Sep. 18—A quick two-score blitz just before halftime put Gainesville in a hole from which it couldn't find its way out.
The Leopards fell 45-29 Friday night to Van Alstyne during its homecoming game at Leopard Stadium.
Gainesville (0-4) had most of its players available for the first time this season, but the Leopards still have work to do.
Van Alstyne (3-1) took the lead in the first quarter and never relinquished it.
Gainesville coach James Polk said some players are still missing despite getting several back this week. Those who did return could need a game or two to get into rhythm.
"We just can't seem to get our kids all together at once," Polk said. "As soon as we get rolling, this kid goes out. As soon as we get rolling, that kid goes out. It's just hard to get a momentum going. You look up, you just got different kids in the game all the time because this happened, or this kid got hurt, or that kid got hurt. It's pretty defeating. We gotta still try to figure a way to work through those. A lot of people have to go through that."
With 2:13 to play until halftime, Gainesville senior Jayce Morgan powered into the end zone to make it 14-13 Panthers. The late score could have given the Leopards momentum, but Van Alstyne junior Dakota Howard returned the resulting kickoff for a touchdown.
The Panthers got the ball back, and senior Gavin Montgomery completed a 34-yard touchdown pass to Howard to put Van Alstyne up 28-13 at the break.
Polk said the Leopards lost focus after their score.
"We just lost focus and blew coverage right there at the end right after a big kickoff return," Polk said. "You know that in situations like that, teams got you kinda down, then they're going to try to take a shot. They're going to do something maybe they hadn't been doing, and they're going to take shot. They did, and it caught us off guard."
Gainesville found the end zone two more times in the second half. Morgan scored on a one-yard rush in the third quarter, and sophomore London Daniels connected with senior Ethan Vargas for the two-point conversion. In the fourth, Daniels went deep for senior Cason Evans for a 38-yard touchdown.
The Panthers kept pace with two touchdowns and a field goal of their own, preventing the Leopards from ever getting back into the game.
Polk said while the rough start to the season feels deflating, there is still plenty of season left.
"We gotta keep (the players) motivated and involved," Polk said. "We gotta figure out a way to change some things up. We just gotta keep our heads and keep our hope alive.
"What I try to tell them was, 'I know it's bad. I've been through this. But the one thing y'all got is, y'all still got a chance to play six ball games. You still got a chance to compete for a district championship, and you still got a chance to go to the playoffs. That's what you should be focused on, because in two weeks (when district play starts), these games aren't going to matter no more. Everybody starts off 0-0 again.'"