The Brazos High School football team had enough experience on the wrong end of a close ball game in the young 2020 season.
The Cougars made sure they finished on a winning note Friday at Burton with a last-second defensive stop in the red zone to secure an 18-12 road victory.
"I've told the kids 'that's the type of game we're going to be in for all season'," Brazos head coach Ryan Roecker said. "We'll have close games the rest of the year, so we better be able to get locked in.
"Our biggest thing this year is F.A.M.I.L.Y. Like I've told them before, if you believe in something, you'll stand up for it and fight for it. You'll find a way to rally around each other and draw strength."
The game was scoreless entering the second half before senior Jared Demny helped the Cougars build a lead in the third quarter.
Brazos scored twice after halftime.
The Cougars took advantage of a Burton fumble with a nine-yard touchdown run from Demny with 8:27 left in the third quarter.
Another Burton turnover led to a 12-0 lead on a Demny connected with Bryson Bennett for a long touchdown pass.
Burton responded with a 74-yard touchdown run from Carter Callahan inside two minutes left in the third quarter.
The winning score came from junior Bryan Maldonado, who scooped up another fumble from the Panthers and returned the ball 60 yards for a touchdown.
It was Burton’s seventh fumble of the game and the score put Brazos up 18-6 with 5:29 remaining in the game.
"That came from the perfect kid," Roecker said. "You talk about blue collar and do whatever is needed. He is a smaller cat that throws his body around like he's 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds.
"There was no doubt if there was going to be a play made (Bryan) was going to be around the ball. It was awesome for him to hit paydirt."
Burton again answered with a quick strike.
This time it was a 59-yard screen pass for a touchdown came 24 seconds after Brazos’ score.
A flea-flicker pass gave Burton hope and put the Panthers in striking distance less than a minute left in the game.
But Brazos was able to hold on for the program’s first win of 2020. The Cougars (1-2) will travel to San Antonio Randolph next week before starting District 13-4A DII play the following Friday against East Bernard.