Fresh off their 21-0 win over China Spring to open District 7-4A Division I play, this Friday the Stephenville Yellow Jackets will play at home for the first time since Sept. 13.

Stephenville, 4-2 overall, will be seeking its third straight victory, taking on the third-ranked Waco La Vega Pirates at Tarleton State’s Memorial Stadium for the Heart of Gold Game. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

The Pirates had an open week, but their last outing was a 49-6 victory over Liberty Eylau on Oct. 4.

This year’s Heart of Gold pre-game ceremony will feature Baby Noah Constancio, who had a successful heart transplant on June 22 at Children’s Health Dallas.

Here are 10 things to know about Waco La Vega football:

1. La Vega went into the season as the top-ranked Class 4A Division I football team in the state in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine’s preseason poll, coming off of its 35-21 win over Liberty Hill in the 2018 state championship game.

2. Also in Dave Campbell’s magazine, La Vega’s Don Hyde was picked as the Class 4A preseason coach of the year.

3. The Pirates have eight offensive but only four defensive starters back from that 14-2 state championship team.

4. Among the defensive players La Vega lost to graduation was linebacker Jared Rogers, who was a first-team all-state performer and was named the 4A Defensive Player of the Year by Dave Campbell’s magazine.

5. Another senior lost from last season includes offensive lineman Jaelyn Maladdie.

6. On defense, first-team all-state lineman DeMarr Hayes is back after recording 152 tackles in 2018, and defensive end De’Treveon Thompson disrupted opposing offenses with nine quarterback sacks.

7. La Vega’s key offensive returnees include quarterback Ara Rauls and running back Jar’Que Walton. Rauls passed for 1,267 yards and nine touchdowns last season, while Walton gained 1,625 yards rushing with 17 TDs.

8. Coming off an open week, the 5-1 Pirates are No. 3 in Dave Campbell’s rankings, behind Argyle and Carthage, which are both 6-0.

9. One week after Stephenville lost a 42-14 decision to Argyle in the first game this season, Argyle defeated La Vega, 49-35. The Pirates beat Argyle in the 2018 in the Region II final, 31-14.

10. The Pirates have outscored their opponents 248-90 this year. That includes a 61-0 win over Pflugerville, and a 54-14 victory over Midlothian Heritage. Heritage slipped by the Yellow Jackets on Sept. 20, 33-29. After being No. 5 in the state to start the season, Heritage is now 3-3 and unranked.

Coach Doty said that La Vega’s team speed and physical play were things that have stood out the most on video. Another factor is having that championship pedigree.

“They’ve been to the top of the mountain. They know what it takes to win. They know how to fight through adversity in big ballgames,” Doty said. “They’ve got a heart of a champion.”

Doty said that he wants his players “just to focus on us, and focus on their job. It’s not going to take a superhuman effort. It’s just going to take us playing with a championship effort and championship execution.”

DISTRICT VIEW

La Vega isn’t the only team in District 5-4A Division I playing at a top-10 performance level.

Unbeaten Brownwood, which is next on the Yellow Jackets’ schedule, at home on Oct. 25, is No. 9 this week (up from No. 8) in Dave Campbell’s 4A state rankings. The Lions defeated Gatesville 49-0 last week in their district opener. That was their third shutout in a row and fourth in their seven games.

So with SHS and Brownwood both leading the district at 1-0, China Spring and Gatesville are tied for third at 0-1 and La Vega is 0-0.

“We had talked about how tough it was going to be, and it’s certainly shaping up to be,” Doty said. “I do believe China Spring has got a good team. I think the district is deep.”

After the Brownwood game, the Jackets will have only one other regular-season game, Nov. 1 at Gatesville. The final regular-season games will be Nov. 8, but that is the open week for SHS in the five-team district alignment. The top four teams qualify for the playoffs, which will begin the week after that.

STATS VS. CHINA SPRING

The Yellow Jackets rolled up 488 yards in total offense in their 21-0 win over China Spring, but the performance by the defensive performance unit earned a description as “phenomenal” from head coach Sterling Doty. It was the second shutout of the year for the Jackets.

The Yellow Jackets held the Cougars to just 18 yards rushing, and the SHS offense overcame three turnovers and 120 yards in penalties.

Linebacker Quentin Walker recorded a team-leading 10 tackles (five solo), including two behind the line. Colton Accomazzo posted nine tackles (three solo), also with two stops for losses. And defensive back Grayson Traweek intercepted two of the Cougars’ passes.

Also on defense, lineman Daniel Luna was credited with seven solo tackles, with four behind the line, and Austin Stidhman also had seven stops, including two quarterback sacks with five solo and four for losses in all.

On offense, quarterback Kade Renfro threw for 303 yards, completing 79 percent of his passes (15 of 19) to eight different receivers, with two interceptions.

Running back Kason Philips picked up 119 yards with two TDs on 26 carries to lead all rushers in the game. Eduardo Campos was next with 42 yards on six carries.

Trace Morrison was the top receiver, with 105 yards on four catches. Asher Dittfurth was second with 83 yards on three receptions.