When it comes to the Gonzales Apaches and close games — to quote Yogi Berra (and Lenny Kravitz) — “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Despite surrendering a game-tying touchdown Friday, Oct. 21, to the Smithville Tigers with 1:38 left to play, the Apaches didn’t panic or concede.
Instead, they made their own kind of music with quarterback Jarren Johnson finding Josh Esparza in the end zone on a 27-yard corner route with just seven seconds left.
The two also connected on the ensuing two-point conversion as Gonzales captured a thrilling 52-44 victory on Pink Out Night at Apache Field to claim a share of second place in District 12-4A2.
“(1:38) is an eternity and we have a good offense and we saw tonight some things clicking well offensively by scoring 52 points. It was an awesome job just all around by the kids tonight,” said Gonzales head coach Joey Rivera.
“As I told the kids, wins do not come easy in district and they come even harder in the playoffs and you have to cherish every single one. There were some mistakes that happened tonight, but I am so proud of these kids and these coaches and this community for backing us.”
The Apaches (4-4, 2-1) need one victory in their final two games or a Giddings loss to Caldwell to “officially” clinch their first playoff berth since 2019. They are one game behind Cuero (7-1, 3-0) and sit tied with Smithville (3-5, 2-1) and La Grange (4-4, 2-1) in district.
Senior running back Derrick Garza, fresh from missing five weeks due to injury, rushed for 206 yards on 21 carries and scored four touchdowns, while Johnson rushed 11 times for 82 yards and completed 13 of 21 passes for 167 yards and a TD. Esparza caught four passes for 71 yards and a TD.
Gonzales got on the scoreboard on their first possession. On second and three from the 42, Garza broke free and scooted 58 yards for a touchdown. Johnson hit Davonte Smith with a pass for the two-point conversion and the Apaches had an 8-0 lead with 10:39 to go in the first quarter.
Smithville would score on its opening possession as well on a 27-yard TD pass with 6:54 to play in the first and the PAT kick made it 8-7. But Garza would answer with his second touchdown of the night, a 70-yard TD jaunt, with 5:56 to play in the first and Johnson would hit Esparza on a two-point pass to make it 16-7.
In the second quarter, Gonzales went on the offensive again after Jason Sanchez recovered Smithville’s bad snap at the Apaches 40. Rocky Gallegos ran the ball in from 15 yards out with 7:09 to play in the first half. The two-point conversion failed, making it 22-7.
Late in the first half, the Apaches got another scoring drive. Garza scored from 15 yards out with 25 seconds left and then ran in the two-pointer to make it 30-7 at the half.
Unfortunately for Gonzales, the Tigers made some adjustments in the third quarter that led to 30 unanswered points as they erased a 23-point deficit and took a 37-30 lead.
It started on their first drive of the quarter when Smithville scored on a 19-yard pass with 9:06 left in the third. The PAT made it 30-14. With 4:34 to go in the third, the Tigers got a 10-yard TD run from their quarterback. They made a two-pointer to cut the lead to 30-22.
After intecepting a Garza option pass, the Tigers tied it up, 30-30, with 2:07 to play in the third on a 20-yard TD pass and two-pointer. And after blocking a Gonzales punt on the first play of the fourth quarter, Smithville took the lead on a three-yard TD run and the PAT kick made it 37-30.
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Rivera said. “(Smithville is) a very good team. They took down La Grange a couple of weeks ago and they’ve got some athletes and skilled guys I was kind of worried about. I told our guys the drive to start the second half is very important and they kind of went down, down, down and scored and we got into a lull and made mistakes.
“I’m very proud of the guys and how they responded in the fourth quarter and staying in there. I told them no matter what, we’re playing four quarters and we have to play well in the fourth quarter. That’s something we’ve learned in the last two weeks. Caldwell we didn’t play four quarters; Cuero we did, but the outcome wasn’t what we wanted. Tonight, we had to play all four quarters down to the last seconds.”
It was the wakeup call the Apaches needed. They drove 64 yards in 10 plays with Garza getting his fourth TD of the night on an eight-yard run, but the two-point conversion failed, leaving the score 37-36.
On the first play of Smithville’s next possession, the Apaches created a much-needed turnover when they laid a big hit on a receiver, causing him to cough the ball up into the air. TJ Riojas snagged the ball and returned it to the Tiger 33. On second and 11, Smith took a jet sweep 34 yards to the house for a touchdown with 5:05 to play in the fourth and then caught a two-point pass from Johnson to make it 44-37.
Smithville drove the ball to the Apache 25. Just when it looked like Gonzales might sack the Tigers quarterback and possibly put the game away, he managed to escape and find an open man in the end zone for the game-tying TD with 1:38 to play.
However, 1:38 is eternity when a team can move the ball and that was seven seconds more than the Apaches needed. Runs and passes got the ball to the Smithville 27 with 14 seconds left and then, using Smith as a decoy, Johnson found Esparza in the end zone for the game winner and then once more for the two-pointer to close out the scoring. Smithville would get the ball back and try to pull off a “recess schoolyard football miracle” but the game ended with an illegal forward lateral being called against the Tigers.
This week, the Apaches travel to La Grange to play the Leopards at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28. If the Apaches win, they will clinch second place as it is doubtful either Smithville or La Grange will defeat Cuero in the next two weeks. A loss by Gonzales doesn’t hurt their playoff chances, but will mean they likely need to defeat Giddings in the finale.
Last year, the Leopards defeated the Apaches here, 34-0, so Gonzales will be looking for “la venganza” — retribution — in La Grange.
“La Grange is a very good team and we could hear they won pretty handily tonight (against Caldwell) and it’s going to be a good test to see where we’re at,” Rivera said.