By Phillip Higginbotham
The La Vernia Bears were eliminated in the first round of playoffs with a 49-28 loss to the La Grulla Gators on Saturday night in Alice.
The Bears qualified for the final playoff berth in District 15-4A, despite a 2-8 record through the regular season (2-3 in district play). La Grulla came into Alice as District 26-4A champs, with a 6-4 regular season record (4-0 in district play).
La Vernia took the opening kickoff down the field with seven plays and scored quickly, with a balanced running game that saw four different players carry the ball. Senior John Hernandez took the ball 10 yards into the end zone, and the Bears led 7-0 with 7:07 left in the first quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Gators fumbled the return, and the Bears recovered on the 7-yard line. Sophomore Clayton Chadwick took the ball into the end zone on the very next play. Only 16 seconds after scoring their first touchdown, La Vernia led 14-0.
The Bears forced a punt on the next Gator drive, but a La Vernia fumble gave La Grulla a good field position on the 19-yard line. The Gators took advantage of La Vernia’s misstep and cut their lead to 14-7 two plays later.
The Bears once again moved the ball right down the field, and junior Derrik Barnhardt broke into a 34-yard run on the final play of the first quarter, continuing into the end zone to take a 21-7 lead into the second quarter.
La Grulla opened the second quarter with a quick possession and punted the ball back to the Bears. Nine plays later, junior Parker Beck pounded the ball in from the 11-yard line, and the Bears took a 28-7 lead with 5:20 left in the first half.
The Gators found traction on offense in the next series of plays, taking the ball 65 yards in four plays to score their second touchdown and cut into La Vernia’s lead, 28-14. The Bears’ next possession started with two false start penalties, leaving them 20 yards to cover to get a first down. When the offense stalled, La Vernia set up for a punt. A bad snap sailed into the end zone, where sophomore Zachary Scott attempted to get the ball out. The La Grulla defenders dragged Scott down in the end zone by his facemask. By rule, the Bears should have been awarded 15 yards and a first down, but a miscommunication by the officials ended up awarding the safety to the Gators, making the score 28-16 to end the half.
La Grulla took control in the second half of the game, scoring three touchdowns in the third quarter to lead 36-28. The Gators opened the fourth quarter with another touchdown to push the lead to 49-28, after missing the attempted point after kick.
The Bears moved the ball well on the next possession with Chadwick and Barnhardt. Sophomore quarterback Garrett Landin threw the ball into the end zone, and the Bears seemed to come down with the pass. But when the players went to the ground in the end zone, the Gators were able to rip the ball away and La Grulla was awarded the ball by the officials. The Gators scored again to salt away the game and take the 49-28 win.
The Bears finish the season at 2-9, including the playoff loss, and in fourth place in District 25-4A.