SAGINAW — Stephenville's Yellow Jackets jumped to a 17-0 lead in the second quarter, then held on for a 31-21 triumph over Wichita Falls Hirschi in their Class 4A, Div. I state quarterfinal (Region I final) football playoff game Dec. 8 at Rangers Stadium at Chisholm Trail High School.
Coach Greg Winder's Jackets (12-2) will be seeking their ninth consecutive victory when they take on Region 2 champion Kennedale (13-1) in their state semifinal game at 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
The Jackets are just one win away from reaching the sixth state football championship game in school history.
Winder couldn’t find the exact words to describe the feeling of being among the final four teams left standing.
“You really can’t explain it,” Winder said. “You talk about it, and work so hard, and the rewards are paying off now. The crowd was really into it.”
He said he won’t need to do a whole lot of cheerleading with the players during the next game, based on their emotional state. That, he said, comes during the week at this point in the season.
“After games like this, you’re not going to talk very long. They’re too excited. They’re not going to listen anyway. I’ll do all my talking to them during the week,” Winder joked.
“We go out and work as hard as we can every day,” SHS junior Gage Graham, who intercepted a pass late in the second quarter, said of the defensive effort. “Everybody knows what they’re supposed to do. It’s awesome. We’re on a roll. We’re pretty hot. It feels amazing.”
SHS running back Krece Nowak recorded 245 yards of total offense, rushing for 154 yards on 25 carries, and catching two passes for 91 yards.
Quarterback Easton Jones threw for 213 yards for the Jackets, completing 9 of 22 attempts with three interceptions. Jones came into the game with just four interceptions in the first 13 games.
Seventh-ranked Kennedale advanced with a 63-36 win over Kaufman Friday night. The only loss for the Wildcats this season was Oct. 6 versus West Orange-Stark, 23-20.
The winner of the SHS-Kennedale contest will take on either No. 1-ranked Carthage (14-0) or No. 4 Waco LaVega (14-0) in the state title game.
In the win over the Huskies (11-3) Friday, Nowak scored two touchdowns, including one of two scoring strikes thrown by quarterback Easton Jones, from 48 yards out. Nowak also scored Stephenville’s first offensive TD of the night, on a 5-yard run that increased the Jackets’ lead to 17-0.
Kade Averhoff caught the other TD pass from Jones, from 3 yards away, capping the scoring with 3:29 remaining in the third quarter.
Stephenville's other TD came on a punt muffed by Hirschi that Victor Moreno of SHS pounced on in the end zone. That was the first TD for the Jackets, making it 10-0 with 45 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The Jackets had gained a 3-0 lead at the 5:39 mark in the first quarter on a 30-yard field goal by Chase Carrillo.
The Huskies had pulled within 17-13 with a 10-yard scoring run and a 45-yard TD pass. The Jackets held a narrow 24-21 at the 7:39 mark the third quarter after the Huskies recorded a 33-yard TD run.
But the Jackets' swarming defense shut out the potent Hirschi offense the rest of the way, and neither team scored in the fourth quarter.
The Jackets found themselves deep in their own territory early in the fourth quarter, but moved to the SHS 39 before a nice punt by Jones rolled to the Hirschi 10, where it was downed. The turnaround in field position changed the outlook for the rest of the game as the SHS defense came on strong.
“Coach (Cody) Moore pulled us aside and said the defense had to man up and get a stop here,” SHS senior Kasee Bouchey said. “That was big. It changed the momentum.
“We just do our jobs. We try not to focus on the bad things. Now that we’re later in the playoffs, we have pretty high confidence we will go far.”
Nowak was taken out of the Hirschi game in the fourth quarter because of a minor hip injury, but Winder said he’s ready to go against Kennedale.
Tickets to the Kennedale state semifinal game are $12 in advance, available online at ticketmaster.com. They will cost $15 at the gate.
Stephenville fans will be seated on the visitors side of the stadium, according to SHS Assistant Athletic Director Mike Carroll.
The winner will advance to the state championship game, which will also be at AT&T Stadium. The Class 4A, Div. I state title game is set for 11 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 22, the first of three state championship games that day. The complete three-day state finals schedule (Dec. 21-23) for all classifications can be found on the UIL website (https://www.uiltexas.org/football/state).
Kennedale’s Wildcats won their ninth straight game when they beat Kaufman 63-36 Dec. 8.
The Wildcats use a Wing-T offense and feature a potent running back duo in senior Jaden Knowles (1,768 yards and 29 TDs rushing) and junior De’shaun Kirven (1,716 yards and 34 TDs).
Junior quarterback Evan Jowers also provides a running threat, with 682 yards and 8 TDs rushing to go along with 939 yards and 10 TDs passing.
“Offensively and defensively they are a very good football team,” Winder said of Kennedale. “That’s what you expect when you get this far in the playoffs.
“They use the Wing-T, and they’re going to run the football. They are big, and they have a lot of speed. Defensively, we’re going to have to gang tackle, and have a lot of people around the football.
“Offensively, we’re going to have to be real good up front. We’re going to have to win the battle on the offensive and defensive lines.