To say Connor Washington was walking into a hornets nest would be an understatement.
No, it was more like he was walking into a bearcats’ den - quite literally.
And he was doing it as a sophomore who had previously quarterbacked Stephenville’s freshman team.
And he was doing it with 10 other brand new starters all around him.
Still, somehow, the Yellow Jackets kept the score close, and with time running out, put together one final drive that appeared on its way to the end zone for a game-winning touchdown.
But on third down near the opponents’ 10, Washington fumbled between the snap and trying to hand the ball off to prolific running back James Myles. Aledo recovered, picked up one first down and ran out the clock.
Aledo 20, Stephenville 16.
That was on Aug. 28 in Aledo. To say Washington - and the entire Yellow Jacket offense - has grown into a potent unit since then would be an even bigger understatement.
District 8-4A champ Stephenville fell to Denton Guyer one week later, but has since won nine straight games including last week’s 62-13 rout of Fort Worth Polytechnic in a 4A Division II playoff opener. During the win streak, the Jackets have averaged 41.6 points and 396.1 yards per game.
Perhaps no one on the offense has grown more than Washington, who for the season is 159-250 (63.6 percent) passing for 2,088 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“I think I’ve definitely caught up to the speed of the game,” Washington says. “I feel like I’ve come a long way since the start of the season.”
Stephenville offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Greg Winder agrees.
“It’s like night and day. He’s matured so much from August to now,” Winder says. “He’s had a great season and is still learning. His footwork and technique have improved and his arm just keeps getting stronger.”
Winder says Washington has certainly had a lot of help along the way - help in the form of an all-state candidate in running back James Myles, senior receivers Cole Stokes, Charlie Riola and Shylo Pankey and an offensive line that has also improved week-to-week.
“The receivers have kind of taken him under their wing and brought him along. (Myles) is in the backfield with him and is great from a leadership standpoint and the offensive line has been good with him,” Winder says. “Really it’s all 10 other guys on that side of the ball who have helped him along.”
And as Connor has improved, the offense - and entire team - has improved right along with him.
“We’re tons better now (than in the season opener),” Washington said. “Our relationship on and off the field has developed and been great, and we leave our hearts on the field every time.”
But for all that has happened since Aug. 28, Washington still remembers the fumble late in the game when the Jackets had a chance to win.
“Right when it happened I was mad at myself. I knew the fumble was my fault,” Washington said. “But it was the first game, I’ve learned from it and moved on.”
But that doesn’t mean he has forgotten. The memory of that game has fueled an even greater passion to beat Aledo this time - with an area championship on the line.
“It’s a lot like it was when we played Everman except this time it’s even bigger because it’s in the playoffs,” Washington said. “Coach told us (after the opener) if we kept getting better each week we would get in the playoffs and get to see (Aledo) again and now we do.
“We both have great teams,” Washington continued. “Now we get to see who the better team really is.”