Running back Krece Nowak caught a screen pass from quarterback Kade Renfro and turned it into a 75-yard touchdown play with six minutes left in the game as Stephenville pulled out a tough 21-14 triumph over China Spring Friday night in the District 5-4A Division I football opener on the rain-soaked Memorial Stadium turf field. 

Nowak had a 69-yard TD run that gave the Jackets their 13-0 lead late in the first quarter. By then the rain had obviously made the ball slippery, and the snap on the extra point kick attempt got loose and Chase Carrillo never got a chance to kick the ball — leaving it a 13-0 Stephenville lead with 1:23 left in the opening quarter.

Renfro had connected with Gavin Rountree for a 45-yard scoring pass midway through the opening period for the first score of the game. That first SHS TD followed Quentin Walker’s recovery of a China Spring fumble at the 7:30 mark in the first quarter.

The Jackets (4-2 overall, 1-0 in district) had led 13-0 in the first half but the Cougars (4-3, 0-1) scored twice on short TD passes in the third quarter to grab a 14-13 advantage. 

The game was halted for almost an hour because of lightning at the 8:26 mark in the third quarter, and the Yellow Jackets seemed to play at a higher level than they had in the third quarter.

“The main thing is, we’re 1-0 in district,” SHS head coach Greg Winder said. “This district’s tough. We just sort of stalled away offensively, and had some missed tackles on defense also. We let them back in the ball game in the second half.” 

Less than 2-1/2 minutes after the lightning delay, the Jackets picked up what turned out to be the winning score. 

Nowak motored down the right sideline and outran the defense to reach the end zone, almost being forced out of bounds at the one-yard line.

In order to extend the lead to seven points, the Jackets went for a two-point conversion. Renfro fired a bullet into traffic in the back of the end zone to sophomore slot receiver Trace Morrision, who made the catch to make it 21-14.

China Spring drove the ball to Stephenville’s 36-yard line, but the Jackets’ defense stopped a pass attempt on fourth down to give the ball back to the offense before SHS ran out the final two minutes. 

Nowak recorded 229 yards in total offense, including 150 yards rushing. Kason Phillips added 31 yards on five carries.

Renfro threw for 175 yards with the two TDs and one interception.

The Jackets missed out on a scoring opportunity right before halftime when they reached China Spring’s 2-yard line. Blu Caylor took the handoff and crashed into the middle of the line but the ball came loose and rolled into the end zone where it was recovered by the Cougars for a touchback.

Stephenville will travel to Waco next Friday night for its next game, at highly-rated La Vega. La Vega, ranked No. 4 in this week's Associated Press Class 4A top 10, was idle this week, but is 4-2 overall.