BROWNWOOD — The Stephenville Yellow Jackets have secured a playoff berth and have only one game remaining on their regular-season schedule, but it’s no time to give it a rest.
This Friday, coach Greg Winder’s Jackets will be home for Senior Night against Gatesville, with a 7 p.m. kickoff.
The Jackets jumped ahead of Brownwood into second place in the District 7-4A Division I football standings and secured their 15th consecutive playoff berth on Oct. 26 with a 45-20 victory over the Lions at Gordon Wood Stadium. The Jackets moved to 2-1 in district, clinching a playoff berth, while the 4-3 Lions slipped to 1-1.
After having next week off, the playoffs will commence but Stephenville’s bi-district opponent is not yet known.
Gatesville’s Hornets (1-1, 3-5 overall) were idle Friday. District-leading Waco La Vega improved to 2-0 and 6-2 overall with a 56-17 win over China Spring (0-3, 4-5).
In the opening round of the playoffs, the four postseason qualifiers from District 7 will be paired against teams out of the seven-team District 8 alignment. Kennedale leads that district with a 5-0 mark, followed by Benbrook at 4-0, Lake Worth at 3-2, Dunbar at 2-2, Castleberry at 1-3, and Western Hills and Diamond Hill-Jarvis both a 0-4.
The first-place team from each district plays the No. 4 team from the next district in the playoff bracket, while the runner-up plays the No. 3 team.
With two district games remaining for the Hornets, they should have plenty of incentive to play their best. They still have playoff hopes despite being picked to finish last in the five-team district in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine’s preseason poll.
“They’ll be ready to go,” Winder said of Gatesville’s squad. “They need a win. They’re going to play their best game they have all season.”
Winder said the coaches have explained that to the Jackets, and that it’s important for them to maintain their momentum by taking their second win in a row since their only district loss, Oct. 19 at Waco La Vega.
“We want to go into the open week after a good performance,” Winder said.
The Jackets had been in the Associated Press top 10 rankings most of the season, but dropped out after falling to Waco La Vega. They received two votes this week. The three teams that outscored Stephenville — Argyle, La Vega and Midlothian Heritage — are ranked No. 2, 4 and 6 this week.
LIMITING THE LIONS
In the Brownwood game, the Lions couldn’t match up with the Jackets up front so resorted to a passing attack despite having averaged 200 yards per game rushing coming into the contest. Brownwood quarterback Tommy Bowden is usually a huge running threat, but ended up passing more than he had in any previous game. He completed 27 of 48 passes for 337 yards with two touchdown strikes and two interceptions.
“When you have a defense like we have that’s very good at stopping the ball (on the run), people have to throw the ball,” Winder noted. “They like to run the ball. That quarterback is slippery. When he starts scrambling around, it puts your defensive backs in a bind.
“Give a lot of credit to our offensive line. They did a great job of pass protection and opening holes for Krece.”
SHS linebacker Blu Caylor said the Jackets had prepared all week to have defensive spies keeping their eyes on Bowden in case he did decide to run so they could “keep that dude contained and not let him scramble anywhere.”
The Jackets ended up allowing only 11 yards rushing, while Bowden passed for 337 yards.
Caylor, who intercepted a pass in the game, also emphasized the importance of the Battle of 377.
“Everyone knows the importance of this game,” he said. “We want to win for family, and for the team and for Christ.”
The intensity probably in the trenches rose to the level of the expectations, despite the 25-point margin of victory.
A turnover early in the game led to Brownwood’s early 7-0 lead. A Lion defender intercepted a pass and returned it to Stephenville’s 14-yard line. Four plays later, Bowden kept the ball and scored on a one-yard TD.
SHS quarterback Kade Renfro threw three touchdown passes — one each to Gavin Rountree, Kyle Lindsey and Zane Walker.
Running back Krece Nowak scored on runs of 40 and 2 yards for the Jackets. Caylor added a 1-yard TD run, and Chase Carrillo kicked a 23-yard field goal, which was the first score of the night for the Jackets.
Brownwood claimed a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The Jackets cut it to 7-3 with a short field goal by Carrillo at the 1:51 mark in the quarter.
The Lions had a hard time slowing down Stephenville’s offense after that as the Jackets scored two touchdowns in each of the final three quarters.
But Brownwood was still within striking distance, pulling within 17-14 with a touchdown with 5:28 to go in the second quarter. But the Jackets broke open with the game by scoring the next four TDs to stretch the margin to 45-14 by the 7:42 mark in the fourth quarter.
“We needed that,” Winder said. “It didn’t start off pretty, but we settled down and got the momentum going.”
It was the 78th meeting between the two rivals, in the “Battle of 377” and was the Yellow Jackets’ second straight victory over the Lions. Brownwood holds a 46-30 lead in the series, and there have been two ties.
“It was a great win for us,” Winder said. “I thought the kids came out and played hard, and played with a lot of emotion. We had some mistakes we had to overcome, but it was a good victory for us.”
Renfro passed for 264 of Stephenville’s 435 yards of total offense. He completed 14 of 21 attempts with one interception.
Nowak ran for 149 yards on 24 carries to lead SHS in rushing.
Walker’s big play helped propel him to 108 yards receiving on three catches. Lindsey caught three passes for 64 yards in all. Gavin Rountree was next with two receptions for 34 yards.
Nowak, in his third consecutive season as Stephenville’s leading rusher, now has 836 yards on 145 carries, with four touchdowns. He has three games this season with 100 yards or more rushing.
Renfro, a junior in his first season on the varsity, surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in passing with 1,089 while completing 65 of 117 with 10 TDs and five interceptions playing in six games. Starting quarterback Cole Stanley has been sidelined with a broken foot bone since the first quarter of the Sept. 21 game against Midlothian Heritage.
Among receivers, Kyle Lindsey leads the Jackets with 466 yards on 26 receptions, with three TDs. Nowak is next with 389 yards and three TDs on 21 catches.
Blu Caylor continues to lead the defense in tackles, with 99, followed by defensive back Gage Graham with 88, linebacker Quentin Walker with 75 and Chase Carrillo with 70.