It could have been a dog fight, but two touchdowns in six seconds opened the flood gates for Stephenville Friday night.
The No. 7 Yellow Jackets scored on a five-yard run by Jarrett Stidham with 11 seconds left in the first half, Will Brock recovered the ensuing kickoff when it was muffed at the one-yard line and Kobe Beavers scored on a one-yard plunge with five seconds on the clock.
The quick strikes gave Stephenville (3-1) a 43-16 halftime cushion over Waco La Vega (1-3), and the Jackets cruised to a 56-23 win in their fifth annual Heart of Gold game at Tarleton Memorial Stadium.
Stephenville actually scored 22 points in the final 2:18 of the first half. Kaegun Williams scored on a 25-yard run, and Brandon Stevens intercepted a La Vega pass on the ensuing possession.
It was all part of a 35-0 run by Stephenville that blew open what was a five-point game three minutes before halftime. Luis Garcia hit a 34-yard field goal to open the third quarter, Stidham hit Mookie Carlile in stride for a 54-yard TD on the Jackets' next possession, then Garcia finished the run with a 47-yard field goal early in the fourth.
"We started both halves strong, and that's something we've been focusing on," said Stephenville head coach Joe Gillespie. "We scored the first 14 points to start the game. Entering the second half, we wanted to come out with the mentality that it was 0-0. That's hard to do when you have a big lead, but I thought we executed pretty well. Luis (Garcia) goes down and gets us three points, then we get a quick stop by the defense. It was just what we were looking for."
Stidham passed for three touchdowns and rushed for two. He was 10-15 passing for 195 yards, and rushed nine times for 108 yards, giving him 303 yards of total offense.
"The offensive line was the best it's been all season, and they'll just keep getting better as they build on what they did tonight," Stidham said. "Our receivers worked hard all week. They had a couple drops last week, and I overthrew some passes, too. But you could tell tonight that we're getting our timing down."
Gillespie thought it was the junior quarterback's finest hour through the opening four games.
"I think it was his best game of the season to this point. I feel like he has gotten better each week as he's gone through so many learning experiences in every game," Gillespie said. "It's just his fourth start as a quarterback, and it's a lot different than being at receiver. But it's not just him getting better, the guys around him are getting better - the offensive line, the receivers and the running backs. They're all improving, and that makes his job that much easier."
Morrison had five receptions for 77 yards. He hauled in a 19-yard scoring pass on Stephenville's first possession, and made it 21-10 with a 12-yard TD snag early in the second.
Stidham made it 14-0 when he sneaked across the goal line from the one midway through the first, but La Vega answered when Detrayten Wagoner burst free for a 63-yard TD run then added the two-point conversion. The Pirates cut their deficit to 14-10 when a bad snap by Stephenville went out the back of its end zone late in the first.
Stephenville had a chance to blow it open early, but the Jackets had two early turnovers in addition to the safety.
"I told them before the game there would be some adversity. I didn't know where or when, but I knew it was going to happen," Gillespie said. "But our adverse minutes are getting slimmer and slimmer. It's two or three minutes at a time instead of eight or 10."
After Morrison's second TD catch, a three-yard scoring run by Ayorinde Gibson made it 21-16 with 3:29 left in the half. But La Vega would not score again until Gibson rushed for a 15-yard TD in the fourth. He had 131 yards on 19 carries, while Wagoner rushed for 82 yards.