STEPHENVILLE — Graham kept saying all week there were a lot of reasons that Gatesville was 13-0.
Then the Steers showed everyone at Tarleton State's Memorial Stadium a lot of reasons the Hornets are now 13-1 and why Graham is moving on to the Class 3A Division II state semifinals next week.
The 2012 Graham Steers won't give up. They trailed five times Friday night. And they kept coming back time after time after time, finally taking their first — and only — lead at 40-35 with 5:37 left in the game.
And the Graham defense that was torched in the first half allowed only four first downs and seven points in the second half. And it forced a four-and-out with the game on the line to preserve that five-point win.
That means Graham will face Gilmer, a 41-34 winner over Henderson, in the state semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Mansfield.
Steers quarterback Ben Davis displayed that comeback spirit about every time he got the ball, starting with a 71-yard touchdown on his first touch of the night to tie it at 7-7.
He was pretty hot in the first half, hitting 10 of 13 passes for 106 yards while also rushing for 89 and a touchdown.
But all that had a big bucket of cold water thrown on it when Davis was intercepted by Matthew Wallace near the goal line in the final 20 seconds of the first half just before the Steers could tie the score. So they trailed 28-21 after a first half dominated by offense.
"I was thinking it was a bad deal because we could have scored 28 points and had the game tied," Davis said. "But the coaches ingrained that in my mind that the next play is the next play, and I just have to get to it."
Davis took heed and kept dominating in the second half. Well, he missed his first attempt but then hit 11 of 11 for a second-half line of 221 yards and three touchdowns. He was 21 of 25 for 327 yards and four TDs on the night.
"I saw a lot of effort out of our guys," Davis said. "We worked real hard this week, and we've worked real hard all year. I felt real confident offensively."
Davis, a junior in his second year as a starter, used six different receivers on the night and three of them caught second-half touchdowns. He hit Dillon Gonzales (four catches, 97 yards) for a 65-yard touchdown on a pass in the flat in the third quarter.
Then on the first play of the fourth quarter Davis waited and waited for someone to break open and then fired the ball anyway to Jerrod Mahan, who reached over a defender for a 12-yard touchdown catch.
"The coaches said 'Mahan you have to go up and get it, we're going to throw you the post route,' and I said 'OK, let's do it,' " Mahan said. "The defender was in front of me, so I had to go up and get it.
"Ben threw a good ball. He's a stud. As a junior he has really stepped up this year. He's the leader of the offense, no doubt."
But after Mahan's touchdown, the PAT kick failed, and Graham still trailed 35-34.
A holding penalty slowed the next Gatesville possession, and Hunter Walls buried the Hornets more with a sack.
So Davis got the ball with a shot at the lead for the first time. It wasn't easy, as the Steers had a false start on fourth down to make it fourth-and-seven from the 42. But Janson Graham (five catches, 54 yards, one TD) drew a pass interference penalty, and on the following play Davis hit Hunter Jones (six catches, 87 yards) with a 27-yard touchdown that stood as the winner.
Davis and his offense still needed a little more magic when they got the ball with a lead for the first time with 3:49 to play and Gatesville holding one timeout.
Davis wasn't going to give the ball back to Hornets' quarterback Cole Edmiston (140 rushing yards, 177 passing), either.
The Steers took a loss and a delay to get to second-and-17, but instead of playing it safe, Davis found Graham over the middle for exactly 17 yards and a first down. Moments later, Davis threw on a bootleg play where he was probably supposed to pull it down and run clock. But Mahan pulled the pass in for a 29-yard catch and the final first down.
"That just shows how much we work, we never give up, and we're going to keep pushing," Mahan said.
"I was very determined," Davis said, "I knew if they got the ball, they could score. Janson had a heckuva route. He recognized the hot route and made the play. That probably won us the game."
Mahan gave his coaches a lot of credit for the second-half rally.
"Going into halftime, we made some big adjustments, and you gotta give it to the coaching staff on that," said Mahan, who also had a good night returning kicks highlighted by a 52-yarder. "That was a great team. They were 13-0 for a reason. It's crazy, we're the second team to play in December. It's an awesome feeling."
Graham coach Kenny Davidson told his team it was because "they kept making plays" no matter what the score was or what had just happened.
Edmiston won the battle of quarterbacks in the first half, but the second half and the game belonged to Davis and the Steers.
Gatesville took the ball first and scored to start an explosive first half and protected a 28-21 lead into halftime thanks to a big defensive play by Matthew Wallace.
Gatesville scored on four of its five possessions — interrupted only by a Hunter Jones interception — and Edmiston in the middle of all of it. He passed for 118 yards and a touchdown and ran 19 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns.
Davis was nearly his equal with a 71-yard touchdown run on his first touch and 195 total yards before halftime. He hit 10 of 13 passes for 106 yards, including 5-yard touchdown to Graham.
The first Davis interception came on fourth-and-five from the Gatesville 42-yard line. His pass was too high for Bryce Reeves, and it was picked off by Tyler Jaynes.
But Graham's Jones jumped a quick out route on the next play and returned the ball 32 yards with another 11 tacked on with a personal foul. That set up the Steers at the 11, and Dillon Gonzales scored on the next play to tie the game at 21-21.
But the Hornets went 4 of 4 on third downs on a six-minute drive to go ahead 28-21 with 1:07 left in the half. Edmiston converted every one of those third downs, including a 22-yard pass to Jaynes on a third-and-nine. The quarterback scored his second TD from the 1.
But it wasn't too big of a hole for the Steers, who used the comeback route for the second straight week.
Graham 40, Gatesville 35
Gatesville 14 14 7 0—35
Graham 7 14 7 12—40
Gates — Tyler Jaynes 6 pass from Cole Edmiston (Sebastian Corrales kick), 6:33
Graham — Ben Davis 71 run (Fidel Herrera kick), 6:14
Gates — Jake Kee 4 run (Sebastian Corrales kick), 3:02
Graham — Janson Graham 5 pass from Ben Davis (Fidel Herrera kick), 10:42
Gates — Cole Edmiston 19 run (Sebastian Corrales kick), 8:52
Graham — Dillon Gonzales 11 run (Fidel Herrera kick), 7:14
Gates — Cole Edmiston 1 run (Sebastian Corrales kick), 1:07
Graham — Dillon Gonzales 65 pass from Ben Davis (Fidel Herrera kick)
Gates — Tyler Jaynes 51 pass from Cole Edmiston (Sebastian Corrales kick), 3:27
Graham — Jerrod Mahan 51 pass from Ben Davis (kick failed), 11:53
Graham — Hunter Jones 27 pass from Ben Davis (pass failed), 5:37
First downs 19 23
Rushes-yards 38-159 33-135
Passing 177 327
Comp-Att-Int 11-20-1 21-25-2
Punts-Avg. 2-27 1-34
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-0
Penalties-Yds. 7-74 5-35
RUSHING — Gatesville, Cole Edmiston 28-140, Jake Kee 9-20. Graham, Dillon Gonzales 18-51, Ben Davis 12-106, TEAM 3 — 22.
PASSING — Gatesville, Cole Edmiston 11-20-177-1. Graham, Ben Davis 21-25-327-2.
RECEIVING — Gatesville, Tyler Jaynes 7-147, Connor Watson 1-14, J.D. Nolte 2-8, Matthew Wallace 1-8. Graham, Bryce Reeves 3-39, Jerrod Mahan 2-41, Janson Graham 5-54, Dillon Gonzales 4-97, Hunter Jones 6-87, Braden Lang 1-9.