By BRETT MARSHALL
MEADE — It would be stating the obvious that the 2013 season opener between Holcomb's Longhorns and Meade's Buffaloes was eerily similar to their 2012 season debut.
The home field changed, rosters changed, quarterbacks changed.
But the outcome didn't.
This time, the Longhorns held steadfast on the Buffaloes' final drive of the game, stopping quarterback Jett Little on a 4th-and-3 at midfield with less than a minute to play, preserving a hard-fought, 21-20 non-league victory on Friday night at Meade Stadium.
It was at Holcomb just a year earlier that the Longhorns intercepted a pass in the closing moments to preserve a 28-27 win that catapulted them to a 9-2 season and all the way to the second round of the Class 3A playoffs. It proved to be Meade's only setback last season as they marched through Class 2A to win a second state championship in three seasons.
But on this night, the Longhorns survived a slugfest, a monumental battle in the trenches and some big plays on both offense and defense by both teams.
And typical of first-game performances, both Holcomb coach Jerry Johnson and Meade coach Scott Moshier saw things they liked, and saw things that need to be improved.
"This one was all about heart," an elated but exhausted Johnson said on the field moments after the game ended. "That last defensive stand said it all. We made a lot of mental mistakes, but we had a lot of people on defense in the right places a lot of the game. That's the exciting part."
Senior Heath Tucker was making his first start at quarterback as was Meade senior Jett Little.
Tucker finished the game 14-of-23 for 172 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for a pair of 1-yard TD sneaks. He rushed for 44 yards on 14 attempts. He had one pass picked off by Little early in the fourth that set up Meade's final score and a chance to take the lead with 4:28 remaining in the game.
"I wasn't very good at the passing," Tucker said. "My receivers did a great job of going after the ball, and the line blocked so well. All the credit goes to them."
When Little found 6-3, 220-pound tight end Morgan Davis in the end zone on a Hail Mary 14-yard TD pass, the Buffs were down by one and had a chance to either tie or go for the lead. Moshier opted for the go-ahead 2-pointer mainly due in part to a blocked PAT after the Buffs scored on their opening drive of the game.
"We just didn't have any confidence in the kicking after that first one," Moshier candidly said. "Same thing happened last year. We miss an extra point, we have a chance to take the lead, don't make it. Hand it to Holcomb. They played a really good game. It's disappointing, but we'll bounce back. We've got to go back to the drawing board and get ready for Lakin."
Moshier said he liked his team's opening drive of the night, which came against a 10 mph wind, going 68 yards in 11 plays, all on the ground and removing 5 minutes, 25 seconds off the clock.
"That was Meade football," Moshier said. "It's the only time all night we looked like the team we've been. Other than that, we didn't break anything very long (a 32-yarder by Little was the lone 20-plus yard run)."
Junior linebacker Blake Richmeier said the Longhorns changed up their defensive scheme for the Buffs' vaunted single-wing offense.
"Coach (Brandon) Hill did a great job of getting us to recognize their sets, where the ball was," said Richmeier. "Last year felt great beating them, because they're a great team. But anytime you can go to the other team's field and win and take it away, that's special."
Meade's opening drive stood up for the first 12 minutes before Holcomb responded with two scores in the second period.
Tucker found 6-4 junior receiver Trey Sleep on an isolation play far in the corner of the end zone from 8-yards out and Juan Guerrero booted the all-important extra point for a 7-6 lead with 9:58 showing before the break.
The Longhorns extended their lead to 14-6, when Tucker dove over from the 1-yard line with 2:07 and Guerrero's PAT was good. Meade, though, as a champion team would, answered quickly.
The Buffs took the ball 66 yards in just 1 minute, 41 seconds with Little bowling over from the 1 with only 16 seconds left before intermission. Little connected with Davis on another high-reaching catch that knotted the score at 14.
Holcomb's second possession of the third quarter led to what eventually proved to be the game-winner.
The 'Horns marched 70 yards in 9 plays with Tucker again sneaking in from the 1-yard line. Guerrero remained perfect with his third point-after and Holcomb was up 21-14 with 1:53 remaining in the third.
From there, it was two stout defenses holding the offenses in check, each counter-punching the other.
In the end, the Longhorns had one final big stand left in their reserve tank on a night when the game-time temperature was in the upper 90s.
"Everybody was gassing, but we dug deep," Holcomb's Johnson said. "At times we looked good, but the consistency just wasn't there. That means we've got room to improve and that's always good, especially after you've won a big game."
The Longhorns will hit the road in Week 2 for a Great West Activities Association opener at Hugoton while Meade travels to Lakin for an encounter between the two Hi-Plains League foes.
Holcomb 0 14 7 0 -- 21
Meade 6 8 0 6 -- 20
Mea--Jett Little 1 run (kick blocked), 6:35.
Hol--Trey Sleep 8 pass from Heath Tucker (Juan Guerrero kick), 9:58.
Hol--Tucker 1 run (Guerrero kick), 2:07.
Mea--Little 1 run (Morgan Davis pass from Little), :16.
Hol--Tucker 1 run (Guerrero kick), 1:53.
Mea--Davis 14 pass from Little (pass failed), 4:28.
First downs 13 15
Rushes-yards 25-90 45-187
Passing yards 172 76
Passes (Com-Att-Int) 14-23-1 6-13-1
Fumbles-lost 2-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 5-30 3-30
Punts-avg 3-41.0 2-48.0 ------
RUSHING--Holcomb: Tucker 15-55, Richmeier 4-19, Roth 3-12, Marz 2-4.
Meade: Olvera 15-60, Little 25-112, Wiens 4-12, Wornkey 1-3.
PASSING--Holcomb: Tucker 14-23-1--172.
Meade: Little 6-12-1--76; Davis 0-1-0--0.
RECEIVING--Holcomb: Gray 1-8, Rupp 4-74, Gottschalk 2-20, Showalter 1-4, Marz 3-41, Sleep 2-21, Stegman 1-4.
Meade: Davis 5-59, Wornkey 1-17.