MESQUITE, Texas -- Aledo’s Johnathan Gray is so elusive, even his coach lost track of him.
In the third quarter of Friday night's 4A Division II state semifinal against Corsicana, Gray -- having already scored four touchdowns -- was sitting on the sideline.
While a four-touchdown night might be a career outing for any other running back, Gray needed one more to tie the national career touchdown record set by former Michigan star Mike Hart, who scored 204 touchdowns while at Onondaga Central High School, just outside of Syracuse, N.Y.
Gray had gotten banged up on a play at the end of the third quarter and limped off the field. Aledo coach Tim Buchanan told Gray he was keeping him on the bench for the time being, but that he would eventually put him back in the game.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, with Aledo up 61-28, Buchanan looked up from talking with his defensive coordinator to find Gray in the game and scoring his record-tying fifth touchdown.
“I told him, ‘Your not done. You may go back in in the fourth quarter,’ " Buchanan said of his earlier conversation with Gray. "I guess he thought that meant go back in in the fourth quarter.”
Gray had his own version of the conversation.
“Coach said, 'Hey you’re not done, I’m going to give [Caleb] Frysinger a few plays,' " Gray said with a laugh. "I thought in my head that I don’t want him to yell at me, so in a couple of plays I’ll go in. I didn’t know.”
Whatever the case, both were happy that Gray was able to nab his 204th career touchdown on a night where he was held to just 218 yards. Yes, just 218 yards.
But more important, Aledo beat Corsicana 68-28 to advance to the 4A Division II state championship.
Gray notched the first three touchdowns of the game, scoring from 16, one and 23 yards out, respectively.
Corsicana mounted a small second-quarter rush and put up 14 points, but Aledo had the last laugh.
After a flag gave Aledo an untimed down before the half, quarterback Matthew Bishop threw up a Hail Mary prayer to the back of the end zone. The pass was tipped by Aledo’s Willie Gibson and fell right into the open arms of wide receiver Michael Mann for the score, sending Aledo to the locker room with a 28-14 lead.
“We didn’t think it was going to work, but it worked and Mike came down with it,” Gray said. “Anything is possible -- that’s why they call it a Hail Mary.”
The Bearcats began the second half exactly how they ended the first -- with a score.
Aledo’s Jonny Carter took the opening kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown.
But Aledo wasn't finished coming up with spectacular plays.
In the third, Bishop connected with Mann on a 44-yard touchdown pass on a throw off his back foot as a Corsicana defender pounded him. Mann made one slick move and found the goal line.
Aledo’s defense shut down Corsicana's 3,000-yard rusher, Cameron Washington, allowing him only 91 yards on 16 carries. But that did not come as much of a surprise to Corsicana head coach Phil Castles.
“They just played good defense against everyone they’ve played lately and they’re getting better and better," Castles said. "For us, that meant we had to throw it. We threw it some successfully, but not enough.”
And Gray backed up the hype that surrounded him coming into the semifinal match, Castles said.
In his typical humble nature, Gray had little to say about the record he is on the verge of breaking, but echoed the sentiment of his coach -- who said there is still more for his team to achieve than records.
“We’ll worry about records later," Buchanan said. "We just want to go win another state championship. We really don’t keep up with it, to be honest with you. That’s for you guys. We just go with the flow and Johnathan can look back on that when he’s my age, but right now it really doesn’t mean much to him.”
What matters most is Aledo's date Saturday at noon with the winner of the Manvel and Corpus Christi Calallen semifinal.
“We have to win it now," Gray said of the state title game. "We’re not satisfied with just getting there again. We have to win it, and after that we’ll be satisfied with that for high school and move on to college football.”
Three straight 4A state titles would have to be satisfying.