SUGAR LAND — The Travis Tigers are closer than ever to winning the school’s first-ever out-right district championship after they defeated Ridge Point 27-23 on Thursday at Mercer Stadium.
The Panthers had won the district title for the past five years and defeated Travis in the de facto title game for the past two years.
The Tigers still must play Fort Bend Kempner, Clements and Bush, but Travis is expected to win those games.
Tigers head coach Trey Sissom said it will be difficult for any other team to take the District 20-6A title away from Travis now that it has defeated Ridge Point.
He said Thursday night’s victory should not be considered an upset.
“We’ve had opportunities to beat Ridge Point in the past but something always stopped us – penalties, big plays, missed tackles,” he said after Thursday’s battle.
“Tonight, everyone stepped up. Our defense and offense were both clicking. It was a heck of a team effort. We finally got that monkey off our back.”
The Tigers’ defense held the Panthers to three touchdowns and one field goal while the Travis offense — missing senior receiver Parker Washington — took advantage of missed assignments and poor tackling to put points on the board in all four quarters.
Still, Thursday’s match-up wasn’t decided until the final nine seconds of play.
The Panthers stopped the Tigers on their first possession of the evening deep in their own territory to force a punt but a bobbled snap gave Ridge Point the ball at the Travis 10 yards line. However, the Tigers’ defense forced the Panthers to settle for a field goal four plays later.
On Travis’ next possession, quarterback Eric Rodriguez marched the Tigers down the field on runs by Aundre Smith and Kaelen Shankle and a pass to Jarrell Farr to score on a quarterback keeper from eight yards out. Sergio Rubio’s kick capped the five-play drive and gave the Tigers a 7-3 lead.
The Travis defense made its second big stop of the evening 11 plays later when Makel Oliva picked up a Panthers’ fumble at the Tigers’ 16 yard line.
Travis took advantage of the turnover to generate its second successful drive of the night on runs by Shankle and passes to Farr and Smith. Rubio kicked a field goal with 9:08 remaining in the second quarter to give Travis a 10-3 lead.
The Panthers scored their first TD four plays later on a 50-yard pass from senior Will Pendegrass to senior receiver John Paul Richardson to even the score at 10-10.
Rubio kicked his second field goal of the evening minutes later to cap a nine-play, 83-yard drive and give Travis a slim 13-10 lead going into half time.
The Tigers returned from half time to score their second TD on an eight-yard run by Shankle with 5:46 remaining in the third quarter. Rubio’s kick made it a 20-10 game in favor of Travis.
Ridge Point’s Micah Ceaser returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards for a TD to narrow Travis’ lead to 20-17.
The Panthers scored a second TD in the third quarter on a 50-yard pass reception to give Ridge Point its first lead of the game.
Cornerback Cameron Oliver blocked the Panthers’ extra-point attempt to make it a 23-20 game with 38 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Travis scored its go-ahead TD on its next possession. The Tigers started on their on 20 yard line and Rodriguez moved them down field to the 10 yard line on runs by Shankle and Smith and passes to Farr.
Rodriguez found receiver Colin Mushinski in the end zone for the game-winning reception with 6:56 on the clock. Rubio kicked the extra point.
Rodriguez attempted 37 passes, 27 of which were caught for 298 yards and one touchdown.
Farr caught 12 passes for 101 yards, Mushinski, 4 for 64 and one TD, and Shankle, 5 for 52.
Shankle led the rushing for Travis with 89 yards on 21 carries and one TD. Rodriguez carried the ball 12 times for 30 yards and one touchdown.
Cameron Oliver came up with a game-saving interception in the fourth quarter.
Travis earned 21 first downs, compared to 10 by Ridge Point.
The Tigers were penalized 12 times for 72 yards — a large number of the flags called for false starts.
Sissom attributed the false starts to a team that was too excited about beating Ridge Point for the first time.
“They could taste victory,” he said. “They couldn’t wait to begin the next down.”