MONTGOMERY — With their opponent in scoring position and an eight-point lead in hand, one of the Huntsville Hornets’ senior leaders rose to the occasion — twice — to clinch the District 10-5A, Division II championship on Friday night.
Senior defensive end Quaterian Riles pulled down an interception in the red zone that appeared to secure the victory with 44 seconds remaining. However, a fumbled handoff gave Montgomery life two plays later, leading to one last opportunity for the Bears on fourth-and-two from the 20-yard-line.
Montgomery attempted to catch Huntsville off-guard, dialing up a double-reverse, flea-flicker pass as time expired. Riles had other plans, blowing up the play in the backfield and sacking the quarterback to cement a 23-15 road win — and the Hornets’ third district title in four years.
“We live for this,” Riles said moments after his game-saving stop. “We want to be in this position, stopping a team at the last second to win the game — and the district championship.”
Quaterian Riles stops the trick play in the backfield and Huntsville holds on to beat Montgomery 23-15 for the District 10-5A, DII title #txhsfb @Item_Sports @HoustonChronHS pic.twitter.com/gCavzyv329— Josh Criswell (@Item_Criswell) November 28, 2020
The gut-wrenching finish signaled an unfamiliar sight for the Hornets, who won their first four district games by an average of 30.75 points. Huntsville head coach Rodney Southern notes that the close call against the Bears — who entered the night tied with the Hornets at 4-0 in league play — wasn’t ideal, but could turn out to be a silver lining.
“We shouldn't have been in that situation, but there were some mistakes that we can teach off of — and hopefully grow from,” Southern said. “We needed a challenge. Winning those games like we have during district ... that can be good, and sometimes that can be bad. Knowing we've secured everything with a game left, we can take a deep breath, focus on the last one and see what happens after that.”
Montgomery out-gained Huntsville 407-304, as the Hornets struggled to get the passing game going — junior quarterback AJ Wilson completed 7-of-16 passes for 78 yards. However, senior receiver Jordan Woodberry is confident Huntsville’s aerial attack can get back on track before the postseason.
“They had a good start on defense, but we’re going to work on that,” Woodberry said. “I know we are.”
Junior running back Jaylon McClain provided the spark for the Huntsville offense, rushing for 136 yards and three touchdowns. McClain has surpassed the century mark on the ground in each of the Hornets’ five district games, compiling 696 rushing yards and 10 scores during this stretch.
Wilson also made his presence felt in the running game, breaking a 41-yard run on a scramble to set up Huntsville’s first touchdown. Junior Christian Avelar was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts, with his nine points in the kicking game proving pivotal in an eight-point contest.
In addition to locking up the district championship, Huntsville also clinched a No. 1 playoff seed with Friday’s victory. As a result, the Hornets will host a bi-district round game at a location that has yet to be determined in the first week of the postseason.
Huntsville closes out the regular season next Friday at Madisonville High School against Lamar Fulshear.
“There is a lot to learn from tonight, but at the same time, we're district champions and the No. 1 seed,” Southern said. “We know what our route is going to look like now, and we have a week left to get those things fixed.”
Riles admits that the possibility of an undefeated regular season has the Hornets motivated, despite having the district’s top seed locked up already. However, with five playoff wins in the past two seasons, Huntsville isn’t shy to state its ultimate goal.
“We know what we have to do,” Riles said. “We’re going to keep doing what we have to do every week, and we’re going to the state championship this year.”