Center can't convert in the Red Zone, falls to Palestine, 42-21

Roughriders drop to 1-1 in district

2017 Center Roughriders (1-1, 1-5)

Sept. 1 L @ Rusk 48-21

Sept. 8 L vs. Gilmer 56-17

Sept. 15 L Gladewater 17-3**

Sept. 22 L @ Diboll 45-42

Sept. 29 W @ Bullard* 39-35

Oct. 6 L vs. Palestine* 42-21

Oct. 13 @ Chapel Hill* 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 20 vs. Carthage* 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 27 @ Henderson* 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 3 vs. Kilgore* 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 10 BYE

* District game ** Homecoming

GAME STORY:

The Center Roughriders struggles in the Red Zone continued in a 42-21 home loss to the Palestine Wildcats, triggering a flashing red warning light on the team's playoff ambitions. 

The loss dropped the Roughriders to 1-1 in 4A-Div. I District 9 -- perhaps the toughest top-to-bottom district in the state.

The road ahead will be even less forgiving of mistakes and missed opportunities as it faces teams with more speed and experience. Center has a must-win against Chapel Hill and will still need to steal at least one game from among Carthage, Henderson or Kilgore if it is to have any hope for the postseason.

Against Palestine, Center set the tone for inconsistency and poor execution early, following JaTerious Evans' game-opening 45-yard catch by fumbling the ball way at the Wildcats' 35 on the very next play. 

The Roughrider defense, however, answered by intercepting Palestine quarterback Tyler Gray six plays later.

Center marched down to the Palestine 15 on a 50-yard run by freshman Marques Hall. But the next three plays left Center back five yards to the 20, where Alexis Lopez missed a field goal. 

But the Roughriders defense came through again three plays later with its second interception of Gray at the Palestine 31-yard line.

"Our defense played their tail off in the first half," said Center head coach Barry Bowman, "We had some takeaways and some turnovers -- we didn't capitalize on that,"

The offense, however, again sputtered as a run on fourth-and-two from the 23 came up a yard short to give Palestine the ball on downs. 

Center's defense couldn't help this time out as Palestine mounted a 9-play, 78-yard touchdown drive capped by Josh Williams' 6-yard run to go up 7-0 early in the second quarter. 

Center made it past mid-field on its next drive, only to have an illegal procedure penalty  and a sack force them to punt. 

Gray ripped off a 43-yard run on the possession's first play. Seven plays later, Gray hit Toney Dever for a 12-yard touchdown to make the score 14-0.

With just 40 second left until the half, Center moved quickly from its own 22 down to the Palestine 26. Evans' 31 yard gain off a screen pass to the middle was amazing as he appeared to be surrounded by two would-be tacklers before spinning untouched up the field. 

This time, Center would convert as Hicks hit Hall for a 26-yard score with less than 10 seconds left 

But the PAT kick was not only blocked by Palestine, but it was returned 98 yards for .a two-point conversion. So, instead of going into the half down 14-8, the score was 16-6.

"That was certainly a little bit of a momentum thing," Bowman said. "Our kids were in a good frame of mind at halftime. We just didn't come out and execute." 

It took Palestine just one play -- the first of the second half -- to take control of the momentum and the game as Jeremiah Davis ran 81-yards for a touchdown, making the score 22-6. 

Center responded with a 76-yard drive,  only to have Lopez miss his second field goal of the game from the 4-yard line. 

From there, Palestine scored on its next three possessions to push the score to 42-6

Center added two late touchdowns on Hall's 26-yard run and Hicks' 28-yard scoring run. 

The Red Zone inefficiency and mental mistakes has been a constant this year for a Roughrider squad that two freshmen starters, a sophomore quarterback and only three seniors starting on offense. What can break the cycle?

"More reps, more time, more seeing the defense running at you -- all of it," Bowman said. "It's a growing process."