcats defense showed some signs of life and took the fight back to the Hawks when the special teams blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety, cutting the deficit to 28-2 at the half.
The second-half started ominously enough, much like the first, as the H-J offense took the opening kick-off and marched the ball downfield and a 1 yard sneak by Dubois and a 35-2 lead, while eating up nearly half of the third quarter.
Whatever spark the Orangefield defense found near the end of the first half, the Bobcats offense turned it into a raging fire and came to life as the unit responded and struck quickly on a 10 yard run by quarterback Carmichael Wiley.
Orangefield held H-J and got the ball back near the end of the third quarter. It a bit of razzle dazzle as the Bobcats used a hook-and-ladder play and a 49 yard gain down to the 1. Wiley rolled left and hit Matthew Watkins in the chest with a bullet for a 10 yard gain.
As quickly as Watkins caught the pass, he flipped the ball back to running back Dylan Gray who was in full stride and outpaced most of the Hawks defense before being caught from behind at the goal line.
Gray punched the ball in for the score a few plays later at the start of the fourth quarter and the Bobcats trailed 35-16.
A gritty Bobcats defense held the Hawks on a fake punt attempt and forced the a three-and-out on its next two possessions and, in response, added two more touchdowns from Carmichael Wiley to cut the Hawks lead to 35-30 with 2:47 remaining.
It seemed Lady Luck was on the Bobcats side once again as the Orangefield defense forced another H-J punt with less than 2 minutes remaining, but a fumble on the Bobcats first play from offense sealed the game and the Hawks victory.
Orangefield will return home for a matchup against the West Orange-Stark Mustangs, while the Hawks will travel to Buna for a pivotal game in the 21-3A playoff race.