Rhinehart’s last-second FG helps Purple Warriors mount improbable comeback over Howe on electric senior night
The Bonham Purple Warriors hosted the visiting Howe Bulldogs under the Friday night lights at Warrior Stadium. The district foes competed hard against one another in Bonham’s senior night game. Despite falling behind by as many as 15 points, the Purple Warriors’ hung tough. Bonham made several clutch plays down the stretch, and senior Nick Rhinehart’s late 29-yard field goal allowed the home team to exit stage left with a dramatic 31-29 victory.
Rhinehart, one of eight seniors on Bonham’s roster, came up big for the Purple Warriors on several occasions. His energy was contagious within the rest of the senior class as well. Bonham’s eight seniors are Aiden Andrew, Miguel Arteaga, Ayden Leatherwood, Aiden Downs, Elijah McFarland, Rhinehart, Brant Stuber, and Braxton Winters.
“I told the seniors that this win is awesome for them, but scoring 17 unanswered points and getting this win for the development of our program is huge,” Bonham head football coach Kyle Dezern said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group as my first year as a head coach. Their leadership, the way they present themselves, and the example they are to the younger Warriors. The record may not show it, but they are trying to lay the foundation down for the future of the program.”
Leatherwood was a key cog on the defensive side of the ball. The speedy outside linebacker showed tremendous range in his sideline-to-sideline coverage while taking smart angles and laying physical hits on Howe ball carriers. McFarland was highly disruptive on the interior for Bonham’s defensive line. The big defensive tackle plugged up Howe’s rushing attack between the tackles well and commanded numerous double teams from Howe offensive linemen.
Andrew and Downs showed plenty of motor and energy with their high-effort playmaking abilities on full display defensively. Arteaga and Winters helped anchor the offensive line well. Both were sharp against Bulldog defenders as they protected junior quarterback Mason Rodriguez in the pocket, and were nasty and physical on counter plays as they pulled around from right to left to effectively create running lanes for the Bonham ball carriers.
Stuber and Rhinehart were the heart and soul of the Purple Warriors on Friday night. Stuber was massively impactful as a ball carrier between the tackles. Most of the game, it required at least three Howe defenders to bring Stuber to the ground. His physicality between the tackles made as much of a difference as his defensive play. The middle linebacker commanded the energetic defense throughout, and he showed the ability to make critical adjustments on Howe’s desire to run the ball to the left side of the defense. His smarts and adaptability were invaluable to the win. Then, there was Rhinehart.
Although short in stature, Rhinehart’s game was loud and his presence was immense. The team’s swiss-army knife made Howe feel his impact in several facets of the game. Rhinehart competed well outside the numbers as a defensive back, was a potent threat as a slot receiver, and his kicking game in every area was on point — including his ability to return kickoffs explosively. Along with that, he helped set the tone for his team.
Bonham jumped out to a 14-8 lead in the first half, but Howe saw junior running back Jordan Jones find paydirt to give the Bulldogs a 15-14 lead at the half. The third quarter was dominated by Howe as the visitors came out of the gates strong. Led by Jones, Howe tested the left side of Bonham’s defense with its running game time and time again. From the closing minutes of the second quarter and onward, the Bulldogs were able to mix in a slew of short to intermediate passing plays. Bonham’s defense was off balance and fading. With a 29-14 deficit in front of them, the Purple Warriors entered the fourth quarter with one last chance.
“We had some big stops on defense from Brant Stuber, who played his tail off on both sides of the ball,” Dezern said. “He had some key stops for us, including stops that came on fourth down. I knew we would score again if we stopped Howe in the fourth, and we couldn’t just keep shooting ourselves in the foot. Once we got that touchdown to (Cade) Bowser, I knew we were good.”
Later in the fourth, Rodriguez found junior wideout Cade Bowser running down the right sideline wide open on a 20-yard touchdown pass. On a gutsy decision behind by nine points, Bonham junior Marco Delgado ran in a two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 29-22. After that, Bonham’s defense dug deep to record a stop, marched down the field, and capitalized on the opportunity with one of Stuber’s two short touchdown runs. Bonham failed on another two-point conversion attempt, this time for the lead, but the game was far from over.
The Purple Warriors lined up to try an onside kick and Rhinehart’s kick took the perfect bounce for Bonham. On the ensuing drive, Rodriguez guided Bonham down the field and into a perfect position for Rhinehart to close the game. The senior did just that as he split the uprights from 29 yards out to put the Purple Warriors ahead 31-29 with one second remaining in regulation. Rhinehart squibbed the ensuing kickoff, and Bonham quickly closed the door on a miraculous game-winning kickoff return touchdown attempt from Howe.
The victory was Bonham’s first in district play. As a team, Bonham rushed for 285 yards and gained 376 total yards on offense. The Purple Warriors averaged more than 6.3 yards per carry on the ground against the Bulldogs defense.
Rodriguez shined for his seniors in a big way. The dual-threat quarterback gained 283 total yards. He carried the ball 21 times for 187 yards and 1 touchdown, and he completed 11 of his 24 pass attempts for 96 yards and a score. On offense, Stuber added 87 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on 19 carries. Rhinehart had 11 receiving yards and the game-winning field goal. Bowser hauled in 3 passes for 43 yards and 1 touchdown.
Leatherwood led the Bonham defense with 12 tackles, while Stuber had 10 takedowns and 3 tackles for a loss. Sophomore Jeren Ross was limited to 22 total offensive yards, but he excelled in the secondary with 4 tackles and 2 tackles for a loss. Andrew was impactful with 7 tackles and 2 TFL, and Bowser compiled 5 tackles.
The Purple Warriors will end their season at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Emory Rains. For more sports coverage, click here.