The Liberty Hill Panthers got the most amount of pressure on the quarterback the Tigers had seen all year and rode that momentum to a trip to the Region IV Final.
Garret Zaskoda suffered six sacks, none of which set Sealy back more than the final one with just over three minutes remaining.
The drive started after Kyle Harrison found the end zone to put Liberty Hill in the lead (28-21) for the first time since they opened the scoring eight minutes into the contest.
A pair of incompletions and a short gain set up a fourth-and-six but Zaskoda found A.J. McGee to keep the Tigers moving.
Soon enough, Sealy was in the red zone and a defensive holding set them up on the 9-yard line with only the goal to go to tie the game.
Ivan Bolden split through the line and into the end zone, but a holding call brought the ball back to the 11.
An incompletion on the re-do of second down was followed by more pressure on Zaskoda on third down, forcing him to attempt to throw it away while wrapped up with Panther defenders, earning an intentional grounding penalty.
That flag not only pushed the Tigers further back but also forced a loss of down, now making it fourth-and-goal from the 21.
Then Liberty Hill swallowed Zaskoda again, earning a turnover on downs with 3:33 showing left to play.
The Panthers went on a game-clinching drive that ended with a quarterback-keeper that went 26 yards with Jacob Cearley not even getting touched to push the score to its final resting place, 35-21.
Although it was only the first defeat for Sealy, it ended the season just three steps away from the pinnacle; the state finals.
But it was still a remarkable season with plenty of positive peaks throughout and offensive coordinator Chris Carruthers put that in perspective a little bit.
“12-1 is nothing to hang your head about,” he said simply, knowing that although the loss stings, it will only fuel the future which is looking plenty bright already.
Head Coach Shane Mobley quickly echoed those thoughts, taking note of the underclassmen who were taking this loss just as if it were their last game of their high school careers as well, but knows his work with this senior class has not ended yet.
“To my seniors, I don’t know what to say, I’m speechless,” Mobley started. “But I love you and it’s time to get them prepared for the future. And that will be these next couple of weeks I’ll be visiting with each one of those seniors because I’m not done.
“That being said, for the underclassmen,” he said, looking in the direction of Hunter Clark who was being consoled; “I know what it’s going to mean because I guarantee we’ve seen a lot of great things in the weight room over the last two years so it’s fixing to be really good. This is a feeling that you work so hard for and they don’t want that to happen again but that’s the program. There can only be one state champion.”
Liberty Hill won the coin flip and deferred to the second half but still drew first blood with a 10-yard rush from Cearley.
The Tigers answered with a pair of scores, the first from Zaskoda to McGee from 28 yards out before Carruthers went to a wrinkle in his playbook.
A screen pass went to Draper Parker first but he reversed fields by throwing the ball back to a wide-open Ivan Bolden who had nothing but open field and blockers in front of him, paving a way to the end zone to give Sealy a 14-7 lead.
Harrison added a 3-yard scamper to tie the game but the Tigers would strike again before the half was over and it was another Zaskoda-McGee connection.
With the ball on the 41 and only seconds showing on the clock, Zaskoda heaved one up to the corner of the end zone where McGee was blanketed by a trio of Panthers.
The ball found #10’s hands though and McGee came down with the score to grab a lead for Sealy heading into the break.
However, that ended up being the final trip to the end zone as Liberty Hill went on to score 21 unanswered to seal the regional semifinal.
And with a fairly clear path through the next couple rounds, Carruthers added that “Wherever they end up, semi-finals, state finals whatever, we can say that we fought with them until the bitter end.”
The end certainly was bitter, as not only the big strong tough football players were reduced to tears but their cheerleading companions also had a few weepers.
It was bound to happen at the culmination of the season but like Carruthers mentioned, there are plenty of things to look fondly back on this season and for that, this group of 2018 Sealy football Tigers have nothing to be ashamed of.