Some games are about more than just football. Friday’s Heart of Gold game in Stephenville is one of them.
The Yellow Jackets welcome longtime 3A power Waco La Vega to Tarleton Memorial Stadium Friday for their fifth annual Heart of Gold contest that actually started as a ‘White Out Leukemia Night’ back in 2008.
Gold, white, no matter, the biggest highlight of Friday’s game will be the Stephenville community rallying in their ‘Team Boyd’ T-shirts in support of infant Boyd Mabry, who suffers from a rare condition labeled hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The son of Stephenville assistant coach Garrett Mabry and wife, Simone, Boyd was born with basically half a heart and has already undergone two sets of surgeries.
“This started as a ‘White Out’ and it was a great experience for everyone involved,” said Stephenvile athletic director and head coach Joe Gillespie. “We wanted a way to keep it going and to make it an annual thing, so we came out with the Heart of Gold game and it just kind of took off.”
Stephenville is 3-1 in Heart of Gold games (including the ‘White Out Leukemia’ contest), and faces a La Vega team coming off a 37-20 loss to Mexia. The Pirates have also fallen to Palestine, 26-12, and defeated Hutto, 29-28.
Despite its 1-2 mark, Gillespie says La Vega should never be taken lightly.
“La Vega’s been good forever, and Coach (Willie) Williams has been there for what seems like forever. I put him right up there with the legends when it comes to high school coaches in Texas,” said Gillespie. “And you know La Vega always has great team speed and athleticism.”
Those two qualities are what make new quarterback Parish Cobb and varsity veterans Javon Arnett and Avorinde Gibson so dangerous. Arnett and Gibson will play both ways - in the backfield and in the secondary - while Williams told Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine sophomore Cobb “will be one of the most talented athletes to come through our program.”
Gillespie said La Vega was missing two players in its season-opening loss to Palestine, and it showed.
“They had a couple guys out, I don’t know why,” Gillespie said. “But they were back against Hutto, and you can tell they make them go. They’re good football players.”
Stephenville is coming off its second biggest comeback under Gillespie. The Yellow Jackets erased an 18-point deficit to beat Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Dillard 46-28 in last Saturday’s Lone Star Classic in Dallas. The biggest comeback under Gillespie came in his first victory as head coach, when the Jackets erased a 21-0 deficit to beat Brownwood 31-28 on Sept. 12, 2008. Stephenville came from 17 back to beat Aledo 48-47 to begin the 2011 season.
The Yellow Jackets displayed their 1-2 punch from the backfield, as Kaegun Williams rushed for 109 yards and Will Brock added 92. Williams scored twice on the ground and once through the air on one of quarterback Jarrett Stidham’s three TD passes. Stidham also rushed for a score.
Defensively, Mookie Carlile picked off two passes - he also had seven receptions and a TD on offense - while Tyler Isham intercepted a third Dillard throw. Stephenville forced five turnovers and limited the Panthers to 14 yards on the ground.
Most importantly, according to Gillespie, was the way the Jackets started the second half, with touchdowns on their opening two possessions and three-and-outs defensively the first two times Dillard had the ball.
“We have to continue to come out of the second half strong and we have to start the game that strong,” said Gillespie, whose teams have been outscored 19-7 in first quarters this season.
Stephenville will be without Grayson Sweet, who broke his wrist going up for a two-point conversion pass last week. Sweet, who caught a touchdown in his first game back from breaking a bone in his opposite hand, is out four-to-six weeks. The Jackets will also be without offensive lineman Raul Rocha, but will welcome back Ben Martin to the lineup.
“Ben was suited out and could have played last week had we needed him, but (Carlile) stepped in and was doing a good job, so we didn’t have to use him,” Gillespie said. “We’re trying to be smart and have everyone back and healthy for the important games down the road that can affect the outcome of our season.”
Gillespie said Carlile will still see time offensively.
“We won’t use him every week like we did Saturday, because he probably played between 100 and 120 snaps,” he said. “But we’re going to use him a lot of ways, because he’s such a great athlete for us. And Mookie wants to be out there, he wants to help the team win any way he can.”
Stephenville was ranked sixth when it upset second-ranked La Vega 43-22 in the Pirates’ homecoming game last year. The loss touched off a downward spiral that ended with La Vega being eliminated in the first round of the 3A Divsion I playoffs with a 7-4 record.
“They haven’t forgotten what happened last year, and I’m sure they’ll be fired up and ready to give us their best shot,” Gillespie said. “But this is Stephenville, and we always have a big target on our backs. We’re used to it here.”