SHENANDOAH — A valiant defensive effort wasn’t enough for the Huntsville Hornets on Saturday afternoon at Woodforest Bank Stadium.
Huntsville had its season ended by Fort Bend Marshall for the second straight year, falling 28-14 in the third round of the Class 5A, Division II playoffs. For a group of more than 30 seniors that played a vital role in one of the most successful stretches in school history, Saturday marked the final time they would represent the Hornets on the football field.
"The thing that's the toughest is they did everything I asked of them," Huntsville head coach Rodney Southern said. "We asked them to get up early and run track, we asked them to powerlift, we asked them to do everything in the summer. They did everything we asked and then some. Not only does that set a foundation for those guys, but hopefully for years to come."
"How hard we worked to get where we are shows how much we cared about it," added senior safety Jaden Schroeder. "We put up a fight and proved that we can play with anyone in the state. It's tough to lose, but it happens."
The Hornets climbed back from an early 14-0 deficit and tied the game up in the opening minutes of the third quarter. However, FB Marshall — which won the turnover battle 5-to-2 — answered back with 14 unanswered points to put the game away. The Buffalos took the lead for good on a 53-yard run by Devon Achane in the third quarter, and extended its advantage to 14 points later in the quarter on another score from the senior running back — this time after an apparent missed kick-catch interference call resulted in a Buffs fumble recovery inside the Hornets’ 5-yard line.
"That kind of killed the momentum we had," senior receiver Tyrique Carter said. "We had really good momentum and the defense got a stop ... mistakes just killed us."
Huntsville's defense was tasked with slowing down one of the top offenses in the state — led by the senior duo of Malik Hornsby, a four-star quarterback with a handful of Power 5 offers, and Achane, a Texas A&M commit with blinding speed. The Hornets succeeded for the most part, forcing five three-and-outs and three in the third quarter alone, but the playmaking ability of Achane — who accounted for 248 of his team's 263 yards from scrimmage and all four touchdowns — ultimately tilted the game in the Buffs' favor.
Of the four scoring drives Huntsville allowed, only one began inside FB Marshall territory. The Hornets were particularly efficient at stopping the pass, allowing just 61 yards through the air. Schroeder and fellow senior defensive back Kobe Lewis both picked off Hornsby, who entered the game without an interception thrown all season.
Huntsville had seven players combine to record 12 tackles for loss, with junior defensive lineman Ed Bobino racking up five himself.
"I was extremely impressed," senior linebacker Jordan Brown said of Huntsville's defensive effort. "Guys stepped in ... we had Cody McLerran make things happen, Sebastian Patterson on the D-line. It was instilled in us to go after every single play."
Seniors Matthew Southern and Nate Hambright connected for the Hornets' first touchdown on a six-yard pass from Southern with 4:51 left in the second quarter. Southern passed for 202 yards, while Hambright finished with seven catches for 57 yards. Miles Tatum led Huntsville with 62 receiving yards, and fellow senior Will Barnes added 52 yards on four catches.
Senior running back Cameron Myers, who rushed for a team-high 75 yards, added the Hornets' other score 6:15 into the second half. Myer's three-yard run tied the game at 14, but Achane took a handoff 53 yards to paydirt on the next play from scrimmage to put FB Marshall back on top.
A roar emerged from the Huntsville faithful in the moments after Saturday's final whistle, as fans crowded the front rows of the bleachers to show their appreciation for the Hornets' most successful senior class since the turn of the century.
This group went 10-0 as freshmen, then won either nine games with the junior varsity or eight at the varsity level the next year. As juniors, many played a pivotal part in a 12-2 season that saw Huntsville run the table in District 10 on the way to the school's deepest postseason run in 28 years. They capped off their careers with a pair of playoff wins and a 9-4 finish in 2019.
Four of Huntsville's seniors — Southern, Carter, Tatum and Schroeder — have fathers that are on the coaching staff. But as Coach Southern is quick to note, the whole group has a family feel to it.
"I've been a head coach 18 years, and Matthew's been around for 18 years. That part has been very special, knowing the fact that he's going to come to my office and he's always going to be around,” the coach said. “But this group, a lot of them have almost been like their own kids, because they've been together so much.
"They've set a foundation. It's obviously going to be what we need for the future, but it's something they ought to be really, really proud of as well.”