With only four home games on their 2018 football schedule, the Stephenville Yellow Jackets had limited choices for their homecoming opponent.
The Jackets’ schedule is extremely challenging, bordering on brutal, so the tradition of choosing a likely victim for homecoming was uncertain.
Coach Greg Winder’s fifth-ranked Jackets, coming off Friday’s 41-28 road victory over Abilene Wylie, will have their homecoming matchup — and first home game of the season — Friday at 7 p.m. against No. 4-ranked Midlothian Heritage. The Jaguars are 3-0 after defeating Decatur, 56-21.
The Associated Press rankings had Stephenville at No. 6 in Class 4A and Heritage at No. 7 entering last week’s games.
Last year, Heritage made it to the regional semifinal round of the playoffs. They entered this season with five offensive and six defensive starters back from that 12-1 campaign.
The Jaguars are propelled by quarterback Landon Ledbetter, who helped Heritage win the Division II 7-on-7 state championship this past summer.
A year ago, Ledbetter threw for 2,785 yards (completing 69 percent) and 39 TDs with only four interceptions. In three games this season, Ledbetter has connected on 50 of 67 passes for 604 yards and 10 touchdowns, with two interceptions.
“He’s got a great arm,” Winder said of Ledbetter. “On the other side, he’s got great receivers. He’s got good targets to throw the ball to. And he can scramble.
“They can run it and throw it. They are a well-balanced football team. We’re going to have to play (on defense) really well up front and on the back end also. We have to prevent the big play.”
Running back Dre Washington leads the Jaguars in rushing with 337 yards, averaging 8.2 yards per catch, and has one TD.
“He’s got real quick feet, he makes good moves and he’s tough to bring down,” Winder said of Washington.
Winder said the Heritage defense is solid, featuring one lineman who weighs 270 pounds and another who is 255. Middle linebacker Konner Jones is also a key performer.
Winder said the Jaguars have only punted twice this season, and most of the points they have allowed came late in their games after the outcome was certain.
Stephenville’s first opponent this season was Argyle, which was ranked No. 2 in the state at that time. The Jackets had beaten third-ranked Argyle 31-28 in the 2017 playoffs, but this time the Eagles prevailed, 45-35, in the season opener Aug. 31 in Argyle.
“They’re (the Jaguars) very similar, and probably are going to have more talent than Argyle,” Winder said. “Our kids understand that. They understand the game we face, and they respond.”
BEATING THE BULLDOGS
In their third straight road game to start the season, the Jackets forced five turnovers and receiver Gavin Rountree caught two second-half touchdown passes in defeating Class 5A Wylie 41-28 Sept. 14 at Bulldog Stadium in Abilene.
That gave Rountree, a sophomore, four TD receptions this season.
Running back Krece Nowak scored one TD from 63 yards out for the Jackets on the way to piling up 222 yards rushing on 24 carries. He suffered a leg injury in the second half but was able to return to the game later.
Cole Stanley, who also scored a 1-yard TD on a quarterback sneak, connected with Rountree with 8:44 left in the fourth quarter for the final score of the game. That was set up by Jonathan Gutierrez’s fumble recovery for the Jackets.
Midway through the third quarter, with Stanley temporarily sidelined because of flu symptoms, Kade Renfro came off the bench and tossed a 27-yard TD pass to Rountree that gave SHS a 35-14 edge.
Coming out of halftime with a narrow 20-14 lead, SHS seemed to get a boost when defensive back Gage Graham intercepted a Wylie pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown at the 10:30 mark in the third quarter. It was Stephenville’s third defensive touchdown in as many games this season.
“I feel like that was a huge momentum boost,” said Graham, a 5-11, 280-pound senior. “At halftime our defensive coaches said not to let them get past the 50. I know I started off slow. I didn’t have a good first half. I know we needed to respond a little better.”
Shortly after his interception return, the Jackets went on top by 35-14 with 5:57 left in the quarter on Renfro’s TD toss to Rountree.
“Going into halftime, we weren’t looking too good,” said Rountree, a 6-0, 165-pound sophomore who quarterbacked the SHS freshman squad last season. “We made some adjustments and took care of business.
“I just love playing football for this team. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to play for the Yellow Jackets. That’s always been my dream.”
Winder said, “We were having trouble offensively, moving the football in the first half, or we would get penalties. Our defense stuck in there. They create turnovers, and they are fun to watch. When it was time, the offense came out and did what they needed to do to win the ballgame.”
Chase Carrillo added two field goals in the second quarter for SHS, from 23 and 39 yards.
Wylie, a former district opponent of the Jackets now competing in Class 5A Division II, fell to 0-3.
“Any time you beat Abilene Wylie, especially in Abilene, it’s a big win,” said Winder, whose team totaled 451 yards in total offense. “Coach (Hugh) Sandifer and his staff do a tremendous job.”
The win marked the second straight time the Jackets have scored 41 points, and they have a total of 107 points in their three games so far.
Winder said Stanley is recovering from his flu symptoms, while Renfro still has a sore hip from Friday’s game. Nowak was able to re-enter and finish the Wylie game after his minor leg injury, and the coach said he doesn’t expect any of the players to miss Friday’s game against Heritage.
Nowak, a three-year stater at running back, leads the Jackets in rushing with 326 yards on 51 carries for an average of 6.4 yards per tote. He also leads the Jackets in scoring with seven TDs.
Stanley leads in passing with 723 yards, completing 43 of 90 for 48 percent with four TDs and two interceptions.
The top SHS receiver is senior wideout Kyle Lindsey with 12 catches for 190 yards and one TD. Nowak and Rountree are next, with eight catches apiece.
On defense, linebacker Blu Caylor leads the Jackets with 35 tackles, followed by Quentin Walker with 29, Gage Graham and Chase Carrillo with 28 each and Victor Moreno with 27.