ROWLETT — We just thought nothing could top Melissa’s previous game, the double-OT win over Aubrey for the district’s second seed. This one did — in overtimes: three; and in Cardinal second-half deficits erased: 15 points. But by ultimate measure, from Melissa’s standpoint, it did not — as this time the young Comeback Cards fell, 97-90, in an epic bi-district playoff match with the senior-laden Ferris Yellowjackets (22-6) of District 12-4A.


This clash, at Rowlett High School on Monday, Feb. 20, took the equivalent of five-and-a-half quarters to decide. And after being tied, 66-all, at the end of regulation, Ferris overcame four-point deficits in each of the first two extra periods to send the game to a third. There, it was the Yellowjackets who took the four-point lead, and made it stick.


Melissa head coach Eric Benton said he told his team it’s OK to be disappointed with the result.


“I told them we could have won the game and I wouldn’t be any more proud of them than I am right now,” Benton said. “We’d all be in a different mood if we’d won the game, but there’s zero-percent chance that I could be any prouder of them if we’d won the game. We’re young. The way we battled back time after time — we find a way to scratch and claw.”


“They were really good,” Benton said of Ferris. “They were really talented and athletic. They’ve got seniors that have been through the fire and they made big plays.”


“It’s unexplainable,” Yellowjackets head coach Derrick Gatson said of games like this. “I’m just proud of our kids for sticking it out. I’ve got a roster that’s loaded with seniors and they were determined to win. They fought all the way through. Sometimes it’s a matter of X’s and O’s and sometimes it’s a matter of heart. And our kids, they definitely showed heart tonight.”


Sophomores Junior Castleberry and Matt Holloway lit up the Cards’ scoreboard again, with 26 and 24 points, respectively. Freshman Kaedric Cobbs was next, with 15 points, and junior Josh Wood also canned double-digits, with 12. Ferris’ Joecoby Woodson led the Yellowjackets’ charge with 23 points, including eight in the overtime periods, and teammate Kyree Rogers followed with 19. Three other Yellowjackets scored in double figures, with Alan Steinbeck coming up extra-big late. Twelve of his 14 points came in the OTs.


Trailing, 44-29, early in the third quarter, Melissa’s hopes were flagging. But then Wood posted a three-point play on a put-back layup and a free throw, followed with a 2-point jumper. Senior Taner Bigbee’s layup off a steal then drew the Cards to within 10, at 46-36. Ignited by more steals, Castleberry added a layup — off Holloway’s assist — and a deep 3, and Melissa trailed, 46-42, late in the third. Before the stanza ended, Cobbs’ steal and pass to Bigbee underneath ended with a layup, bringing the Cards to within two, at 51-49. Wood especially battled on the boards during this stretch and later, coming up with big, contested rebounds and steals.


In the fourth frame, Melissa tied the score at 53-53 on Wood’s layup off a Castleberry feed. But back-to-back Cardinal turnovers allowed Ferris to again move ahead. A coast-to-coast drive for two “and one” from the line by freshman Brendon Lewis brought Melissa back to within two, 58-56, with 3:48 left in regulation. Two Lewis free throws then tied the score at 60 and three more ties would occur before the clock showed zeroes.


In the first OT, the Cards jumped ahead, 68-66, on a Wood layup. At the other end, Wood’s blocked shot led to a long pass to Holloway for two and Melissa’s lead was four. The Cards still led, 73-69, with a minute left but Ferris would recover. Daylon Taylor laid one in, followed by Steinback’s big steal under Melissa’s basket, which led to the tying bucket.


The Cards again bolted to a four-point led in the second OT, on a Cobbs jumper and two Castleberry free throws after he’d nabbed a steal. Melissa still led by four, 78-74, after Cobbs hit one of two from the line. But with two minutes left, a Steinbeck 3 made it a one-point game. Castleberry answered with a 3, but Steinbeck came right back with another from downtown. Cobbs hit another free throw to make it 82-80, but Luvil Smith’s layup knotted things again for Ferris.


In the third overtime, the Yellowjackets pulled away on two quick steals and a Melissa turnover. But after Holloway’s put-back layup, the Cards trailed by just two, 92-90, with 35.5 seconds left. That’s when Smith hit one of two free throws, pushing Ferris’ advantage to 93-90. Cobbs rebounded Smith’s miss and got the ball to Wood whose shot wouldn’t fall. The Yellowjackets closed it out with Steinbeck’s free throws and a layup.


Melissa (16-14) led, 19-16, after one quarter and back-to-back Castleberry 3s had the Cards up, 27-22, with five minutes left in the first half. But a 14-0 run to close out the period propelled Ferris to a 40-29 halftime edge.


Though Melissa’s season is over, the Cards’ future looks bright: Of the players who saw time for Melissa this night, only one senior - Bigbee - was among them. Also suiting up for his final time, but not playing, was senior guard Beau Hasik. Everyone else is back in 2018, which means these Comeback Cards aren’t nearly done.