BELTON — The Grandview Zebras began the defense of their 2018 state title with a 42-7 win over Rockdale in the Class 3A Division I bi-district playoffs Friday at Belton’s Tiger Field to open the 2019 postseason with a convincing win.

The final result on the scoreboard is reflected directly in the turnover margin, which Grandview won, plus-6. The Zebra (10-1) defense forced seven turnovers (four interceptions and three fumbles) to pull away from the Tigers (8-3). And even though the final score indicated a blowout, it was the turnovers that turned what was a close final tally in the box score.

“We had a couple stops where they were going into the end zone, one being a fumble and one was a pick,” Grandview coach Ryan Ebner said. “So that helped us. We were able to take those opportunities away from them and our offense did a great job of capitalizing after that. We turned those missed points for them into points for us.”

Ebner said the defense, led by Clay Hale, came through big and never let any outside factors influence their play.

“They did a great job,” Ebner said of the defense. “We had to make some adjustments with the injuries we’ve had. The guys did a great job of stepping up. Clay Hale had some huge plays for; he played a hand in three of our takeaways. I was very pleased with our defense. They didn’t get nervous or rattled if [Rockdale] got a big play, they just moved on to the next one. We bent a little bit but never broke.”

The turnover party started early when Austin Boyd returned an interception 42 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Grandview’s defense found the end zone again in the fourth quarter when Dametrious Crownover returned a fumble 10 yards for a score as the Zebra defense outscored Rockdale on its own, 14-7.

Following Boyd’s pick-six to open the scoring, the Tigers answered back as Cam’Ron Valdez did much of the heavy lifting on the drive before finishing it off on a one-yard run to tie it up with 3:09 left in the opening quarter.

Grandview took the lead for good on a beautiful 25-yard touchdown pass from Dane Jentsch to Boyd with 45 seconds left in the opening frame.

Boyd’s play was huge Friday night in getting the Zebras going early with his pick-6 as well as the touchdown reception, and Ebner said Boyd has been that type of impact player throughout this career.

“He’s been huge for us his whole career,” Ebner said. “Every year he gets a little more experience under his belt and he’s one of those guys that always comes up big when we need him the most. He can always come through when you call on him. It’s great to see a kid who works so hard do something great when he gets an opportunity in those moments.”

Jentsch then recorded Grandview’s second interception on a highlight-reel play after Boyd knocked the ball away. Then Jentsch connected with Luke Ferguson for a 14-yard touchdown pass and a 21-7 lead with 2:40 left until halftime.

Ferguson followed Jentsch’s lead and came away with an interception of his own on defense, the Zebras’ third of the first half.

After Grandview’s offense stalled, the Zebra defense came up with arguably the biggest momentum-swinging play of the entire night.

After a defensive pass interference gave Rockdale an untimed down from inside the two-yard line, the Zebras stuffed the Tigers for a loss of one to go into halftime with all the momentum. With a score there, Rockdale would’ve pulled to within one possession, and the Tigers were set to receive the second-half kickoff. But instead, Grandview’s defense came up huge and maintained its 21-7 lead at halftime.

In the third quarter, Grandview senior running back Tremayne Gullatte broke free for a 44-yard run to set up a 15-yard touchdown pass from Jentsch to Ferguson to extend the Zebras’ lead to 28-7 with 4:42 left until the fourth.

Following Crownover’s 10-yard fumble return for a score, which was set up by a Clayton Hale sack and forced fumble, Gullatte capped the scoring with a one-yard run as the Zebras coasted to a convincing win over the 2017 state champ Tigers.

Jentsch finished 9-of-15 passing for 175 yards and three touchdowns. Gullatte had 90 rushing yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Boyd had five receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown.

“They had to make some adjustments as well,” Ebner said of the offense. “We’ve got a couple new guys in new places but they didn’t miss a beat. We did a good job of executing. Dane did a phenomenal job of executing the whole thing. He did a great job of finding the opening receivers and moving around in the pocket when things broke down. I thought coach [John] Jay and his offensive staff did a great job of mixing it up and putting a good plan together with some missing pieces.”

Valdez led the Tigers with 158 rushing yards on 29 carries.

It was Grandview’s third straight bi-district title, and second consecutive bi-district victory over Rockdale, after also beating the Tigers in their playoff opener last season, 45-21.

Friday’s win was Grandview’s seventh consecutive playoff victory and the Zebras’ ninth playoff win in their last 10 playoff games.

Up next for the Zebras is a Class 3A DI area showdown with East Chambers, which beat Coldspring, 42-20, Thursday. It will be another rematch for the Zebras, who beat East Chambers, 36-35, in overtime in the regional quarterfinals last postseason.

“We’re very familiar with each other,” Ebner said. “Year in and year out, they really good players and their coaches do a really good job of putting those players in position to be successful. They play really hard. It’ll be an unbelievably tough matchup in the second round.”

Grandview and East Chambers are scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff Friday at Brenham High School.

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