By BRAD KEITH
ALEDO - Defending 4A Division II champ Aledo drove 99 yards to grab a two-score lead just before halftime, and the Bearcats' resilient defense made it stand in a 20-3 defeat of Stephenville at Bearcats Stadium Friday night.
No. 4 Stephenville failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 2008 and only the third time since 2003. A pair of untimely penalties killed two promising drives, and two others failed to produce points thanks to an interception and a missed field goal.
"They played like defending state champs and we didn't," Stephenville head coach Joseph Gillespie said. "It looked like game one for us. I think there's a lot of positives that are going to come out of it, but this is a hard one to swallow."
The win was Aledo's fourth straight over Stephenville. The No. 2 Bearcats have won three straight season openers between the perennial powers, and also edged the Yellow Jackets in overtime in last year's playoffs.
Aledo and Stephenville are now all square at five wins each since the Bearcats made the jump from 3A in 2002. The 17-point margin is the largest in the series since a 23-0 Bearcats win in 2003.
"When we face them again (in the playoffs) - and we are going to face them again - we're going to be a different football team," Gillespie said. "I think we're going to improve a whole lot more than they will, and it's going to be a different scenario the second time around."
Aledo quarterback Matthew Bishop accounted for all the Bearcats' scoring. He passed for 219 yards and a TD and rushed for 78 yards and two scores.
Stephenville contained Aledo standout Johnahan Gray, who finished with 81 yards on 20 carries. But Gray helped Aledo seal the win by taking a screen pass 45 yards to the Stephenville 17 on third-and-eight near the end of the third quarter.
Bishop capped that drive when he scrambled up the middle and got a big downfield block from Preston Bartley on his way to a 27-yard TD for the final score on the second play of the fourth.
Stephenville's only points came on a 34-yard Blake Barnes field goal to end an 11-play, 63-yard drive that began the second half.
The Bearcats went 85 yards on 11 plays on their opening possession of the game, scoring on a one-yard Bishop keeper. The junior quarterback converted a pair of third-and-eights with first-down passes to keep the drive alive.
Aledo was backed up to its own one-yard line midway through the second, but Gray opened the drive with a nine-yard run to give the Bearcats breathing room, and Bishop completed 4-7 passes for 45 yards and rushed twice for 14 yards on a 15-play drive that ate up five minutes, 49 seconds and gave Aledo a two-score lead with 28 seconds left in the half.
Stephenville tallied 373 total yards of offense while Aledo had 361. But the Yellow Jackets failed to capitalize on opportunities in Bearcat territory.
On their first drive, the Jackets drove to the Aledo 34 but a chop block cost them 15 yards and they eventually turned the ball over on downs. They reached the Bearcat 10 on their next drive, but Barnes missed a 27-yard field goal.
Early in the second, Stephenville reached Aledo's 38 before losing three yards and punting to set up the Cats' decisive 99-yard scoring drive.
It was more of the same in the second half, when Stephenville drove to the six before an intentional grounding penalty on junior quarterback Connor Washington forced the Jackets to settle for a field goal.
"We were driving the ball offensively and getting in the red zone or close to the red zone and never coming away with any points," Gillespie said. "We backed them up to the one yard line then allowed them to drive 99 yards. Those are things that are typical of the first game, but they happened to us and not to them."
Washington was 21-36 for 223 yards and an interception. His favorite target was sophomore Witt Westbrook with seven grabs for 101 yards.
"Witt is going to be a special football player for us. He had a big game," Gillespie said. "I was proud of our receivers. They caught the ball well tonight."
James Myles led all rushers with 101 yards on 16 carries.
Stephenville opens its home schedule next week against 3A power Abilene Wylie.
"We have to get better each week," Gillespie said. "We'll be better next week than we were (Friday), I guarantee it."