BRYAN — It’s hard to not look back at the end of September when Rouse was in the midst of losing three of four games to start the district season.
In the playoffs Thursday night, the Raiders looked like a new team.
They lost to No. 8 Magnolia West 42-31 at Merrill Green Stadium in Bryan in the bi-district round, the first appearance in the postseason in two years. But Rouse scored more points against the Mustangs than all but one team this season.
“That defense is really good and we put points up tonight,” Rouse head coach Josh Mann said. “I was proud of our resiliency on defense. That led to the intensity on offense and we got the big play on special teams. They love to run the ball and as big as they are up front, we did an outstanding job against their run game.”
Senior quarterback Ethan Moore threw for two touchdowns, one to Michael Ombres and one to Frank Botello. Jacob Zapata hit a 32-yard field goal, Tavian Tate scored on a 39-yard touchdown in the third quarter and Taye Biel returned a kickoff 73-yards in the first quarter.
The Raiders finished the game with 208 yards of total offense.
Without its leading rusher, Magnolia West was forced to throw the ball more than usual and quarterback John Matocha finished with 340 yards and three touchdowns.
“We had some mental breakdowns in the secondary,” Mann said. “I made the comments a couple times this week if our juniors and sophomores can handle the first big moment in pressure situations, we’re going to be in this. And a few times, it got big for them.”
Magnolia West scored on its first two possessions of the game before Biel energized the Rouse sideline with a kickoff return with under two minutes left in the first quarter.
The Raiders settled for a field goal to start the second quarter and the Mustangs again scored on back-to-back possessions. Rouse went the length of the field on the final drive of the half and Moore hit Ombres for a touchdown with one second left.
Rouse forced a three and out on the opening drive of the second half and capitalized with a 39-yard touchdown run by Tate.
But the Mustangs bled the clock and scored the next two touchdowns. A pass from Moore to Botello with just over three minutes left to cut the lead, but the Mustangs picked off Moore on the next drive to put the game away.
“They got off that mat when a lot of teams wouldn’t and they forged ahead,” Mann said “A lot was said that we weren’t getting in. This team said ‘no’ and forged ahead and made the playoffs. I think this is the start of the spark that is going to get us back in that direction.”
Rouse is a young team, returning Moore at quarterback, its top three rushers from the regular season, and three of the top six tacklers.
Mann was clearly excited for what the future holds, but also appreciative of what the senior class has done to make the program a perennial playoff participant again. In the meantime, he’s headed to Dallas to watch the Rouse volleyball team try and win a state title this weekend.
“We’re not the biggest team and we’re not the strongest or fastest,” he said. “They overcame those obstacles and played together as a family. As a coach, yeah you want to coach the DI kids, but this was the team I wanted to coach.”