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Empire football struggled against Hollis in the mud and ice, coming up short on the road in the round-of-16 Class A state playoff matchup.
Any fans that were slowed down by the icy roads and showed up late missed most of the action. Hollis (11-0, 6-0) led the Bulldogs (9-3, 6-1) 21-6 at the end of the first quarter and won the game 29-6. Only Tigers’ junior running back Willie Lindsey 10-yard scamper with 1:39 left in the third quarter provided relief to the shutout stretch for both teams.
During the stretch from the end of the first quarter to Lindsey’s run, there were some near misses. Hollis fumbled the ball on Empire’s 40. Empire junior linebacker Anthony Gonzalez recovered, but the Bulldogs couldn’t take advantage. Right before halftime, the Tigers mounted a drive, but were unable to punch it in when junior Keegan MacIas was tripped up just short of the goal line with three seconds left. The Tigers didn’t have a timeout, so they had to go to the locker room an agonizing three feet away for a three-score lead.
It was a huge victory for the Bulldogs to not fall behind more than 14. Getting behind so early, though, caused problems for Empire’s coach Tony Roberts.
“We got behind the eight ball, but we tried to come back,” Roberts said. “We just didn’t have the fire in the tank, but there’s nothing wrong with getting beat by a good team.”
Empire wasn’t just facing a good team, though — it was facing a good team on its home turf. Hollis looked more at home in the mud and was able to use some of its speed to get outside the hashmarks — even if they weren’t visible. Roberts shrugged off the field, saying it only made a little bit of a difference, and the players working hard helped keep the game somewhat close.
“We always have to work hard,” Roberts said. “We’re not going to out-talent anybody. We’re not going to out-size anybody. We are just going to try to outwork them, and we did a really good job of that today. I take my hat off to Hollis.”
One of Empire’s top performers, senior Stephen Price, showed that work ethic, grinding for as many yards as he could before a pack of Tigers would take him down. He finished with 47 rushing yards, of which 41 came in the second half.
“He plays like that every time he is on the ball field,” Roberts said. “I know he worked harder in the second half because he didn’t want it to end and fought his guts out.”
Price gave the credit to the coaches for the success of the season. While the loss hurt, he agreed with Roberts about Hollis just being a tough team to face. He just didn’t want to hold anything back in his final game.
“(I was thinking) give it all you got, and leave it on the field,” Price said after the game. “I can honestly walk away saying I worked my hardest.”
After Hollis took the opening possession for a score, Empire got its only touchdown of the ball game. Dillon Twigg, the team’s leading rusher, ran 58 yards as a response. Despite that long run, Twigg finished with just 63 yards on the ground.