The Fort Stockton Panthers football team couldn't get its offense on track against a tough Estacado Matadors defense in a 24-0 loss Thursday night in the 4A-2 Region 1 playoffs.
The loss left the Panthers with a 8-3 record as a breakthrough season came to an end. The Panthers returned to the playoffs for the the first time since 2014, defeated rival Monahans and took third in 4A-2 District 1.
The eight wins were the most by the Panthers since the 2007 team went 9-2. The team was also a perfect 6-0 at home.
The Panthers had a rough first half to open the game, losing a fumble and throwing an interception – and losing linebacker Cole Daggett for a chunk of the half with an injury.
The Panther defense, even with Daggett back, struggled to contain Matadors quarterback Cam Rollison, who scored on runs of 36, 29 and 31 yards.
Unofficially, the Matadors out-gained the Panthers 280 yards to 40 in the half.
The Panthers defense blanked the Matadors in the second half and even forced two turnovers.
But the offense was unable to sustain a drive and get on the scoreboard.
E: Cam Rollison 36-yard run. PAT good. 7-0 2:21
E: Cam Rollison 29-yard run. PAT good. 14-0 0:33
E: Cam Rollison 31-yard run. PAT good. 21-0 7:31
E: Johnny Gomez 31-yard field goal. 24-0 1:19
Will Fort Stockton High School’s best football season in a decade end as “good” or move on to “greater?” That will be determined tonight as the Panthers make their first playoff appearance since 2014 against the Estacado Matadors at 7 p.m. at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland.
Ticket Prices at the door for the the Fort Stockton High School football team's playoff game 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15 against Estacado at Grande Communications Stadium, 801 N Loop 250 W in Midland: $3 students and $5 adults.
The winner faces the winner of Friday’s game between Graham and Godly.
The Panthers finished the regular season with an 8-2 record and in third place in 4A-2 District 1. The Matadors are 7-3 are took second in 4A-2 District 2.
The eight wins are the most by a Fort Stockton team since a 9-2 mark in 2007 and equals the fifth-best season in school history.
On a team that had consecutive 3-7 records the previous two seasons, being a winning team in the playoffs means a lot.
“It’s a tremendous feeling,” said senior quarterback and three-year starter Nick Johnson. “The last two years, we tied it up early. I think that pushed us to be in the playoffs this year.”
Head coach Mike Peters said the pressure of beating Lamesa Nov. 9 in order to guaranteed a playoff berth gave the team a valuable lesson.
“The situation helped us,” Peters said. “We had to play good to get it and win that last one. Now they understand what it takes to call that up. Now they have some experience in how to do it again.”
First playoff win?
Of course, Fort Stockton is also up against the ghosts of playoffs past. The Panthers have yet to win a football playoff game in the programs’ 107-year history, having gone 0-14 in that span.
Included in that dubious distinction is the best team in school history, the 1978 team which went 10-1 and was ranked first and third in two state media polls.
Adding to the irony, of course, in that the 1978 lost to Estacado, 21-7, in the first round 40 years ago amid a five-turnover disaster.
Estacado, in contrast, is 31-28-2 in the playoffs dating back to 1968. The team has made the playoffs each season since 2007.
Focused on now
Panthers head coach Mike Peters said that while the current team is aware of the school’s playoff futility, it is focused on getting ready for a game Week 12 game.
“I think it’s in their minds as far as a goal,” Peters said. “I don’t think they feel snake-bit about it.”
Peters said the team has practiced well this week and is focused on the game before them.
“We’re going to face a really tough opponent in Lubbock Estacado.” he said. “I think getting the kids juiced up to play is not going to be the issue. Making sure we are disciplined and executing on both sides of the ball and the kicking game is really going to have to be the focus. We are going to have to be really good at what we do.”
Senior Cesar Trejo, who has been limited by injuries most the season but scored a touchdown in the district finale against Lamesa, said he is just thinking about winning another game.
“I’m excited to get the win (over Lamesa), but now I’m just trying to get focused on next game. I’m feeling better than I ever have.”
Peters said the Matadors are a big-play team. In the first half of their district-ending loss to Levelland, Estacado had only four of 27 plays go for positive yardage. But two of those were touchdown runs of 76 and 54 yards.
“They’re a big-play offense,” Peters said. “They don’t drive the ball much. We have to avoid big plays.”
The Matadors’ offense runs out of a shotgun. Sometimes they run two backs and other times they spread out with four receivers.
Sophomore quarterback Jay’Lon Dobbins (6-3, 210-pounds) has completed 99 of 180 passes for 1,235 yards and eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Junior running back Jeremiah Dobbins (5-8, 165-pounds) has rushed for 1,033 on 174 carries and scored 15 touchdowns. Senior S. Porter has 988 yards rushing on 108 carries and nine touchdowns.
Peters said the Matadors are a faster team than the Panthers.
“I was told something by a coach a while back when talking about how fast an opponent was,” Peters said. “He told me ‘it’s not a track meet; it’s a football game.’ That has stuck with me. There’s a lot of different stuff that goes on that can negate speed.”
On defense, the Matadors run out of a 3-4 formation. Peters said defense is the Matadors strong suit.
In their three losses, the Matadors gave up 40, 33 and 20 points. In their seven wins, they have held their opponents under nine points. In the other two, they gave up 17 and 14 points.
They have 9.5 sacks on the season. Defensive end Dalveon Rhodes in the team’s leading tackler.
As was the case against Lamesa Nov. 9, the Panthers plan to run multiple offensive looks and packages with several different players touching the ball.
“We’re going to throw everything we’ve got at them,” Peters said.
There are some similarities between the two teams. Estacado has scored 280 points and allowed 161 in the season compared to Fort Stockton’s 275 scored and 151 allowed.
In the regular season, Estacado faced nine teams that reached the playoffs. Those teams combined for a 48-41 record. All six teams Estacado played in non-district made the playoffs, including two district champions, and had a combined 33-27 record. Estacado took second in the five-team District 2. The three other district teams reaching the playoffs combined for a 15-14 record.
For Fort Stockton, six of their opponents reached the playoffs with a combined 31-17 record. Three of the four non-district teams they faced reached the playoffs with a combined record of 12-18. The Panthers took third in District 1. The three other playoffs teams from the district went a combined 19-9.
“I’m good. I’m excited,” Peters said. “I’m really proud of kids. I’d really like for them – regardless of the outcome – I would like them to go play this playoff game and have it be the best game they’ve ever played. And that’s what I ‘m looking for. I’m ready. I’d pay today (Monday) if we could.”
Playing the game at the 15,000-seat Grande Communications Stadium in Midland is not a major concern for Peters.
“Once the game starts, you really lose track of all that stuff. It won’t be 15,000 people, so you lose the whole grandiose of the stadium. It’s just a 100-yard field. It’s still something you have to get them ready for. We’ll get there early and walk the field just to get used to the surroundings.”