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Dallas, TX-Through all the adversity Dodge City had faced over the previous two weeks, their first playoff win in franchise history was still within their grasp with 10 seconds to go.
But an all too familiar result accompanied the Law in those final seconds. Texas quarterback Chris Dixon made sure of that.
The veteran’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Clinton Solomon with six seconds left coupled with Solomon’s last-second interception of Rudy Johnson gave the Revolution a 63-59 victory over Dodge City in the opening round of the CIF Playoffs Saturday night at the Allen Events Center.
“We played so well,” Law Head Coach Sean Ponder said. “This one hurts.”
Unfortunately Dodge City inflicted the pain on themselves. Up three and driving late in the third quarter, the Law reached the Texas 14. But on first-and-10, Meshak Williams stripped DJ Abnor of the ball, and Texas (9-4) recovered at their own 13.
“That was a big turning point,” Ponder explained. “We did everything right up to that point.”
Instead of adding to their cushion, the Law could only watch as Dixon finished off a four-play, 37-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run that put the Revolution up 42-38 with 1:14 remaining in the third.
“You can’t give Chris Dixon extra possessions; you just can’t,” Ponder said.
Even with that missed opportunity, Dodge City had every opportunity to win the game. On their first possession of the fourth quarter, (Rudy) Johnson called his own number and found pay dirt from a yard out, putting the Law back in front 45-52 with 11:55 left. It was one of five lead changes in the final period.
“These guys fought all the way to the end,” Ponder said. “I’m so proud of them, and I’m glad that I was able to coach them this season.”
That three-point edge was short lived when Dixon hit Solomon for a 19-yard touchdown the next time Texas had the ball. Adam Peden booted through the extra point, and the Revolution was up 49-45 with less than 10 minutes to play.
“Texas is a good football team,” Ponder said. “We knew that coming in. But we still should have won the game.”
Trailing by four, Ponder dialed back, instituting a short passing game that ate up more than six minutes of the clock and put the Law in striking distance at the Texas 16. But a holding penalty followed by Ladon Hudson’s forced fumble that Johnson was able to get back and an incomplete pass, had Dodge City staring at a fourth-and-28 at their own 16.
“You live for those types of moments,” Ponder added.
The guy living in that moment was wide receiver Rashad Pargo, who seven days earlier made a sensational, over-the-wall catch that made No. 4 on Sportscenter’s Top 10. He outdid himself this time around.
Johnson dropped back and lofted a pass into the back, right-corner of the end zone. Pargo adjusted and pinned the ball against his chest as he tumbled over the boards. As everyone held their breath, Pargo resurfaced, ball in hand as the referee signaled touchdown. It was a catch reminiscent of Lynn Swann in Super Bowl X vs. the Dallas Cowboys; minus the wall.
“He does that in practice all the time; it’s rather routine,” teammate Daniel McKinney said.
Pargo’s circus reception gave Dodge City a 52-49 advantage with 3:10 left to go.
But as they did all night, Texas responded again. Dixon hit Solomon on back-to-back plays; one for five and then for 20 that moved the ball down to the 1. Two plays later, Dixon scampered across the goal line, putting Texas back on top 56-52 at the 1:14 mark.
“Once Texas scored, we knew what we had to do,” Ponder said. “It was only a matter of time.”
With two timeouts, Johnson went to work, hitting Marquis Deadwiler for 22 yards down to the Revolution 20. After back-to-back incomplete passes, Jeremy Coleman was called for pass interference that put the Law at the Texas 6. From there, Johnson connected with McKinney, whose summersault over the wall in the right corner of the end zone, gave Dodge City a 59-56 lead with 40 seconds to go.
“I felt good after that,” Ponder said. “The game was right there.”
Unfortunately, that was plenty of time for Dixon, who had engineered four, game-winning drives entering Saturday night’s showdown.
Starting from his own 12, Dixon hit Stephen Alfred for 15 yards down to the Law 23. After a timeout, Dixon connected with Michael Dyer for nine more. Following an incomplete pass, it was third-and-1 at the Dodge City 14. It was a play that will haunt Ponder all summer long.
Dixon’s hard snap count got two lineman to jump into the neutral zone. The result: a free play in which the 35-year old tuned something out of nothing. As he scanned the field, Solomon broke free to the middle, and Dixon hit him in stride for a 14-yard touchdown that gave the Revolution the lead for good with six seconds remaining.
“There are a lot of things you play back in your mind,” Ponder said. “That was one of them. Could we have done something differently? But these guys played their hearts out.”
The proverbial nail in the coffin came in the final seconds when Johnson’s hail mary into the end zone for Pargo was intercepted by (Clinton) Soloman, ending the Law’s season in the same fashion as Wichita did four years ago.
“It’s a heartbreaking way to lose,” Ponder said.
In the first half, Dodge City came out on the offensive. Dixon’s third-down pass in the red zone was intercepted by Trey Dudley in the back of the end zone. That led to a 10-play, 37 yard drive that bled 8:12 off of the clock and resulted in Johnson’s 24-yard td strike to McKinney on a post.
Texas responded early in the second on Dixon’s 16-yard scoring toss to Brett Reece. But it was Johnson with the answer less than four minutes later: a two-yard screen pass to Abnor for a touchdown and a 14-7 advantage.
But just as they did the last time the two teams played in this building, Texas used a special teams’ play to ignite the home crowd. Joe Adams, whose controversial catch at the end of the game vs. Dodge City back on April 8, returned the ensuing kickoff 58 yards for a touchdown. Peden missed the extra point, but the Revolution had trimmed the Law’s lead to 14-13.
“It’s been up-and-down all year on special teams,” Ponder said.
Dodge City added Johnson’s eight-yard touchdown to Brandon Venson before Texas came right back on Dixon’s one-yard plunge into the end zone. Then Dixon found Reece for the two-point conversion that tied the contest at 21.
The Law had the last laugh of the first half, although it was not without an extra sense of anxiety.
In their regular-season finale at Duke City last week, Jared Wood had a chance to give the Law the lead going into the locker room. But his 28-yard kick was blocked by Brett Bowers and scooped up by Ray Berry, who returned it 25 yards for a touchdown.
“We worked on kicking field goals with a full rush in practice this week,” Ponder said. “It was definitely a point of emphasis.”
The extra preparation paid off, and Wood’s 28-yard kick split the uprights, giving the Law a 24-21 lead at the half.
Johnson finished the night 25-of-36 for 340 yards and a franchise record seven touchdowns for Dodge City, who dropped to 0-3 lifetime in the playoffs. McKinney caught seven balls for 71 yards and three scores while Deadwiler had six catches for 127.
Dixon was superb for the Revolution, completing 18-of-22 passes for 230 yards and four scores. He also added a season-best four rushing touchdowns, and Solomon had nine catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns.