One defensive stop.
That’s all that stood before Vandegrift and the golden trophy awarded to an area football champion. One defensive stop, and the Vipers would still be alive and well in the state playoffs.
But Alamo Heights, which lost a 10-0 lead, scored on a 70-yard touchdown drive in the closing minutes to defeat Vandegrift 24-21 Thursday night at the Alamodome.
At times, Vandegrift played like an area champion. The Vipers sacked Alamo Heights quarterback Dalton Banks eight times. Vandegrift quarterback Jamie Hudson finished with 261 total yards — 132 on the ground, 129 through the air.
And when Hudson scored on a quarterback keeper with 5:05 to play in the game, giving the Vipers a 21-17 lead, Vandegrift was on the verge of its first trip to the regional semifinals in school history.
Instead, the Mules (9-3) will advance in the Class 4A, Division II playoffs and meet the winner of the Alice-Corpus Christi Calallen game that takes place Friday night.
“We knew we’d need to have that (defensive) stop at the end to win the game,” Vandegrift coach Drew Sanders said. “We’ve played well all year (on defense) but just couldn’t do it.”
Sanders gave credit to Alamo Heights, which rode hard-charging running back Byron Proctor, who capped the 70-yard scoring drive with a 15-yard run around left end with 1:46 to play.
The Mules, leading 24-21 after Proctor’s touchdown, sealed the victory when defensive back Jay Hargrove intercepted a Hudson pass on the first play of Vandegrift’s ensuing offensive possession.
Proctor was the game’s pivotal player, finishing with 171 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns.
“I told our guys before the final (offensive) drive, you’ve got to suck it up or the season is over,” said Alamo Heights coach Mike Norment.
Vandegrift’s final touchdown was set up by an interception by Max Regan, whose 88-yard return for a score was nullified by an excessive-celebration penalty. Regan appeared to wave at Alamo Heights players a few steps before crossing the goal line.
Fortunately for Vandegrift, the Vipers (9-3) scored a touchdown four plays after the penalty, the short drivecapped by Hudson’s short burst.
Despite being sacked four times in the first half, Banks peppered Vandegrift’s secondary with third-down completions. The Mules, who did not punt in the half, led 17-7 on the strength of 132 passing yards by Banks and 93 rushing yards by Proctor.
Banks continued his assault in the second half, finishing with 250 yards passing. That overshadowed tremendous defensive performances by Vandegrift linemen Sammy Zugg and Kevin Andrew, who each recorded multiple sacks.
Vipers senior receiver Luke Peterman was sensational in the opening half, catching four passes for 55 yards and a touchdown, but he did not catch a pass in the second half.