Which Panthers were these: Pflugerville, or Dillon?
Of course the season had to end this way for Lake Travis. Screenwriters for Peter Berg’s “Friday Night Lights” series couldn’t have scripted it any better.
The game’s closing seconds. A Hail Mary pass. The ball spiraling perfectly in a majestic arc toward the end zone, all eyes frozen on its trajectory. Two hands appear out of nowhere to clutch the. The sound of the referee’s whistle. The deafening silence of thousands. And, of course, the final call.
If Kyle Chandler, who played the famed coach Eric Taylor in the acclaimed television show, had been at the game, the ending would have been all too familiar. FNL fans got to know Chandler’s Coach Taylor as the coach of the Dillon Panthers. Though modeled after the Odessa Permian Panthers, the Dillon version didn’t wear MOJO’s black uniforms. These fictional Panthers took the field in Pflugerville’s uniforms, “Panthers” in blue type atop the numeral on the jersey, crisp blue “P” outlined in yellow on a white helmet.
As Baker Mayfield’s final pass left his hands near midfield and traveled further and further, there could only be one outcome. Life would surely imitate art.
Season after season, FNL fans watched Taylor’s fictional Panthers win game after game in improbable fashion. The series’ first game saw the home team’s unknown backup quarterback launch a 70-yard Hail Mary after taking over for the star who’d left with a broken neck. That year ended with a championship game won on a reverse on the game’s final play. And so the series went. Great drama. Unlikely football endings. Even in the series finale, when Coach Taylor moved on to neighboring East Dillon, the script remained the same. His final game – the downtrodden school’s final game before reconsolidation -- in the state championship, ended on a successful Hail Mary. Viewers never saw this completion, only the rings on the fingers of the players as they practiced with their new team the next fall.
Mayfield’s desperate spiral descended toward the back of the end zone, and Grant Foster’s hands reached into the frame, securing possession. Trailing 23-20, surely the catch would give Lake Travis its improbable finish, another daring escape in a season with some uncomfortable, unfamiliar late rallies.
But life did indeed imitate art. For Foster and Mayfield weren’t wearing the proper uniforms. Destiny smiled on Dillon’s Panthers once again, only this time the Panthers did indeed exist. George Hermann’s team made every play it needed to Friday night to slay mighty Lake Travis, and the script-writers weren’t about to turn away now.
Foster’s heel came down inbounds while his toes hit the line. The back judge with a clear view quickly and emphatically signaled incomplete. Lake Travis’ championship story came to a heartbreaking end, and the Panthers live to see another day.