ALEDO - Aledo edged Stephenville 20-16 in a season opener charged with as much emotion as most playoff games Friday night at Bearcat Stadium.
It was a typical Aledo-Stephenville game featuring very few mistakes by either team. Both state powers had underclassmen starting at several positions, serving notice of good things to come later this season for each team.
Aledo won - thanks to the only serious error of the night when Stephenville fumbled and turned the ball over late in the fourth - but it was a non-district tilt that will serve mostly as a learning tool as each team gains much-needed experience week-by-week.
A strong debut
One of the hottest subjects around Stephenville during the weeks leading up to the opener was new quarterback Connor Washington, a sophomore who directed the Jackets’ freshman team to a district title last year.
The youngster handled the pressure of his first varsity start, a stout defense and a jam-packed stadium better than anyone could have expected. He was 19-33 passing for 210 yards. Three times he threw the ball away to stay out of trouble - showing the decision-making skills of a seasoned veteran.
The only glitch in Washington’s debut was the costly fumbled exchange as he tried to hand the ball off to junior running back James Myles. Outside of that he was solid, throwing his first career touchdown pass and directing the offense to 21 first downs.
Still loaded at receiver
Like every other position on the Stephenville offense, all the receivers were making their first varsity start. But if Friday’s performance is any indication of how the rest of the season will go, there’s no cause for alarm.
Charlie Riola and Cole Stokes were great, combining for 179 yards on 15 receptions. Sophomore Tyler Floyd added a pair of receptions as Washington completed passes to five different targets.
Stacked on D
Even with the knee injury to Dominick Jokel during the game, the Stephenville defense was effective. Aledo sophomore Johnathan Gray may have run for 116 yards, but by the end of the regular season that likely won’t even be mentioned among his top performances.
The Jackets stopped Aledo twice on fourth down, including a sack by sophomore Holton Westbrook and a pass breakup by junior Reilly Avalos.
Speaking of Gray…
Gray, the son of former Texas Tech sensation and NFL player James Gray, is only a sophomore and has a very bright future ahead. Aledo coach Tim Buchanan called him up from the JV ranks three-games into the 2008 season and he rushed for 969 yards in the Bearcats’ final seven regular season contests.
Gray has 4.4 speed and showed great explosion when he broke tackles on touchdown runs of 10 and 17 yards. He also ripped off a 33-yard sprint down the home sideline.
Stephenville coach Joseph Gillespie said this week that fans know what they’re going to get anytime the Jackets and Bearcats meet - high-caliber football by both teams and games that will be close to the end.
Aledo’s second straight four-point win - the Bearcats won 24-20 in Stephenville last year - marked the sixth time in eight meetings the outcome was not determined until the final moments.
Stephenville travels to Denton on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. showdown against No. 3 Guyer. The Wildcats recorded just their second win in school history when they shocked Stephenville 19-16 last year, but nobody knew at the time how good they would prove to be.
After rolling all the way to the 4A Division I semifinals, Guyer is loaded again with NCAA Division I prospects such as Texas pledge Taylor Bible at DT, and OT Cole Underwood, who has committed to Stanford. QB J.W. Walsh, the son of head coach John Walsh, is a star of the dual-threat variety, while RB Jaimaine Wilhite rushed for more than 1,500 yards last year.
Guyer built a 31-7 halftime lead before surviving a second-half rally in a 34-28 win against Carrollton Newman Smith in its 2009 season opener.