BY CHRIS PARRY
Robert E. Lee’s defense trudged off the field after just allowing a 36-yard touchdown pass. The Red Raiders now trailed Texas High 31-17 with 11:52 remaining in the game.
Thinks looked bleak as senior Bryce Wilkerson took his spot for Lee on kickoff return.
Thirteen seconds and 90 yards later, Wilkerson had provided the shot in the arm REL needed to go on and eventually rally for a 38-37 win Saturday at Tiger Stadium in Texarkana. His kickoff return for a TD changed the momentum.
“Coach said [we were going to run kickoff] to the left and at the last second, he changed it to the right,” said Wilkerson, who also led REL with four catches for 51 yards. “We got a good double-team block on the edge and I saw the hole and I went for it and went all the way.”
A week earlier, Wilkerson had broken free against John Tyler on a long run that looked destined for the end zone, but REL’s fastest player — clocked at 4.4 in the 40-yard dash — was caught from behind and eventually REL was held on fourth down.
“I had to redeem myself; this time they were not going to catch me,” Wilkerson said. “This [grass] field was [sloppy] but I still was able to make the play.”
It was the first of two game changers REL used in the second half.
The next one occurred on Texas High’s ensuing possession after Wilkerson’s return touchdown. The Tigers faced second-and-5 from the Lee 49 when REL senior Brandon Durman broke the huddle and lined up at his inside linebacker position.
As Texas High’s quarterback rolled out and fired a pass, Durman jumped the route, intercepted the pass and rumbled 55 yards the other way to tie the game.
“I am just doing what coach told me and [broke on the football],” Durman said. “When I made the interception, all I could think was I have to score because the game was so close and it mattered so much. Scoring was the only option.”
A personal foul penalty after Durman scored meant REL was forced to kick off from its own 25. Texas High’s Jarion Anderson took advantage with a 63-yard return to the Lee’s 4.
The Tigers scored from there, but REL had one more surprise in store. For the third week in a row, Lee blocked a kick. That turned out to be the difference.
Trailing 37-31, Lee sophomore quarterback Zach Hall willed the Red Raiders 79 yards in 11 plays, converting one on fourth down, to score the game-tying touchdown. The Red Raiders needed Chris Blas to make the extra point and the sophomore continued his 100 percent place-kicking this season.
The Red Raiders had to survive another Texas High special teams play with the Tigers blocking an REL punt with 8 seconds left, but the clock ran out on the Tigers and Lee is 3-1 entering District 12-5A play Friday at Mesquite Horn.
“It was a big win,” Wilkerson said. “We prepared hard all week. We started slow, but we picked it up in the end and made plays.”
Robert E. Lee Rewind
Final score: Robert E. Lee 38, Texas High 37
Turning point: Lee senior Bryce Wilkerson returns the kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown to immediately answer a Tigers TD and keep it a one-score deficit.
The game was over when: Lee caught up to the Texas High defensive lineman who grabbed the blocked punt and tried to run it back for a game-winning touchdown. There was no time on the clock when they tackled him.
Key stats: Lee converted on all three of its fourth-down tries on three separate drives, all of which eventually finished with touchdowns.
Warning signs: Lee’s defense allowed nine receptions of 10 yards or more with seven of those going for over 20 yards.
Plus sign: Red Raiders defense held a Texas High offense that had rushed for 270 yards in its first two games to 22 yards on 23 attempts.
What this win means: Lee receives much-needed momentum as it begins District 12-5A play on the road at league favorite Mesquite Horn. This is Lee’s best non-district showing since 2006 when REL entered league play with a 4-1 mark. That team finished 9-3.
Fast forward: The Red Raiders face a Jaguars team that just finished annihilating the same John Tyler team that did the same to Lee two weeks ago. Lee has lost its last three meetings with Mesquite Horn.