The high-flying Eagles, averaging winning by 27 points in two playoff games, appeard to be on cruise control. They had a 38-yard Devin O’Sullivan field goal and a 53-yard Jeremy Ballard touchdown pass on a screen to make it 17-7.
But the 24-unanswered points was hardly and indication of how the night would go.
Bruising running back Tate Fenoglio capped a 74-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge right before the end of the half, and his two-point conversion run made it 24-15.
The third was almost a complete nightmare for Mildred. Nocona forced a punt, and the Indians reeled off two straight scores to go up 28-24.
“We had about an eight-minute stretch there where we lost our composure,” Harvell said. “We didn’t play well.”
The Eagles needed a big play to stop the bleeding, and they got. Sterling took the ensuing kickoff 12 yards to the Mildred 47, then the next play 53 yards to the end zone and Mildred seized the lead again, 31-28.
A Raleigh Seilheimer interception set up the next score, a 30-yard Ballard jaunt on third-and-6 to make it 38-35.
Nocona took advantage of a fourth down pass interference call in the end zone on Ballard, who had briefly snared his 12th interception of the year. Bryce Dingelr scored a play later to make it 38-35 with 6:26 left.
At that point, Nocona had run 77 plays to Mildred’s 30. But the Eagles answered with a 10-play, 57-yard drive. Ballard scored his third touchdown from three yards out on fourth-and-1 with 1:39 left.
Three plays later, Sterling nabbed his fourth interception of the season to seal it.
Mildred 45, Nocona 35
Mildred 10 14 7 14 — 45
Nocona 7 8 13 7 — 35
N — Edward Cardoza 11 pass from Hayden Hill (Raul Anaya kick), 7:21
M — Draylon Sterling 18 run (Devin O’Sullivan kick), 6:44
M — O’Sullivan kick 38 FG, 2:32
M — Jeremy Ballard 53 pass from Nic Shimonek (O’Sullivan kick), 11:13