Orangefield battle turns into special accomplishment for coach Josh Smalley

Published 11:58 pm Friday, September 29, 2023

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ORANGEFIELD — The Orangefield Bobcats improved to 2-0 in 3A District 10 following Friday night’s 32-20 win over the Anahuac Panthers at McClain Stadium in Orangefield.

The comeback victory is sure to be in the record books — Bobcats head coach Josh Smalley became the winningest coach in program history as he tallied his 68th career win.

“Our motto for the year has been to keep swinging the axe,” Smalley said postgame. “Sometimes it takes until midway through the fourth quarter for that tree to finally fall, and that’s what happened tonight. We’re proud of the kids for staying in there and believing in each other and working.”

The Panthers received the opening kickoff and wasted no time on their first possession. The Anahuac offense strung together a 12-play drive, which ended in a five-yard touchdown rush by halfback Delao Thomas.

After forcing a three-and-out, Anahuac again found the end zone on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Logan Trotter to receiver Quandre Coates. However, the Bobcats stopped the two-point conversion.

Trailing 13-0 with two minutes to go in the first quarter, the Bobcats needed a touchdown to keep the game from getting out of hand early.

The Bobcats take the field Friday before a home game against the Anahuac Panthers. (Keagan Smith/The Leader)

A 32-yard kickoff return by Mason Manning placed the Bobcats near midfield to begin their second drive.

Manning hauled in a 19-yard pass, then rushed for a six-yard score to cap it off. The PAT sailed wide of the uprights, but the Bobcats began to close the gap.

Orangefield brought the game within one point approaching halftime. Manning hauled in a reception in the flat and created 31 yards after the catch. Kyle Michael then punched in a three-yard touchdown to make it a 13-12 game.

Anahuac found the end zone again midway through the third quarter. Coates caught his second TD pass of the evening, which pushed the Panthers ahead, 20-12.

That’s when things began to change for the Bobcats. Two penalties against Anahuac resulted in a gain of 30 free yards for Orangefield.

Manning’s big game continued as he rushed for 17 yards, then broke away for a 31-yard house call on the next play.

The Panthers drove into the red zone late in the third quarter. However, the Bobcat defense forced a game-changing stop on fourth down.

It was exactly what Orangefield needed to seize the momentum.

With six minutes remaining in the game, Manning rushed for his third touchdown — this one a 33-yard dash to the end zone. After a successful two-point conversion, the Bobcats claimed their first lead of the game, 26-20.

An Anahuac offense, which had no problem moving the ball in the first half, suddenly found themselves locked down by the Bobcats.

Orangefield forced a turnover on downs and regained possession around Anahuac’s 30-yard line with just four minutes to go.

A big 28-yard run by Kane Smith left the ‘Cats knocking at the goal line’s door. Fullback Fernando Sandoval-Rodriguez ran it in for a touchdown and gave Orangefield some breathing room as they surged ahead, 32-20.

Orangefield’s defense played a particularly strong fourth quarter and held their opponent scoreless on their last five drives. An interception by sophomore linebacker Kaleb Menard sealed the game for the Bobcats.

Now 3-3 overall and 2-0 in district play, Orangefield will prepare to travel to Tarkington next Friday.

As for how it feels to earn his spot in the school’s record books, Smalley said he couldn’t have achieved the feat alone. He thanked God, the community, Orangefield’s administration, his coaching staff and his players during his postgame interview.

“When I took the head coaching job here, I didn’t know I’d still be here over a decade later,” Smalley said. “But I’m glad I am. I love this place and it’s not just about me. Those guys (who came before me) were legends around here, so I’m just blessed to follow the trail they’ve left behind. I’m so honored and humbled because I know it’s a lot, but it’s about more than just me.”

— Written by Keagan Smith