Stephenville (5-5, 4-1) didn't get to repeat as District 8-4A champions, but the Yellow Jackets achieved the next best thing Friday night, securing the league's top Division II playoff seed.
They scored 24 unanswered points after falling behind 21-17 early in the third, cruising to a 41-21 defeat of Waco (4-6, 2-4) at Tarleton Memorial Stadium.
Stephenville kicks off its 21st playoff appearance in 22 years against Crowley next Friday in Weatherford.
"Now it's really for real," Stephenville head coach Joseph Gillespie said of the playoffs beginning next week. "Four quarters, 48 minutes, win or go home. That's how you have to approach it from here on out."
Waco, which finished fourth in 8-4A and is also headed to the Division II bracket, begins its postseason journey against Everman.
Aiavion Edwards rushed for 195 yards and 3 TDs on 26 carries, fueling Stephenville to a season-best 292 yards on the ground. The Jackets finished with 384 yards of total offense.
Edwards, a junior, didn't become the starting running back until the fourth game, but still managed to finish the regular season with 202 carries for 1,285 yards and 17 scores.
Edwards' longest run of the night came on the first play from scrimmage, a 56-yard gallop to the end zone to give Stephenville the early edge.
The Yellow Jackets appeared to be in complete control after Tyler Floyd intercepted a pass on Waco's first possession and Padyn Giebler scored from a yard out three plays later.
It was 17-0 following the first of Blake Barnes' two field goals from 29 yards away, but it took just two big second-quarter plays for Waco to storm back.
The Lions blocked a punt by Stephenville's Holton Westbrook and Lester Walker fell on the loose ball in the end zone to get Waco on the board.
Waco's Jordan Lacy forced a fumble on the ensuing Yellow Jacket kickoff return, and Will Hines scooped and scored another special teams touchdown with a 9-yard return to cut the Lions' deficit to 17-14.
"Apparently we like dog fights and we like finding ways to get into them," Gillespie said with a chuckle. "Really, though, we must be a pretty good football team to overcome the amount of adversity we've been faced with every week."
Stephenville threatened just before the end of the first half, but Hines made another big play, picking off a Connor Washington pass in the end zone.
Washington was 13-28 passing for just 92 yards, but that was still more than Waco gained through the air as Deonte' Phillips was 14-28 for 80 yards.
Phillips used a 32-yard keeper to get the Lion offense going on the first drive of the second half, which culminated in a 9-yard TD burst by Tristan Eche.
That would prove to be the only offensive score of the night for Waco, which was limited to just 192 yards of total offense. Dennis Gibson, who entered the game averaging better than six yards per carry, had only 27 yards on 20 rushes.
"The defense played very well," Gillespie said. "I'm very proud of the way those kids responded with two three-year starters out."
The Jackets were without leading tackler Jared Slemmons, a senior linebacker, due to a concussion. He is expected back next week. Senior cornerback Reilly Avalos, however, is not expected to return from a shoulder injury suffered last week. Both are third-year starters.
"Those are two good, experienced football players, and it's tough when you lose guys like that," Gillespie said. "But our kids were up to the challenge and I think that was obvious by their performance."
Stephenville wasted no time coming back as Washington kept the ball on an option for 36 yards, setting Edwards up for a 3-yard TD burst to put the Jackets ahead for good.
Edwards made it 31-21 on the next Stephenville possession after consecutive completions from Washington to Trent Morrison and Gabe Barrios moved the Jackets into Waco territory.
Stephenville was once again in complete command moments later when Waco went three-and-out only to have its punt blocked by Stephen Harrell and returned 13 yards for a TD by Holton Westbrook.
Barnes finished the scoring with a 40-yard field goal in the final minute of the third quarter, in which the Jackets racked up 24 points.