WACO -- Rice's Bulldogs saw their season end in a 40-8 loss to a talented team from Lexington in the bi-district round of the Class 3A DII playoffs Thursday night at Waco Robinson High.
The Bulldogs, who were making their fourth consecutive appearance in the playoffs, reached the postseason with a tough and gritty team that found ways to win all season en route to a 6-4 regular season record.
Coach Andy Mills' team simply ran into a powerhouse in the opening round of the playoffs and played well in in the loss. They played hard to the end.
Rice scored on two Elias Pena field goals. Pena had been solid and dependable all year and he nailed a 32-yarder and a 35-yarder Thursday.
The Bulldogs scored two points on a dramatic extra point when Lexington's kick was short. Elizhah Nezar, a senior who has had a brilliant career as a receiver and defensive back, caught the ball and returned it 108 yards for the two points.
Mills turned the program around when he arrived five years ago, and the Bulldogs are the only team in the Golden Circle other than Corsicana and Frost to reach the playoffs the past four years in a row.
"It has been a good year," Mills said. "I think the seniors did a good job leading the team to get us to where we got (to the playoffs). We were better than people expected.
"It's never easy to put the pads up."
The Rice kids have set a new standard for the program, and the senior class is the first to play in the postseason every year.
"I'm thankful to the kids and coaches for all the hard work they put in," Mills said. "I'm proud of the kids. They fought to the last play of the game. We were down 33-5 at halftime and nobody shut down. They played with pride to the end."
The Bulldogs won the games they had to win to earn a playoff berth in the competitive District 7-3A DII race and won with a swarming defense that was led by several players, including Brycen Clark, Tommy Bernal, Brian Ovalle, Angel Banda, Jerry Montgomery, Clay Brown and Nezar (four interceptions) and Dakota Jessie, who combined to intercept seven passes in the secondary.
Rice was led on offense by three-year starting quarterback Tanner Carlisle (904 yards and 7 TDs) and running backs Montgomery, who rushed for 489 yards on 66 carries (7.4 average) and six touchdowns, and Bernal, who ran for 331 yards before he injured his hand, and receivers Jessie (275 yards and a 7.1 average) and Nezar (30 receptions for 551 yards and five TDs) during the regular season.
Lexington, the No. 1 seed out of District 8-3A DII, moves on to the Area round of the playoffs to play the winner of the City View-Comanche bi-district game.