ARLINGTON - For the 19th time in 20 years, Stephenville is headed to the UIL Class 4A football playoffs.
A week still remains in District 8-4A play, but Stephenville has already secured a second-place finish after Friday’s 35-20 defeat of playoff hopeful Arlington Seguin.
Head Coach Joseph Gillespie takes the Jackets to the postseason in just his first year at the helm of the program, something not even Art Briles or Chad Morris were able to do. The Jackets reached the playoffs during 12 of the 13 years Gillespie, an SHS graduate, was an assistant at at the school before his promotion in February. The only other recent Stephenville head coach to reach the playoffs in his first season was Mike Copeland, who is currently a defensive assistant on Gillespie’s staff.
The win improves Stephenville to 6-3 overall, 5-1 in 8-4A. Seguin dropped to 3-6, 3-3, but can still get into the postseason with a win or a loss and some help next week. Everman has locked up its second straight outright district title, while Mansfield Timberview is in good shape to move on as the other playoff team. Everman and Stephenville will be placed on opposite sides of the 4A-DII Region I bracket after next week’s regular season finales.
Like he has been for many opponents this season, Stephenville senior running back Brad Mills was too much for Seguin, traveling 194 yards and on 22 trips with two touchdown runs of 18 and 39 yards. He also caught a five-yard scoring pass when the Jackets elected to go for it on fourth-and-one. Quarterback Brad Picha made a nice play-action fake, and Mills was alone in the left flat.
Picha finished with a pair of touchdown strikes, the other a four-yarder to Josh Graves to finally put Seguin away with 1:37 remaining. Picha was 11-23 passing for 126 yards and also threw an interception in his first game back from missing one full contest and most of another with a concussion. Eight of his completions went to Graves, who had 107 yards.
Stephenville and Seguin, who had previously never met on the gridiron, traded touchdowns early on as Mills ended the Jackets’ first drive with his first scoring trip, and Robert Owoyele answered with a 28-yard sprint to pay dirt for the Cougars. The Picha-to-Mills fourth-down scoring pass then made it 14-7 Stephenville after one.
The defenses locked down in the second, especially Stephenville senior linebacker Hayden Whiteley, who picked off a pass to stop a Seguin threat at the Stephenville 19. He returned the interception 42 yards to the Cougar 39 with seven seconds left in the half, but a pair of incompletions - one just overthrown, the other caught but just out of bounds in the end zone by Daniel Noland - sent the teams to the break in a one-possession game.
Stephenville went three-and-out to begin the second half, and a punt of 21 yards set Seguin up with a short field. Seven plays later, Cougar quarterback Todd Hensley jogged across the goal line from three yards out to tie the game with just under eight minutes to play in the third.
It took the Jackets only five plays to answer, however, as Mills turned another fourth-down attempt into a touchdown with his 39-yard score, Stephenville’s longest play of the night.
The Jacket defense continued to bend while surrendering 347 yards of total offense, but refused to break in the fourth quarter. Seguin drove the field twice before being forced to settle for Nathan Wagner field goals of 21 and 27 yards.
Meanwhile, Picha and the Jackets switchedto a hurry-up look and caught Seguin off-guard, running seven plays and covering 77 yards in 1:11. Picha finished the drive with a 15-yard run, and the Jackets were up 28-17 before Wagner’s second three-pointer kept the Cougars alive.
Seguin trailed by only eight, 28-20, with 4:55 left, but attempted an early onside kick. Graves recovered for Stephenville, a 15-yard late hit against Seguin was tacked on, and the Jackets needed only 38 yards to provide the game’s final tally.
Any chance of a Seguin touchdown and onside kick in the closing seconds were denied when Jacket defensive stalwart Josh Emmons sacked Hensley on fourth down. It was the fourth time Hensely was sacked, with two coming from junior Javier Perez.
Stephenville finished with 392 yards of offense, only the second time in 8-4A the Jackets have not topped 400.
Seguin was led by La’Ryon Witherspoon with 117 yards on 16 carries. Hensley was 12-26 passing for 155 yards, an interception and no scores.
Stephenville completes the regular season at home against Crowley next week, while Seguin looks to secure a playoff berth at Joshua.