The final three minutes of the game must have felt like an eternity to the hundreds of McKinney fans, parents, and students who packed Ron Poe Stadium on Thursday night.
With the Lions up 22-6 over Plano East with just over three minutes left in the game, the home crowd began to sense that the “gold hats” had done it. Every time the clock would stop on an incompletion or a Panthers player would run out of bounds, you could feel the crowd getting more anxious, ready to explode in celebration at the fact that the Lions were minutes away from winning their first ever football game in District 10-5A.
After Plano East drove down the field and scored to make it 22-12, the Panthers lined up to go for the two-point conversion. With just 1:27 left in the game, East would have to convert the two points, recover the onside kick, score a touchdown and convert another two-point conversion, just to tie the game up and force overtime.
But on homecoming night at Ron Poe Stadium, the Lions had one more bit of magic left up their sleeves, as Red Shannon picked off Plano East quarterback Taylor McGehee’s pass and returned it 98 yards to give McKinney two more points and officially seal the victory for the Lions.
As the clock struck zero, the scoreboard showed a 24-12 victory for the Lions, who immediately made their way over to the student section to celebrate the accomplishment with their fellow classmates. With the win, McKinney had won its first District 10-5A football game in school history and won its first district game as a program since 2010.
After the game, head coach Jeff Smith reflected on just how big of a win this was for the program, which had been in 4A prior to this season, and the community.
“It’s just very special to our student body, administrators, and our community,” said Smith. “Our community, parents, and fans deserve this. They were sticking with us when things weren’t going good last year, and then coming to support us this year, our school deserves this for the way they have been playing.”
Quarterback Robert Somborn, who finished with 221 yards on 18-of-26 passing with two touchdowns and one interception, couldn’t quite find the words to explain the feeling he and his fellow teammates were experiencing during the postgame celebrations.
“I don’t even know man,” said Somborn. “It’s so unreal and a moment I will remember forever. It’s just fantastic.”
Coming into Thursday’s district matchup, MHS and Plano East were fourth and eighth in the 5A area, respectively, in total team offense. The Lions were averaging 486.5 yards per game while East was slightly behind with 471.2. However, with the loss of the Panthers starting quarterback Mario Smalls, East had to adjust its offense a bit with sophomore quarterback Taylor McGehee.
Both teams finished well below their season average in total yards, with the Lions racking up 380 yards and the Panthers gaining 300 yards. The Lions were balanced all night on offense, gaining 163 yards on the ground while having Somborn throw for 221 yards. They used a lot of shovel passes and swing routes to get their offensive weapons open with space, which showed with big games from Connor Fuentes and Tommy Candela, who appeared in his first game since week one when he broke his collarbone versus Frisco Heritage.
Fuentes finished with a game-high 158 receiving yards on 11 catches, including at 43-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter from Somborn. Candela led all rushers with 128 yards on 23 carries and appeared like he hadn’t missed a beat running the football. Smith admitted that he probably played a bit more than he hoped, but was proud of the way his junior running back played.
“He was a big piece early in the year before he broke his collarbone," Smith said, "and he got released this week and we just didn’t know what he would be able to do. We knew he would gut it out and he really did. He probably played a little bit more than we hoped, but he did a really good job.”
When asked about what his offense saw in the game from the Panthers defense, Somborn noted some changes in the defensive schemes they saw on film that took some time to get adjusted to.
“They showed us some weird things that they didn’t show in film. They came out in cover two when they normally have been bailing their corners out a lot, so we had to adjust to that. But that running game back with Tommy and Red and Connor on the jets, and those huge offensive linemen up front, they all just had a great game. They wanted this more than anything because they have been working their butts off, and for Tommy to come back and just see those holes and get through them the whole game, all of it was awesome.”
The play of the game occurred late in the third quarter with the Lions up 7-6. After Somborn pooch punted the ball from the Panthers 35 to the 1-yard line, McKinney appeared to have a chance to force a safety or get great field position on a punt. However, McGehee found his receiver Collin Shaw open down the left sideline and completed a 51-yard strike to silence the home crowd just a bit.
With the momentum appearing to rapidly shift towards the Panthers, McKinney’s defense needed to make a play. Just one play later, senior linebacker Matt Reynolds intercepted the ball and returned it 57 yards to the Plano East 3-yard line.
“It was huge,” said Smith. “The difference between winning and losing games in this district is just razor line. Everybody is so good and well coached and have great kids that it comes down to just a handful of plays many times, and it was nice to see us make those plays tonight.”
And just one play later, Shannon found a hole up the middle and scored to put the Lions up 14-6, and from that point on the sudden shift in momentum seemed to deflate the Panthers sideline for good.
McKinney improved to 1-1 in District 10-5A and 5-2 overall, while Plano East dropped to 0-2 in District 10-5A and 4-2 overall. The Lions will travel to Plano West next Friday night. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Homecoming Note: Somborn took Homecoming King honors while Lindsay Smith walked away with Homecoming Queen.