In a tightly-contested defensive struggle, the 10th-ranked China Spring Cougars dropped their home opener to the Huntsville Hornets Friday night, 17-14. The game was not decided until China Spring quarterback Cayden Johnson’s last-gasp pass on 4th-and-2 was intercepted on the Hornet 16-yard line with 12 seconds left.

Huntsville went up 17-7 with 8:44 left in the game on a 44-yard field goal by Blake Moreno. However, a 1-yard run by Cougar running back Tyrick James and the ensuing extra point made it 17-14 about two minutes later.

As it did all night, the China Spring defense came up with a big stop, and on the next possession, the Cougars drove to the Huntsville 28-yard line. However, on 3rd-and-3, a short incomplete pass was called a lateral. The ball rolled out of bounds, setting up a 4th-and-8, and the Cougars could not convert.

Nevertheless, the Cougar defense held up once again, setting up the dramatic finish. The Cougars got the ball on their own 30 with 1:39 left, and three straight completions had them in business on the Huntsville side of the field. A 4th-and-4 on the Huntsville 30-yard line was converted when Johnson hit James, but the furious China Spring rally fell just short four plays later.

“It was a good effort and a good football game,” China Spring coach Mark Bell said. “We just made too many mistakes.”

China Spring got on the scoreboard first in the first quarter. On the second possession of the game, the Cougars put together an impressive 12-play, 74-yard drive, capped by a 14-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to running back Erik Hart. On third-and-11, the left-handed signal-caller rolled to his right, then threw back to Hart, who was waiting on the left hashmark. The misdirection worked, and China Spring staked out an early 7-0 lead.

Huntsville responded on the ensuing possession, however, with a 30-yard touchdown pass, and the game was knotted 7-7 at halftime.

The Cougars had a couple of key defensive plays in the first half. Senior linebacker Garrett Moorefield recovered a Huntsville fumble on a punt return. Also, Cameron Williams and Dylan Hofferichter teamed up on a big sack. In the second half, defensive back Payton Spell had an interception.

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