Fans started swarming to the locker room as soon as the final seconds ticked away.
Flush with the revelry of a possible program-defining win, an expectation-shaking performance that left some fans searching for a way to describe the game they had just seen.
At that point, Permian had just blown by Cedar Hill 53-42, a Metroplex power with loads and loads of athleticism and speed to burn.
The Panthers’ season-opening loss to Smithson Valley seemed months behind a Permian machine that kept gaining momentum with every step. Permian had an explosive offense, an opportunistic defense, a penchant for taking care of the football and a buffalo herd’s-worth of momentum to ride through the nondistrict schedule.
At that point in the schedule, Permian’s sky had no limit.
---An unwanted but expected loss to Arlington Bowie opened the season, and then Odessa High promptly began riding the Bradley Marquez rushing train to victories. Against Lubbock Monterey, the senior Texas Tech-commit rushed for 255 yards and three touchdowns.
Marquez was just getting started.
The following week, against Amarillo Tascosa, Marquez rushed for single-game school records in yards (380) and touchdowns (6), only to do it again in Week 3 against San Angelo Central.
Then the wheels fell off when Amarillo High came to Ratliff Stadium on Sept. 24. Oh, Marquez got his numbers, rushing for 148 yards on 25 carries and becoming the Bronchos' career rushing leader in the process, eclipsing the mark set by Byron Townsend from 1945-47. But somewhere in this game, the Bronchos forgot how to find the end zone, Marquez's first-quarter touchdown the only OHS score of the night.
It was on this night that the Bronchos, because of their lack of a passing attack, were exposed as a run-first, pass-if-necessary team that was going to use the legs of Marquez and running back Ivan Subia to move the ball. OHS head coach Ron King made a quarterback change after the 17-7 loss, moving Johnny Campos behind center, but the thud of a loss to end nondistrict play resonated with the Bronchos.
---Three weeks into the District 3-5A slate, the same Permian team that overwhelmed Cedar Hill is clinging to slim playoff hopes, still looking for its first district win.
Figuring out what has gone wrong isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Through three district games, Permian’s defense is tied for the district lead in total defense, bolstered by a suffocating pass defense that has only given up 82 yards per game and held high-flying Abilene Cooper to just 74 passing yards.
But a lot of different kinds of mistakes can lose football games.
Details have killed the Panthers in district play. Following the nondistrict schedule, Permian led District 3-5A teams with a plus-8 turnover margin.
The Panthers are minus-6 in league play. Twelve quarters have passed since Permian forced a turnover, and it was the defense’s ability to force turnovers that kept Panthers’ opponents from putting the ball into the end zone during district play.
“It’s done plenty,” Permian safety Barrett Brown said. “Creating turnovers is a real big part of the game, and we haven’t been winning games.”
But Permian’s problems run beyond the turnovers. Field position has hamstrung the Panthers in all three district games, hurt by almost every special teams unit. Extra points have been blocked, Midland High turned in two long kick returns, and Midland Lee’s Darian Long broke open last Friday night’s football game with a pair of punt returns that netted the Rebels 10 points.
“We had one of our better defensive games on Friday,” Gaines said. “But we had some bad field position, and our average starting field position has not been good.”
Balancing the offense has been almost impossible. Against Midland High, the running game racked up 250 yards, but the passing game only connected on 3-of-18 passes. Against Midland Lee, the running game had trouble finishing drives. And Permian’s third-down efficiency is hovering in the mid-30’s percent during district play.
“It’s been a little different something each week,” Panthers head coach Gary Gaines said. “Field position, turnovers, third-down efficiency, points-after touchdowns, those are all elements that don’t help you at all.”
---Did the Bronchos’ season reach its zenith with a hard-fought victory against Central in which Marquez repeated his 380-yard, six-touchdown performance?
The Bronchos opened district play against Abilene High, ESPN’s preseason No. 1 team in the nation. Odessa High gave up touchdowns on Abilene High’s first four possessions before playing the defending Class 5A Division II champions even in the second half, but a first-half turnover and four possessions of three-and-out cost the Bronchos any chance of keeping the Eagles’ offense off the field.
Odessa High opened an early lead over Midland High, but the Bulldogs cashed in on good field position after the Bronchos snapped the ball over punter Kevin Galindo’s head late in the first half. Midland High scored with 35 seconds left in the first half and on its first two possessions of the second half en route to a 42-25 victory.
“Turnovers, mental busts and penalties,” King said after that game. “It’s been the same thing all year and you would expect that we would have gotten past that point by now.”
The Bronchos hadn’t.
Last week at Abilene Cooper, eight penalties for 85 yards and a lost fumble doomed the Bronchos. Not to mention getting inside the Cougars’ 30-yard line five times and coming away with just one touchdown.
---Playoff hopes still hang in the balance for both teams.
Permian is going to need some help. A win over Odessa High, and a subsequent Bronchos victory over Midland Lee, could force a three-way tie for the district’s fourth-and-final playoff spot. Knocking off the Bronchos and defending state champion Abilene High could also give the Panthers a shot at a tiebreaker.
Odessa High controls its own destiny. Win the last two games, and the Bronchos are headed to the playoffs.
Throw in more than 20,000 screaming fans, a legendary old stadium and a line to get into the parking lot that stretches all the way back to H.E.B, and the pressure will be intense tonight.
“It’s intense,” Permian running back DeAnthony Fay said. “Nobody wants to lose.”
---Technically, both teams still have a shot at the Class 5A playoffs.
But the loser of this year's crosstown battle likely will be packing up equipment Nov. 6 after meeting for a final film session and chat with the coaches.
RUMBLE AT RATLIFF: BY THE NUMBERS
>> When Odessa High runs: Blessed with arguably the district’s best back in Bradley Marquez, the Bronchos have racked up 304 yards per game on the ground. The Panthers are allowing 5.5 yards-per-carry and 216.1 yards-per-game, fifth in District 3-5A.
>> When Permian runs: Sparked by the tandem of DeAnthony Fay and Greg George, Permian is averaging 6.3 yards-per-carry, but the Panthers rank fifth in District 3-5A at 201 yards per game. Odessa High has given up 226.1 rush yards-per-game, the most in District 3-5A.
>> When Odessa High passes: A midseason quarterback switch from Ryan Rios to Johnny Campos has given the Bronchos plenty of options, but Odessa High still ranks sixth in the league with 214 yards in three district games. Permian’s pass defense has been stout in district play, only allowing 82 yards per game.
>> When Permian passes: Quarterback Landry Serrano has the second-most passing yards in District 3-5A at 1,282, and he’s tossed eight touchdowns and four picks. Led by corner Darrian Samuels, the Bronchos rank fourth in the league in yards allowed at 166.2 per game