In a season full of comebacks and collapses, it was only fitting for Robert E. Lee to provide one more thrilling chapter.
The Red Raiders erased a 9-point deficit in the final four minutes to defeat Garland Naaman Forest 41-35 Friday at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
The win gave Lee a 5-5 overall record and 4-3 mark in District 11-6A. More importantly, it kept their slim playoff hopes alive, depending on how other results unfolded in the district.
Lee needed both Rockwall and Garland Sachse to win to grab the fourth and final playoff spot. Rockwall did its part, but Sachse was unable to take care of its half, falling to Rowlett 44-34.
That created a three-way tie for third place, which was now decided by points. REL lost both tiebreakers to finish fifth.
"It feels great that we won on "Senior Night" even though it's going to be our last game at Rose Stadium," Lee senior defensive end John Samples said.
Lee senior quarterback Zach Hall shook off two fumbles and an interception to rally the Red Raiders back with two scoring runs and a 53-yard touchdown pass in the second half. Hall finished the game with 134 yards passing and 115 rushing. Mason Parker also scored two touchdowns and Rhett Parker scored a touchdown and recovered a fumble off a muffed punt.
Naaman Forest running back Prince Hanks rushed for 163 yards and touchdowns with quarterback Broderick Hampton also scoring twice for the Rangers.
The Red Raiders trailed 21-0 in the first quarter and 28-14 at halftime.
REL coach Darrell Piske said he challenged his players to show him something in the second half after a mistake-filled first two quarters.
"We did what you can't do against a winless team and that is go out there and give them some life," Piske said. "They were driving on us like we don't have a defense and then we fumbled the kickoff and they scooped and scored.
"We should have been the ones who came out fired up."
Another senior, Isjuwan Barker, made one of the plays of the game when he hauled in a 53-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Zach Hall with 3:08 remaining.
"Coach told us (at halftime) we need to show some heart, go out there and play hard and win the game," said Barker, who finished with two catches for 73 yards while also playing free safety.
"I told (Zach) if he threw me the ball, I was going to go get it."
With a Naaman Forest defender draped all over him, Barker muscled him away for the catch and touchdown. Chris Blas' PAT made it 35-33 with 3:08 remaining, but Lee had to get the ball back and only had two timeouts left.
The Red Raiders failed on an onside kick attempt, so Naaman Forest needed one first down to put REL into a real perilous situation. On third-and-5, Darius Savage took the handoff and was immediately met in the backfield by Lee senior linebacker Braden Coates, who stopped him for a 2-yard loss.
Naaman Forest then attempted to go for it on fourth down, but Samples was able to get his paw up and knock down the pass from Rangers quarterback Broderick Hampton for a huge turnover on downs.
"We knew we had to get the stop," Samples said. "This was the time. The season was on the line."
The offense went immediately back to work. With no timeouts, Hall fired a quick pass to senior Tyrec Grayson for a 19-yard gain followed by another to senior Datavian Thacker for 14 yards. This moved REL to Naaman Forest's 11 with 59 seconds left.
Hall then took it himself for an 11-yard touchdown and capped it off with a 2-point run for the 41-35 lead with 49 seconds remaining.
All that was left was for the REL defense to come up big one more time. The Rangers made it past midfield, but an incomplete pass on first down left the Rangers 7 seconds left. Naaman Forest tried a hook and lateral play, but the receiver was tackled before he could pitch the ball to end the game.
The Red Raiders were trailing 21-0 in the first quarter before recording a first down, thanks to two three-and-outs coupled with long drives capped by two scoring runs from Hampton. Then Lee fumbled on the ensuing kickoff and Nehemiah Lewis scooped it up and went the other way for a 10-yard touchdown and 21-0 lead.
Lee got going with a 70-yard drive that was capped by Mason Parker's 1-yard run. Following another TD from Naaman Forest, this time by Hanks, Lee trailed 28-7 with 2:55 remaining.
The Red Raiders answered with a 73-yard drive that covered 12 plays and was finished on a 6-yard scoring run by Rhett Parker for a 28-14 score at the break.
REL got the ball first in the second half, but fumbled it away.
Lee's defense held, but caught a break when the Naaman Forest returner tried to field Chris Blas' rugby punt and muffed it with Rhett Parker making the recovery.
REL took advantage to drive and score on a 1-yard run by Mason Parker. The PAT was blocked to leave the score at 28-20.
The teams traded touchdowns, but all hope looked to be lost when Naaman Forest received a roughing the penalty punter in its own end zone to continue a drive that drained nearly the entire fourth quarter away.
Lee's defense finally held on fourth and one to get a turnover on downs with 3:17 remaining.
The Red Raiders ran away to victory after that.
Robert E. Lee 41, Garland Naaman Forest 35
At Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium
Naaman Forest 7 21 0 7 - 35
Robert E. Lee 0 14 6 21 - 41
NF-Broderick Hampton 10 run (Joshua Mendoza kick), 7:54
NF-Hampton 5 run (Mendoza kick), 11:19
NF-Nehemiah Lewis 10 fumble return (Mendoza kick), 11:09
REL-Mason Parker 1 run (Chris Blas kick), 8:27
NF-Prince Hanks 4 run (Mendoza kick), 2:55
REL-Rhett Parker (Blas kick), :19
REL-Mason Parker 1 run (kick failed), 5:12
NF-Hanks 4 run (Mendoza kick), 10:57
REL-Zach Hall 30 run (kick failed), 10:32
REL-Isjuwan Barker 53 pass from Hall (Blas kick), 3:08
REL-Hall 11 run (Hall run), :49
First Downs 14 13
Rushes-Yards 55-278 37-238
Passing Yards 56 134
Comp.-Att.-Int. 4-9-0 6-8-1
Punts-Avg. 0-0 1-37
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 5-2
Penalties-Yards 8-73 9-82
RUSHING-Naaman Forest, Prince Hanks 25-163, Darius Savage 16-69, Broderick Hampton 9-37, Mitchell Tett 3-6, Isiaha Coffer-Jones 2-3. Robert E. Lee, Zach Hall 18-115, Datavian Thacker 8-42, Tyrec Grayson 4-46, Theo Brooks 3-22, Mason Parker 3-7, Rhett Parker 1-6.
PASSING-Naaman Forest, Hampton 4-9-0 56. Robert E. Lee, Hall 6-8-1 134.
RECEIVING-Naaman Forest, Casey Mosley 1-22, Travis Taylor 1-19, Tett 1-9, Savage 1-6. Robert E. Lee, Isjuwan Barker 2-73, Grayson 2-52, Thacker 1-14, Dante Johnson 1-6, Parker 1-3.