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Garner's FG pushes Deer past Bulldogs

Written by Adrian Romero. Posted in Sports

The Deer football team edged archrival La Porte 16-14 with a Cameron Gardner field goal in the closing moments of Friday night’s Border Battle. The win breaks a three-game losing streak to the Bulldogs. Deer Park remains undefeated in district play going into its bye week.

Friday’s Border Battle win had all the ingredients of a true rivalry game recipe: the story of a backup quarter back leading a team to a come-from-behind victory, redemption, a thrilling finish, and of course playing archrival La Porte under the Friday Night Lights.

All those ingredients added up to a 16-14 Deer Park victory over the Bulldogs at Abhsier Stadium. The win broke a three-year losing streak with the Bulldogs.

The game started off shaky for both teams, until La Porte found the endzone late in the first quarter. La Porte also took advantage of their next drive after a Deer Park punt, gaining another touchdown after an impressive drive ignited by a big run down the sideline to go up 14-0 in the second quarter.

Deer Park tried to find some spark on offense to get them on the board before the half, which came in the form of a huge gain on the ground by quarterback Broc Weidner. This promising drive was snuffed out when the team committed its first of three fumbles on the night.

The Deer defense came up big, however, and La Porte was forced to punt after what seemed to be a crushing blow. Weidner’s offense took the field again midway through the second quarter and started racking up first downs until Tyrek Saylor burst through the La Porte defense for a 43-yard rushing touchdown. Cameron Garner added the point after to send the Deer to halftime facing a 14-7 deficit.

Deer Park got the ball back in the second half, but fumbled it away. La Porte took over and nearly scored, but a blocked field goal kept it a one possession game.

Offensively, the Deer still could not find a rhythm and was forced to punt again. The Bulldogs drove down the field again, but Deer Park’s defense stopped them again which forced another field goal attempt.

La Porte tried some trickery with a direct snap to the kicker but the Deer defense stopped the kicker dead in his tracks at the 1-yard line, making for another great play in special teams for the Deer in the third quarter. While the Deer celebrated their triumph defensively, they wouldn’t be celebrating long. A hard tackle on the ensuing offensive drive injured Weidner. Back-up quarterback Jayden Otts would have to lead the Deer to victory with only a quarter and a half left to play.

Deer Park and La Porte seemed locked in position, never gaining an upper hand on the other during the majority of the final quarter. That changed with a blocked punt by Deer Park safety Luke Schaper, which Bradley Greene returned inside La Porte’s 5-yard line.

Otts and company capitalized on this dynamic play, but a missed PAT by Garner would leave the Deer down by one point 14-13 with two minutes left to play. A recovered onside kick by Deer Park gave them one more drive to win the game.

Otts and Garner had the chance to add their names to the Border Battle lore and they did so in a big way. Otts came alive and completed clutch passes in a final drive that would lead to a game-winning 38-yard field goal by Cameron Garner.

“It hurt when Broc went down, but we still had a game to play. Our offense really came together and it felt good to finish strong in such an important game. It’s still unbelievable to me that we did it, it’s really amazing,” said Otts.

Garner said his game winning field goal was a sort of redemption for his missed PAT attempt that would have tied the game. “I’m glad I got to go out there and finish the game for my team. It meant a lot to me after that missed PAT that the coaches trusted me to win it and I’m glad I didn’t disappoint them or the fans,” said Garner.

Deer Park would complete another onside kick, not allowing La Porte to have another possession.

The actual football game is only half the fun of the rivalry, with both towns getting in on the fun and creating an electric atmosphere that the players feed off of. Head Coach Chris Massey is no stranger to preparing his team for a rivalry game, and said that keeping the focused is crucial to getting a win.

“It’s a great rivalry we have here, and the week leading up to the game is always fun because both cities get really into it and that gives the guys more energy during the week at practice. It also adds some nerves and jitters too but we keep our team focused on doing their job, and I think just being well prepared helps take some of the edge off so they can play to their full potential on Friday night,” he said.

Massey applauded his team for staying strong throughout the course of the game, and how they did on special teams.

“Special teams really was the story tonight. We executed well and without the big defensive plays we had in the kicking game, there would be a different team celebrating tonight. Our team didn’t let up and kept fighting even when our quarterback went down. I like how they rallied around each other, and got the win tonight against La Porte which is huge. We’re going to heal up this upcoming bye week and work on us and what we can improve on, then we’ll look forward to preparing for Pasadena Memorial,” said Massey.