Football can be beautiful or ugly or sloppy or surprising.
Friday night's showdown between Cedar Park and Hutto checked all those boxes and added up to a win for a group looking to take back their spot atop the district standings.
After struggling to move the ball for more than three and a half quarters, the Timberwolves went on a five-play touchdown drive to outlast the Hippos 20-16 and stay unbeaten on top of the District 11-5A standings.
"You're going to have some good things happen and some bad things happen," Cedar Park head coach Carl Abseck said. "But our guys stuck to it. There are ebbs and flows. It's a big victory for our kids."
Cedar Park junior quarterback Ryder Hernandez completed passes of nine, 15 and 23 yards on the final drive before scrambling up the middle for the game-winning 14-yard touchdown run. He finished with 202 yards on 17-of-35 passing and one touchdown.
"Before we broke out for the last drive, we knew we had to go be great," Hernandez said. "I was just getting the balls to playmaker's hands quick and letting them go make plays. It was a great team win, it was awesome."
Preston Scott caught three passes for 99 yards and a touchdown while Gunnar Abseck had 10 receptions for 90 yards for the Timberwolves. Cedar Park finished with negative rushing yards as a team, but Jonathan Stockwell led the group with 13 yards on three carries.
Hutto finished with 100 total rushing yards and 171 yards through the air. Sophomore quarterback Grayson Doggett was 14-of-27 passing for 184 yards and a touchdown. Hippos kicker Evan Gutierrez made field goals from 20, 28 and 46 yards.
"Our defensive guys do a great job preparing our kids, and they did a great job of executing the gamelan," Abseck said.
The two teams combined for 29 penalties and 295 penalty yards.
Doggett hit Landyn Watson - a defensive lineman committed to LSU - for the opening touchdown late in the first quarter. The Timberwolves and Hippos traded field goals in the second quarter.
Hernandez launched a perfect rainbow pass to Scott for a 62-yard touchdown on the final play of the first half to tie things up at the break.
After two more field goals early in the second half, Hutto hit a 43-yard pass to get to the Cedar Park 2-yard line. Speedy Dajon Harrison was moving towards the end zone, but Cedar Park defensive back Caden Combs ran him down and stopped him short of the goal line.
"My mindset is, ‘I've got to stop him. He can't score on our team. I've got to catch him,'" Combs said. "I just put the jets on."
The hustle paid off when the Timberwolves forced a fumble on the next drive and returned it 21 yards to near midfield. Just a couple plays later, Cedar Park faked a punt. Tammer Alzer's pass was caught by Brock Johnson, who lateraled it to another Cedar Park player to just get enough for the first down.
Gutierrez made his third field goal of the game early in the fourth quarter to give the Hippos the lead.
But the Timberwolves never got their heads down.
"You get frustrated at times offensively when it's not going the way you want things to go," Abseck said. "Defensively, I couldn't be more proud. They bent a few times and didn't break but twice. We did enough at the end to pull it out. They did keep playing, and that's a credit to our kids and their character."
Cedar Park is on a bye next week and finishes out the regular season with a trip to face Pflugerville on Nov. 1 and a home game against Manor on Nov. 8.
"It feels awesome," Hernandez said. "We're going to go into this bye week, get everyone healthy, and then come out these last two district game going for two more wins."