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BY Matthew Costa, Special to the Record

DENTON–Dominant defense was the name of the game for the Celina Bobcats (10-0) Friday night as they defeated Sanger (9-2), 42-21, to advance to the second round of the Texas 3A playoffs.

Trouble came early for the Bobcats however, as they fumbled the opening kickoff, setting up the Indians in their territory. But the Indians wouldn’t see the end zone, let alone points, as they returned the favor and gave Celina the ball back just five plays later.

“I was thrilled with how [the defense] played all game,” said Butch Ford, Celina head coach. “We had to take care of some people tonight but I was really impressed.”

Although Celina was unable to score on its possession, the Bobcats were able to move out of the shadow of their own end zone and set up their following drive near midfield. Using 10 plays, including a fake punt on fourth-and-long, Celina scored on a play-action pass from freshman Nathan Elliot to senior running back Lee Nelson.

In the first playoff game of his career, Elliot completed 6-of-12 pass attempts for 45 yards and that touchdown along with a team-high 141 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

“We just executed when we had to,” Elliot said. “Our offense didn’t start off too hot though. It really hurts not having [senior tail back Jamarick Simmons] in.”

Scoring in the first half ended at 7-0, Celina. Sanger couldn’t put any drive together until near the second quarter, but still couldn’t score as the Indians were denied on fourth down after an 88-yard drive.

Celina’s defense was able to hold the Indians to just two first downs in the first half along with only 105 yards of offense, 74 of which came on one play.

“Our defense saved us this week,” Elliot said. “They really stepped up. We all executed in the second half though.”

The game was still up for grabs when the third quarter began, but was put out of reach quickly as Sanger quarterback and punter Dane Evans recovered a bad snap, but couldn’t get off a quality punt and watched as Lee Nelson picked up the shank and walked into the end zone for a 13-0 lead that felt more like 100-0.

The Bobcats defense refused to allow any type of comeback, intercepting Evans on a fake punt attempt on the following drive. Evans finished the night completing 15-for-40 pass attempts for 155 yards for two scores, but he also threw two interceptions in his final high school football game.

“We told our defensive line we needed to get to him,” Ford said. “He’s a good football player though. He’ll be good at Tulsa.”

Two of the next three scores would come via Elliot’s feet, including a one play 50-yard drive after Sanger failed an onside attempt and found itself trailing 28-7.

“I definitely wanted the ball in my hands,” Elliot said. “I feel comfortable whenever I have it and we just executed on those drives in the second half.”

Following a fumble by the Bobcats, Sanger scored on an eight-play drive that finished with Evans finding Jon Garza in the back of the end zone to trim the lead down to 35-14 with little more than two minutes remaining.

Again, Celina responded immediately on a one-play drive following another failed onside kick attempt, this time using Deshawn Davis’ 35-yard run to finalize the Bobcats’ scoring at 42-14.

“I guess I can’t complain,” Ford said. “I would have preferred to take some time off the clock on those drives but whenever you score, you can’t complain. I was pleased with that.”

Sanger would later tack on one more score before the end of the game on a one-yard plunge by Evans, but it was too little too late as Celina defeated the Indians, 42-21.

Celina will look to avenge last years 17-0 playoff defeat as they are matched up against Lovejoy, but details of the game time and location are still pending.


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