It was first down and goal from the two-yard line. Down by six, Vista Ridge needed a touchdown and extra point to defeat Tomball Memorial and advance to the area round.
With 36 seconds left, Kwade Hegtvedt took Kyle Brown's handoff, pushed through the middle, and found himself inches from the goal line. As he stretched to break the plain, the ball slipped out of his hands.
A swarm of Tomball Memorial defenders emerged with the ball, and the team followed by running out the clock on offense.
Vista Ridge's hopes of their first postseason victory since 2015 were dashed by a last-minute fumble, and the Rangers fell 49-43 to Tomball Memorial in the bi-district round at Gupton Stadium on Friday night.
It was a devastating loss to end a historic season for Vista Ridge, who finished 8-3 on the year after a 1-9 record in 2018. When head coach Rodney Vincent gathered his club on the turf amid a Tomball Memorial celebration on the other side, there was not a dry eye in the huddle.
"I'm just proud of the way our guys fight. They fought the entire year just to make it here," Vincent said. "They have been the underdogs all year long and the way they fight to earn everything they've got makes me proud."
It was an offensive shootout that came down to one play, a fitting end to a thrilling game. The two clubs combined for 92 points, 1,127 yards, and 84 passing attempts.
Kyle Brown led the way for Vista Ridge in a quarterback duel, throwing for 441 yards and five touchdowns on 26-for-41 passing, matching his counterpart, Wildcats quarterback Colton Marwill (30-for-43, 424 yards, three touchdowns) step for step.
Adam Fogg was Brown's most productive receiver, coming down with five receptions for 155 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Hegtvedt was his primary target, as the versatile offensive weapon hauled in 12 catches for 83 yards.
"This kind of football comes down to defense, takeaways, and some hidden yardage. Our offense was great all night long but we didn't execute on some of those other things," Vincent said.
Tomball Memorial opened the scoring with an impressive drive that spanned 94 yards on 17 plays, culminating in a two-yard push by running back Richard Rodriguez. Vista Ridge would answer on the following possession, as senior wideout Ethan Heffelfinger caught a third-down pass from Brown and took it 84 yards for a score.
Rodriguez would get back on the board with a four-yard rush that doubled the Wildcats lead later on in the first, but less than three minutes later, Brown and the Vista Ridge offense would respond with a two-yard connection by the stat signal-caller and senior back Alec Dickerson.
Tomball Memorial tallied its first of three passing touchdowns later in the second quarter when Joseph Manjack IV hauled in a Marwill pass from 34 yards away for a touchdown. From there, momentum shifted to the Rangers' side.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Fogg received a lob pass and left the visiting defense in his dust on a 93-yard catching touchdown from Brown, who threw his third score on the play. Less than a minute after, Marwill was sacked in the endzone for a Tomball Memorial safety that tied the game at 22. Brown then nailed Fogg for a 14-yard touchdown pass on a scramble to his right to give Vista Ridge its first lead of the night.
Marwill and Manjack IV replied with a 63-yard reception touchdown with under two minutes in the second quarter to enter the half tied at 29-29.
The Rangers jumped out to a two-possession lead with a dominant third quarter. After a long drive ended in Brown's last of five touchdowns, a 12-yard strike to Fogg, the Vista Ridge defense cashed in.
On a completed pass from Marwill to wideout Logan Kyle, senior defensive back Corbin Bates stripped him of the ball and ran 23 yards to the house to double the Vista Ridge lead.
In the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, the Wildcats had equaled the scoring. With passes to Jake Ferrell and Joseph Manjack IV, Marwill tallied two touchdowns over the air in the fourth to tie the game up.
With under two minutes to go, Rodriguez completed the hat trick of rushing scores with a 12-yard scamper down the middle, giving Tomball Memorial a 49-43 after a missed extra point.
With 1:33 on the clock, the game was all but over. With three timeouts and 68 yards to go, the Rangers had a chance. Brown, with two passes and a draw run, led them down to the two-yard-line within just three plays.
With first and goal at the two-yard-line, Vista Ridge needed just one push and the ensuing kick. Kwade Hegtvedt fumbled trying to stretch for the end zone and the season came to a close.
"Even if that's what everyone is gonna remember, it's never just one play," Vincent said. "There were a couple of calls that I made and messed up. It's always a couple of things that cost you a game, it's never just one play, so we won't focus on it."
Vincent and the Rangers will remember this, but the program is looking up after a remarkable turnaround in 2019.
"The biggest thing to me is how these kids went about things, and I think it's important that we continue to go about things the same way on a daily basis," Vincent said. "That will be the message for the returning players. For the seniors, I'm just going to emphasize that every single one of us is proud of them."
Follow @HCNSports on Twitter and Instagram for the latest news on all local and regional sports.