Riders edge out Waco Connally Cadets in playoff, 31-30

Center to take on Sealy Tigers in Area playoff round Friday night in Waco

It was a back-and-forth ball game all night as the Center Roughriders battled the Waco Connally Cadets on the playing field at Madisonville ISD this past Friday.

When all was said and done the Riders pulled off a big first round playoff victory on a last-second field goal booted through the uprights by Luis Gonzalez. That gave Center a 31-30 win as time ran out.

“It was an awesome game,” said head Roughrider Coach Scott Ponder. “Anytime you win with a walk off field goal at the end of the ballgame it's just incredibly exciting and fun.

“We were just super proud of the effort of our kids and the way they believed the whole game,” he said. He said the persistence showed the team members had no doubt they could pull off a win.

“That says a lot about the character of our kids and where we are as a program right now.”

Ponder said the game was a close one throughout.

“It says a lot for them to believe at that level,” he said. “It never was a deal like we were ever totally in control of the ball game, but they weren't either, it was just a real battle with both teams just playing their hearts out. It's a shame there has to be a loser in a game like that.”

The Cadets got on the scoreboard early in the first quarter but had to settle for a field goal as the Roughrider defense held Connally tough. As it would turn out late in the game that Cadets play of settling for three points rather than making a touchdown was enough to make a difference in the outcome.

On the Connally kickoff, Center's Marques Hall took the ball from about the 22-yard line to mid field to set up the first Roughrider score of the night with 4:11 left in the first quarter. That gave Center a 7-3 lead.

“What I'm most proud of it the effort — people kind of throw that around — but when you talk about your kids going out and giving maximum effort, every play, everybody, all game long — that's a pretty special deal,” Ponder said.

“We're playing about as hard as we can play. We're probably pretty close to being the best version of ourselves that we can be

Connally regained the lead with 2:33 left in the first period, this time with a touchdown followed by a point after kick to pull ahead, 10-7.

But the Riders came back about a minute later when KeAmodre Horace picked up a long run, headed down the right sideline to score with 1:37 left in the opening period. That put the Roughriders back on top, 14-10.

“You can't control what your opponents do or who your opponents are, but you can control your effort and right now we're playing really well and we're executing pretty well,” Ponder said. “You're never going to have perfect execution, but what you can control are the effort and the attitude.”

Ponder said in those categories the Roughriders are winning.

The top half of the second quarter went scoreless for both teams before the Cadets got a touchdown with about 6 minutes left in the first half to take a 17-14 lead. That would complete first half scoring with Connally taking the 17-14 advantage to the locker room at half time.

A 31-yard run by Roughriders Horace about halfway into the third quarter would see the Riders regain the lead by a 21-17 margin, which they would hold onto going into the final period.

The Center defense held Connally tough and kept Waco Connally out of the end zone for the entire third quarter. But the Cadets wasted little time in the fourth quarter when they capitalized on a Center fumble with 10:38 to go in the game to score and once again regain the lead, 24-21.

It was about halfway through the final quarter when Center's Horace displayed his evasive running ability on a series of plays before finally getting across the goal line at the 5:53 mark to put the Roughriders back on top, 28-24.

Ponder said the last three minutes or so of the game offered a great reflection of the Riders effort and attitude.

“We score to go ahead. With about three minutes, Connally is driving down the field and they end up scoring with about a minute and 25 seconds left to go ahead,” he said. They missed the PAT.”

With the failed PAT, the Cadets took a 30-28 point advantage as the clock was running down.

But the Riders were not finished.

“But just the effort of our kids, even after they scored there was never” a loss of positive attitude, Ponder said. “On the sidelines we were saying a field goal is going to tie, a field goal is going to tie it. But then they missed the PAT — well, a field goal is going to win it.”

The coaches used those precious seconds to work at pumping up the team.

“I've been coaching a long time and you say those things to you kids and sometimes they don't respond, they kind of take a step back,” Ponder said. “But not our Roughriders. They fought the whole way.

“You could see the confidence in the kids' eyes, they knew we could get it done,” he said.

They did.

After the Connallly kickoff, a pass from Roughrider quarterback Jake Hanson to Makel Johnson got the ball to mid-field.

A handoff to Horace got the ball to about the 40-yard line with 0:43 seconds left in the game. He was injured on the play and left the game. Ponder said Horace had a bad case of cramps after giving the game his all. But he was not seriously hurt.

While the go-to rusher for the Riders was sidelined, Center called upon the talents of sophomore Timothy Davis to either get the ball across the goal line or at least into field goal position.

After a time out and the clock stopped with only three seconds left in the game, the Roughriders were in a clutch situation and once again called upon the kicking talents of Luis Gonzalez. With Cadets defenders attempting to distract him by jumping up and down and yelling at the line of scrimmage, Gonzalez connected from about 15 yards out to put the Roughriders ahead 31-30 as the final buzzer went off.

“It was an awesome way to win and a real confidence builder moving forward,” Ponder said. The team, coaches and fans agreed as some post-game celebration took place.

He said the team will once again have their work cut out for them as the Riders travel to Waco ISD Stadium for a 7 p.m. Friday kickoff against Sealy.

“Sealy is as a tradition rich as there is in the state of Texas,” Ponder said. “About everything you need to know about Sealy is the address of the high school — Championship Drive — that's a pretty big statement.”

Sealy's had a taste of going all the way in Texas football and undoubtedly has their sights set on doing that again.

“They won four state championships in the '90s, they've always been ultra competitive — a perennial top 15 or top 10 team,” Ponder said. “We''ll have to play our best football of the year and be super well prepared, super dialed in and focused. Right now I feel we have a good chance of doing that on Friday.

“We are playing well for us, we are the best version of us. The buy-in is maximal right now,” he said. “It's going to take a lot for our guys to get it done. They play extremely hard.”

Ponder said he hated that the Area playoff round this Friday is so far away for the team and fans. But, he said, between both schools there were a lot of considerations and challenges in coming up with a neutral site.

Sealy is located about 50 west of downtown Houston.

“We had a really difficult time just finding a site considering where Sealy is and where Center is and then finding someone that can host — there are about three or four things trying to happen at the same time,” he said. “Sometimes it's just difficult to get everything to line up.”

“However, we're going to play at a great facility and give our kids a real championship experience,” Ponder said.

Please check out more scenes from last week's Roughriders playoff victory: https://lightandchampion.smugmug.com/Center-Roughriders-edge-out-Waco-Connally-in-final-seconds

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