Despite rainy conditions in the second half Friday night at Memorial Stadium, it looked like Stephenville’s homecoming crowd was going to go home happy with an exciting late rally over Midlothian Heritage.
But dangerous quarterback Landon Ledbetter, who passed for almost 2,800 yards and 39 touchdowns a year ago for Heritage, connected with wide receiver Langston Anderson on a 66-yard TD pass with 2:44 left in the fourth quarter to record a 26-21 win over the Yellow Jackets.
Stephenville (2-2), which entered the game ranked No. 5 in the latest Associated Press Class 4A poll, appeared to be headed for its third consecutive victory after rallying from a 14-0 first-half deficit. SHS defensive tackle Daniel Luna picked up a Heritage fumble and ran 72 yards for a TD to tie it at 20 with 3:10 left in the game. Chase Carrillo’s ensuing extra point kick gave the Jackets a 21-20 lead.
Starting SHS quarterback Cole Stanley suffered an ankle injury with just over 4 minutes remaining in the opening quarter and Kade Renfro came in to throw two TD passes in relief, completing 18 of 31 overall for 245 yards. Stanley attempted two passes, both incomplete. Both Stanley and Renfro are juniors.
Luna said that teammate Dylan Garber stripped the ball away from a Heritage ball carrier before he scooped it up and headed toward the end zone with a steady rain continuing to fall. Luna fumbled the ball at about the 15-yard line, but was able to pick it up and continue for the TD.
“It was a fight to the end,” Luna said. “We had a lot of hard work and dedication, and it showed how focused we were. We did our best to stop them.”
The Jackets’ defensive unit has scored a touchdown in each of the team’s four games this season.
SHS head coach Greg Winder admitted that it was an exciting game to watch, but was more concerned with failing to score twice when the offense had the ball in the red zone.
“We had these guys right where we wanted them, and let them go,” Winder said. “Our defense had another great game.”
Receiver Gavin Rountree caught a 19-yard TD pass from Renfro at the 9:07 mark in the second quarter to pull the Jackets within 14-7.
Just over five minutes later, running back Krece Nowak caught a pass from Renfro and turned it into a 50-yard scoring play as the Jackets knotted the score at 14 with 3:52 to to in the second quarter.
After Ledbetter’s 36-yard TD pass with 4:53 remaining in the third quarter, the Jaguars’ extra point try sailed wide right, leaving them with a six-point edge over SHS, 20-14.
The Jackets had the ball on Heritage’s 20-yard line with fourth down and one to go for a first down. They went for it, but the Jaguars stopped the runner in the backfield to turn the ball over to their offense with 1:46 left in the game.
Later, at the 7:24 mark, Stephenville missed a 19-yard field goal but came back on a later possession with Luna’s long fumble return to take their one-point lead that ended up slipping away.
Nowak led the Jackets in rushing with 60 yards on 15 attempts, and added 92 yards with five pass receptions.
Teammate Kyle Lindsey also had five catches, for 65 yards.
The next game for the Jackets will be at home on Friday, Sept. 28 (7 p.m. kickoff) against Georgetown for the annual Heart of Gold Game at Memorial Stadium for their final non-district test. The Jackets will have their open date the week after that before starting District 5-4A play at home on Friday, Oct. 12 against China Spring (7 p.m.).