In the wake of Stephenville’s resounding 58-32 road victory over Sweetwater to open the season last Friday night, the Yellow Jackets will be tested by one of the best football teams in the state.
Head coach Sterling Doty’s Yellow Jackets will play host to the Lampasas Badgers and their elite quarterback Ace Whitehead — last year’s Class 4A Offensive Player of the Year. The kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Tarleton’s Memorial Stadium.
At Sweetwater, Stephenville’s offense seemed unstoppable, scoring eight touchdowns while racking up 535 yards — 340 rushing and 195 passing — in total offense.
"Our kids played really well," Doty said. "We’ve got areas we need to continue to work on. We’ve got to get better every week."
Lampasas opened its season with a 55-23 win over one of Stephenville’s District 5-4A Division I foes, Brownwood.
The Badgers are ranked No. 3 in the state in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine’s Class 4A top 10, behind No. 1 Waco La Vega — another of Stephenville’s district opponents — and No. 2 Argyle. The Yellow Jackets were picked as the state’s No. 11 team in the magazine’s preseason rankings.
While Sweetwater’s quarterback, Holsey, posted big passing numbers last season (2,614 yards), the Lampasas signal caller was turning in an absolutely stunning 2019 season.
Whitehead earned the Class 4A Offensive Player of the Year honor by passing for 4,259 yards and 54 TDs with only six interceptions, and added 21 scores rushing. He led the Badgers to the state semifinal round of the 4A Division I playoffs before they fell to eventual state champion Carthage by only a 49-42 margin.
"He’s dynamic," Doty said of Whitehead, who sparked the 13-2 Badgers to score at least 40 points in 13 of their 15 games a year ago out of their spread offense. "He beats you with his arm and his legs. Special things happen with the ball in his hands."
Experienced, talented seniors abound through most of the Badgers’ starting lineup, including a hefty line that averages 285 pounds.
"I would categorize them as being really fast and physical," Doty said, adding that Whitehead "is the key to everything they do."
Wideout Mike Murray is likely to be a key target for Whitehead, while Jack Jerome provides a threat at running back. Returning first-team all-state linebacker Case Brister anchors the Lampasas defense again this season.
Although Whitehead is skilled at rolling out as well throwing from the pocket, Doty said, "I want to try to make him uncomfortable. He loves to get outside. He turns average plays into big plays. We definitely have to be extremely physical and match their intensity."
Running back Kason Philips gained 208 yards on 19 carries, scoring three TDs for Stephenville in the win at the Mustang Bowl in Sweetwater. Quarterback Gavin Rountree, in his first varsity start at quarterback for SHS, ran for 56 yards and three TDs and threw for another. He completed 13 of 15 aerials for 165 yards with no interceptions.
Coy Eakin played QB in reserve in the second half, completing 4 of 5 passes for 30 yards. He also caught two passes from Rountree, including one for a 39-yard TD.
Seven SHS receivers caught passes, led by Trace Morrison’s four for 49 yards, Reece Elston’s three for 40 yards and Grayson Traweek’s three for 26 yards.
Rountree scored on TD runs of 1, 23 and 19 yards.
Philips, starting at running back for the second year in a row, scored rushing TDs from 3, 33, 26 and 38 yards out. He had more than 140 yards rushing in the first half alone.
"We played really well up front, and our running backs did a good job of being patient and staying in our schemes," Doty said. "Running the football opens up the whole offense. Gavin was really efficient throwing the ball, and he was in full control of our offense."
The SHS defense helped out the offense in a big way with two first-half interceptions, from Adrian Montano and Ryder Lambert.
Although the Jackets had possession to start the contest, the Mustangs scored first to take a 7-0 lead on a 51-yard TD pass thrown by three-year starting quarterback Leo Holsey.
The Jackets tied it at 7 with 7:22 left in the first quarter, and led 20-7 going into the second quarter. Corbin Poston kicked a 43-yard field goal that gave the Jackets a solid 37-13 edge at intermission.
The Jackets led by a 51-20 margin with 7:52 left in the third quarter before the Mustangs added their final two TDs. SHS capped the scoring with Eakin’s TD run, from 28 yards out, with 4:06 remaining in the game.
"There are some things we have to clean up on defense," Doty noted. "We hurt ourselves with two critical penalties. We’ve got to be able to play with a lead and keep our heads in the game and focus."