ALLEN — Until Dru Smith left the game with a knee injury in the fourth quarter, Sherman looked like a team very much capable of pulling off another playoff comeback victory.
The Bearcats were moving the ball and beginning to look a lot stronger on offense. But without Smith at quarterback, the Cats were unable to get on the scoreboard again, and their 2012 season ended with a 28-17 loss to Red Oak in the Class 4A Division I area round on Friday at Eagle Stadium.
“It’s one thing to lose, but then when you get hurt that late, you hate that for him,” Sherman coach Gary Kinne said. “He had an unbelievable football season, and you hate that it would end with him being hurt.”
Smith ended his career with school-record single-season numbers, with 3,826 passing yards and 39 touchdowns, and finished just 25 yards and one TD off the career school passing marks.
Red Oak (9-3) will play Frisco Centennial next Friday at Royse City.
It was a tough day for Sherman receivers, but senior J.T. Luper finished with 69 yards on the afternoon to wind up with 1,433 yards for the season and 2,307 for his career.
Joseph Harvey, the Bearcats’ other top target, was bottled up all day and managed one catch for 24 yards to end the year just short of 1,000. Harvey finishes his three-year career with 133 catches for 2,553 career receiving yards and 22 TDs, all school records.
“They schemed us well and took Harvey away,” Kinne said. “They were doubling him at all times. We weren’t able to run the football. That was the difference. When they play the coverage they do, you have to be able to run the football. We thought we could be able to do that, and we couldn’t.”
The Bearcat defense was able to slow down Red Oak’s punishing ground attack, limiting the Hawks to 192 yards. Cameron Bausley, their standout senior, managed 128 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
But the Hawks used the passing game to make the plays to put themselves over the top, taking advantage of a pair of busted coverages in the first half for a 14-7 halftime lead.
Quarterback Austin Van Hove found a wide-open Bausley on a post pattern for the game’s first score; then in the second quarter, after Sherman tied the game on a short Smith toss to Ja’Quay Pough, the Hawks went deep again, this time from Van Hove to Casey Nichols, setting up a Van Hove keeper for the go-ahead TD with 3:47 left in the half.
“It looked like the Lovejoy game all over again,” Kinne said. “Two busted plays, and even at the end of the game, not a busted coverage, just a guy who’s in man-to-man and he takes his eyes off of him.”
After Van Hove threw his second TD pass of the day for an 11-point lead with 8:58 left in the game, the Bearcats used a strong Luper kickoff return out of the end zone for good field position. Smith hit Tre’ Mask for a 14-yard gain, then Smith scrambled for another first down. But at the Red Oak 39, Smith’s right knee gave way as he tried to make a cut. Smith initially was able to put weight on it, but later he collapsed behind the Sherman bench.
Smith tweeted after the game that it is a possible torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Junior Case Rolen replaced Smith and tried valiantly to carry on, but didn’t get much help in his first series. One wide-open pass was dropped, Rolen was sacked for a loss of eight, and Sherman turned the ball over on downs with 7:10 left.
Sherman forced a punt with exactly 6:00 to go and Rolen led the Cats on a drive, converting a fourth down and two third downs. But a trick pass from Mask to Pough to the 3-yard line was nullified by an ineligible-receiver penalty, and Rolen’s third-down heave into the end zone was intercepted with 1:28 to go.
“Into the wind, coming in cold, and playing very little this season, Case did all he could do,” Kinne said. “He gave us everything he had. We just had some miscommunication there with the lineman going downfield, otherwise we’re down there trying to score.
“I don’t know what would’ve happened, but I feel certain we should’ve been able to get the ball in the end zone and at least make it interesting with an onside kick.”
The Bearcats found themselves playing catch-up all afternoon, but up until the point Smith left the game, they were keeping the Hawks in sight.
Harvey’s 27-yard field goal late in the third quarter cut the margin to four points. Then after Bausley ran for a score, the Bearcats answered right back as Smith hit Jason Chavez for a 34-yard gain to the 1. Mask took it in from there to make it a four-point game again.
“Great catch,” Kinne said. “He comes in and does a great job. He’ll be a starter for us next year and a guy who will be able to do a lot of things.”
The Bearcats tried an onside kick that Red Oak saved, and that set up a short field for the Hawks. From the 21, Van Hove passed to Shedrick Collins, and the Bearcats trailed by 11 again.
“I thought we played well on defense, but for the second week in a row our offense just didn’t play very well,” Kinne said. “I don’t have an answer for it. We’ll have to go back and watch the film, and hopefully correct it for next year.”
Kinne is saddened by the loss of so many multi-year starters who allowed Sherman to play eight playoff games in that span. Their high school football careers ended on Friday, but many of them will get a chance to play on Saturdays in the future.
“You can’t replace (them),” Kinne said. “They’re a great group of seniors. I’m very proud of those guys and they accomplished a lot over their three years here. They played a lot of playoff games. That’s a good testament to those guys who bought in when I got here when they were freshmen, and they’re a special group. We did a lot of special things.
“You never want it to end, but at some point it’s going to. We hate that it’s this round because we thought we were better than that.”
However, a large group of returning underclassmen, led by Pough, Mask, Kiaron McKinney, Christian Hunt, Jordan Hume and several others, should keep the Bearcats in contention for next year’s playoffs.
“We’ve got some good players coming back, there’s no question about that,” Kinne said. “It’s hard to replace seniors, but every year, it is. We’ll go back to work.”