HOUSTON—All season long, Tompkins was successful in defending the pass. An athletic, ball-hawking secondary will do that.

Despite that, however, the Falcons’ defense was no match for Atascocita’s passing game. Eagles senior quarterback Brice Matthews had a field day in Atascocita’s 42-24 Class 6A-Division I regional semifinal win over Tompkins on Saturday, Nov. 30, slicing and dicing the Tompkins’ secondary by throwing for 390 yards and three touchdowns.

Matthews completed 32 of 43 passes (74.4 percent), was hardly harassed all game long thanks to quick releases and dominant offensive line play, and threw passes to six different receivers, showcasing Atascocita’s wealth of perimeter playmakers.

“They have a lot of playmakers, a lot of size,” Tompkins senior defensive back Pryce Powell said. “We didn’t play our best, but they have a lot of weapons, and credit to them for that.”

Tompkins (11-2) entered the game allowing just 167 passing yards per game in the playoffs, and just 103.6 overall this season. Still, the Falcons could hardly stay with Eagles receivers like 6-foot-3 junior Landen King, 6-4 senior Dylan Robinson (seven catches, 94 yards) and 6-2 sophomore Keith Wheeler (six catches, 68 yards).

A telling stat: King had the most productive day of the bunch with 174 yards and a touchdown on 14 catches, but he is No. 3 on the Atascocita depth chart behind Robinson and 6-4 senior Darius Edmonds (two catches, 18 yards).

Atascocita used the strength of 254 passing yards in the first half for a 35-3 halftime advantage.

“It was a great challenge for our defense, and we were up for it,” Tompkins coach Todd McVey said. “We had some things we didn’t do well that we fixed in the second half. We saw things quicker and just responded well overall.

“We ran out of time, more than anything else.”

Indeed, the Falcons outscored the Eagles 21-7 in the second half as junior quarterback and Texas verbal commit Jalen Milroe found his groove.

After misfiring on six of nine pass attempts to go along with an interception in the first half, Milroe completed 11 of 24 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns to junior running back Marquis Shoulders in the second.

The defense also played considerably better, forcing three takeaways after halftime. Senior defensive back Jesse Jensen and junior linebacker Kobee Madriz recovered fumbles, and junior defensive back Colby Huerter intercepted Matthews.

“When bad things happen, how are you going to respond? The coaches did a great job with adjustments, but the kids came out and played for each other, and that was the adjustment,” McVey said.

The Falcons made things interesting with some nice trickery when Milroe caught a seven-yard  scoring pass from receiver Gabe Atkin with 10:42 left in the game. But that was the final score of the evening as the Eagles were able to hold off the Falcons, getting to the Tompkins 2-yard line with seconds left before taking a knee.

Atascocita, which improved to 12-1, compiled 534 total yards and averaged seven yards per play. Tompkins finished with 393 total yards at 6.1 yards per play.

“We knew what they were going to do,” Huerter said. “It was just about execution. We tried different things, but it just didn’t go in our favor.”

It was the second straight regional semifinal appearance for Tompkins. It also marked the end of careers for seniors like R.J. Smith and Hayden Burke, among others.

It was this senior class that will leave a legacy for a program that went 0-9 as recently as 2017. The Falcons have won 21 games the last two years, and this season’s 11 wins is a program-best.

“This means a lot to me, as far as setting a bar for the younger kids to go accomplish and be better,” said Smith, who finished his career as the Falcons’ all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns. “This season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but I still feel like we did well.”

They did, Huerter attested. It won’t be forgotten.

“We owe it all to the seniors,” Huerter said. “Nobody in the country is better than our seniors. They turned an 0-9 team into a successful, well-run machine. I owe it all to them, and I will remember this for next year.”