SPRING BRANCH — The Rangers’ early onslaught on Friday night wasn’t quite enough to break New Braunfels’ will, but it allowed Smithson Valley to punch its ticket to the postseason for the 10th year in a row.
The Rangers (6-4, 4-3) built leads of 28 points on two separate occasions, yet still had to scratch and claw to ensure that it held on for a 42-28 win at home.
The visiting Unicorns (5-5, 2-5) were sparked by quarterback Peyton Driggers, who tossed three touchdown passes after intermission to lead the turnaround. New Braunfels had an opportunity to tie the game late, but the ball was jarred loose from Driggers’ grasp and picked up by defensive end Trey Moore.
The junior sprinted 71 yards untouched to ice the victory for Smithson Valley as the Ranger sideline erupted into hysterics. One of the players cheering the loudest was senior running back Greg Eggleston, who ran for 216 yards and three scores on the night.
“It probably made me the happiest person in the stadium,” Eggleston said of Moore’s TD. “[The Unicorns] were down there and it wasn’t looking too good, but he got the ball and ran as fast as he could — it wasn’t that fast, but it was as fast as he could — and he got in the end zone.
“There were smiles on everyone’s faces.”
The Unicorns came into the game knowing they had to win by 21 points and receive some help from Steele if they were going to extend their 2019 season. However, disaster struck when Smithson Valley marched to a quick score and then recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff.
Jacob Forton cashed in the takeaway with a 2-yard TD run to help put the Rangers up 14-0 with 6:34 left in the opening stanza.
Things only got more bleak from there for New Braunfels, as Eggleston showcased his breakaway speed on back-to-back TD runs in the second quarter. The latter was an 81-yard burst down the sideline in which he turned on the jets and left everyone else in the rearview mirror.
“We try every game just to start as fast as possible,” Eggleston said. “Hit them early and kill their will.”
Smithson Valley rushed for 268 yards in the first half alone during a dominant performance by its offensive line and committee of runners. Two of the Rangers’ scoring drives spanned more than 90 yards.
“We practiced what we usually do and played how we usually play — just be physical and run it down their throats,” Eggleston said. “O-line, tight ends, fullbacks — they all blocked well.”
The Unicorns ended the Rangers’ string of consecutive points when Driggers found Lucas Dorrow for a 13-yard TD pass with 1:19 to go until halftime. Dorrow had three catches for 82 yards on that drive alone and finished with six receptions for 149 yards.
Smithson Valley took the second-half kickoff and moved 63 yards in nine plays before finding the end zone when Eggleston got to the corner on a jet sweep for a 14-yard score.
New Braunfels answered with a 70-yard march that resulted in a 25-yard scoring toss from Driggers to Dorrow — their eighth TD connection of the season.
Following a three-and-out from the Ranger offense, Driggers found Garrett Thompson wide open over the middle and the senior receiver did the rest during a 74-yard TD.
The Unicorns came up empty on their next two possessions, but Driggers soon led another scoring drive that pulled New Braunfels within a single score. This time, the junior signal caller found Myles Miller in the back of the end zone for a 5-yard TD strike that cut Smithson Valley’s edge to 35-28.
And while the Unicorn defense got the additional stop it needed, the offense was halted by a costly turnover in crunch time. New Braunfels lost three fumbles in the game and also saw the Rangers’ Cullen Betsey nab a late interception.
Driggers went 23 of 31 passing for 429 yards and four scores, while Bryson Dyer made four grabs for 99 yards and Thompson collected two receptions for 88 yards.
Smithson Valley’s rushing attack rolled up 357 yards on the evening. In addition to Eggleston’s big night, Forton added 87 yards and a TD, while Game Hoskins supplied 54 yards and a score.
Moore recovered two fumbles for the Rangers, while Malachi Lane fell on the other.
Smithson Valley now draws Lake Travis in the first round of the playoffs. Eggleston said he can’t wait to get back to work.
“Starting [Saturday], we’re going to go watch film and then we’re going to go into our Monday practice and do what we usually do,” he said. “We’re going to play hard.”