ALPINE – One week after leading from start to finish in a dominating 33-0 win over Kermit, the Fort Stockton High School Panthers football team showed that it could come from behind to win in a 27-21 victory over the Alpine Bucks.
It is the first time since 2014 that the Panthers have opened the season with two wins.
The Panthers will now host the 5A-Div. 2 Riverside Rangers from El Paso Friday at 7:30 p.m. Riverside (0-2) is coming off a 41-6 loss to Burges Friday night.
Derek Hernandez made an end-zone deflection of Bucks quarterback Tyler Estrada’s pass on and fourth-and-two from the Panthers’ 18 with 15 seconds left to seal the win.
It was one of several key plays made by Hernandez in the game, including a 69-yard punt return to set up what proved to be the game-winning touchdown. He also four catches for first downs that preserved drives, an interception and knocked down another Alpine pass to force a punt.
As good as Hernandez played, the win was truly a team effort, with the defense making key stops to keep the game close and the offense responding to each Alpine score.
Fort Stockton came into the game expecting a major dose of option offense running. But the Bucks threw on five of six plays to go up 7-0 with 2:39 left in the first quarter to cap an 87-yard drive.
But the Panthers, in setting the stage for the game, responded with a six-pay, 66-yard scoring drive that was finished off by Jesse Franco’s 44-yard catch and run off a Nick Johnson pass.
The defense made a huge stop in the second quarter with the game tied 7-7, as Josh Hernandez and Daniel Busby sacked Estrada for a 6-yard loss on a fourth down play from the Panthers’ 29-yard line.
But two plays later, the Bucks capitalized on a short field after a Panthers’ fumble to go 29 yards for the go-ahead score on Alex Gonzalez’ 6-yard run.
The Panthers answered with a scoring drive with Johnson scrambling the final yard to tie the game at 14 going into the half.
The Bucks took the opening kickoff of the second half and mounted an impressive 13-play drive that chewed nearly 7 minutes off the clock. Alpine went back to its option running attack, but also benefitted twice from Fellows finding open space in the flat to make key first-down catches. Fellows would remain a thorn in the Panthers’ secondary the rest of the game.
Once again, the Panthers answered. This time, Fort Stockton moved 86 yards on eight plays capped by Cesar Trejo’s 1-yard run.
Derek Hernandez had two pivotal catches and runs of 20 and 38 yards to propel the drive.
But Fort Stockton failed to convert the point-after kick, leaving them down 21-20 with 1:22 left in the third quarter.
With the rain increasing in the fourth quarter, Fort Stockton’s defense stepped up, holding the Bucks to two punts before Derek Hernandez’ deflection denied their final bid for a touchdown.
Fort Stockton had two possessions in the final frame, the first ending in a punt from their own 47 after a holding penalty.
The second, however, sealed the game.
With just under four minutes left in the game, Alpine punted from the Fort Stockton 49. The ball bounced inside the 10 and was rolling toward the end zone. Derek Hernandez, after first hesitating, deciding the pick up the bouncing ball at the five. Eluding the deep coverage man, he cut and weaved through the Alpine return team for a 69-yard return that put the Panthers in business on the Bucks’ 26.
Johnson used his running ability to record runs of 4, 9 and 4 yards – including the final touchdown as Fort Stockton took its first and only lead of the game.
The Panthers have now scored 60 points through two games and are almost halfway to equally their scoring total of 139 points from last season.
But, as was the case in the opening win against Kermit, the Panthers miss-fired on some scoring opportunities.
The Panthers stalled on the Bucks 14-yard line in the first quarter, failing to capitalize on a first-and-goal from the 10. A holding penalty earlier on the drive negated Tony Rodriguez’ touchdown run. Two drives across midfield ended in punts, while two other drives starting on their own 35 and 47 ended in a fumble and punt, respectively.