By KEVIN THOMPSON
HOLCOMB - Once in a blue moon the underdog can take out the favored team.
That's what Holcomb was hoping to do Friday night on the only blue moon that will occur in the next three years.
And it happened.
The Longhorns pulled off the unthinkable, rallying in the second half to defeat Meade, 28-27, in the 2012 season opener.
And it took a Clay Gilbert interception with 1:01 remaining with Meade driving to finally give coach Jerry Johnson his sigh of relief.
"They're a great team. They're just like us with a couple of big guys on the line," Johnson said of the perennial Class 2-1A powerhouse. "We knew it would be a battle. I was just hoping it wasn't going to be this close."
With Holcomb up 28-19, Meade scored with 5:42 left in the game.
Holcomb was forced to punt with just over three minutes to play. From midfield, Corey Roth landed a punt that settled at the Meade 3-yard line.
Then the Buffaloes went on a roll. Quarterback Chris Hardaway led the charge with a series of passes and runs that got the Buffaloes all the way to the Holcomb 20, including four first downs on just five plays.
But Keegan Amos and Max Ramsey dropped Hardaway for a 4-yard loss. On the next play, Hardaway threw a short pass to Mark Finster on the Longhorn sideline, but the ball tipped off his hands. Gilbert was in the right place, making the interception almost with a shocked look on his face.
But Gilbert turned shock into awe.
"I saw the ball go up. I was expecting him to catch it so I was getting into position ready to make a tackle," Gilbert said. "But I saw the ball up in the air, made a last-second adjustment and was able to get it."
Such second-half heroics was a contrast to the first half for Holcomb. Heath Tucker fumbled the opening kickoff return and Meade scored eight plays later.
Holcomb came back on the next series when Tyler LaSalle hit Tucker for a 29-yard pass to tie the game.
Meade scored on a 13-play drive to counter, then took a 19-7 lead with 2:24 left in the half on a Jett Little run.
LaSalle led a late drive that started at Holcomb's 28. A 23-yard pass to Jeremy Cox set up an 11-yard touchdown pass to Roth that went through Hardaway's hands in the end zone, and the Longhorns were down just 19-14 at the half.
That momentum carried into the third quarter when Holcomb made a huge stop on Meade's opening drive. The Buffaloes started at their own 45 and got down to the Holcomb 10. Facing fourth down and five, the Longhorn defense forced an incomplete pass to regain possession.
After that, Holcomb's 9-play series drove the ball 90 yards, culminating on Tucker's 4-yard run for a 20-19 Longhorn lead.
Holcomb added to that lead, ending a 14-play drive that carried over into the fourth quarter on another Tucker run, this one from six yards out.
Trevin Wiens scored on a 3-yard run and the pass was good to close the gap to just a point with 5:42 left before Holcomb pulled off its late feat.
"We had a lot mental errors," Tucker said. "But it's the greatest feeling in the world coming out and beating the state champs from two years ago in 2A. It was awesome."
Tucker said the turnaround after halftime was almost prophetic.
"Coach told us at halftime that if we came out and stopped them that first drive, then we'd be in the game still," Tucker said. "But if we didn't, they'd be two touchdowns up and they'd be right where they wanted."
Fortunately, the coach was right.
LaSalle ended the game with 99 yards rushing on 11 carries, but more importantly, he was able to lead his team through the adverse moments and the mental mistakes, including an interception in the second quarter.
"It was just a football game, really," he said. "If things don't happen, just find a place to run. That's all I did was just run."
Meade is a tough team with great athletes, he said, but beating them speaks volumes for the Longhorns.
"We're definitely pretty good this year," he said. "As long as we stay healthy, we should be all right."
Johnson said a game like this showed his team's resiliency, especially after playing so tight in the first half.
"We had penalties. We weren't aligning right. We had first-game jitters," he said. "But the thing we preach is our motto, 'finish.' We want to finish the game off, finish the season. Second half, we've got to finish. We did it."
Meade 7 12 0 8 -- 27
Holcomb 7 7 6 8 -- 28
M — Hardaway 1 run, Davis kick
H — LaSalle 29 pass to Tucker, Tucker kick
M — Little 8 run, kick blocked
M — Little 14 run, pass failed
H — LaSalle 11 pas to Roth, Tucker kick
H — Tucker 4 run, run failed
H — Tucker 6 run, LaSalle pass to Gilbert
M — Wiens 3 run, Hardaway pass to Davis
RUSHING — Meade: Hardaway 15-110, Little 13-95, Wiens 18-82; Holcomb: LsSalle 11-99, Tucker 7-43, Hernandez 9-43.
PASSING — Meade: Hardaway 8-134; Holcomb: LaSalle 11-164.