The Stephenville Yellow Jackets may have never played Melissa High School before in football, but they do have at least one thing in common — both are in district alignments considered to be among the toughest in the state.
Coming off their 61-45 loss Friday at Salado, the 1-2 Yellow Jackets will be looking to end a two-game losing streak when they travel to Melissa for a 7:30 p.m. non-district battle this Friday. It will be at Cardinal Field, at 3100 Cardinal Dr. in Melissa.
Melissa improved to 3-0 last Friday with a 51-17 win over Pottsboro.
While Stephenville was No. 11 in the state in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine’s preseason Class 4A Division I rankings, Melissa was not far behind — at No. 19.
But at the top of both the preseason and the current rankings are current No. 1 Argyle, a member of Melissa’s District 7-4A alignment, and No. 2 Waco La Vega, which is in Stephenville’s district, which is 5-4A. La Vega was ranked first in the preseason poll, and Argyle was No. 2. Argyle is set to host La Vega this Friday night in a non-district blockbuster matchup.
Melissa’s only state football championship was in 2011, one year before Stephenville captured its fifth state football title. At that time Melissa High School was classified as 2A Division I (which became what is now Class 3A in 2014 when the UIL added Class 6A to the mix).
"They’ve got a good traditional football school there," SHS head coach Sterling Doty said.
The Cardinals, 9-4 in 2019 and runner-up to Argyle in district (5-1), were picked to finish third in their district this year, behind Argyle and Paris, which was the preseason No. 14 squad. The Cardinals have six offensive and six defensive starters back from last season, when they reached the third round of the playoffs.
"Melissa is playing with a lot of momentum," Doty said. "They have really good skill kids, receivers and defensive backs, and they’ve got physical offensive and defensive fronts. They are a good team, and they have overall team speed. They’ve thrown for a lot of yards. They have a couple of quarterbacks, rotating up to three guys."
Doty said that last week’s quarterback in the Cardinals’ win over Pottsboro was Sam Fennegan. One of the key experienced receivers the Jackets must deal with is 6-4, 190-pound Antonio Robinson, who had eight touchdown catches and more than 900 yards receiving a year ago.
"We’re going to have to cover well," Doty said. "We’ve got to be able to rush the passer."
SHS linebacker Colton Accomazzo suffered a shoulder stinger in the Salado game. Doty said his playing status is "day to day." Bryson Dill had surgery last week to repair a torn thumb ligament and will be sidelined for a couple of weeks. Dylanjer Meiron continues to be out of action with a bone bruise, possibly for one more week.
The Yellow Jackets seemed to have everything going their way as they built a 31-19 halftime lead over Salado. SHS stretched its lead to 38-19 by the 10:42 mark in the third quarter, but the Eagles outscored the Yellow Jackets 42-7 in the final 21 minutes of the game.
Salado’s 22-yard touchdown pass with nine minutes remaining in the third quarter was followed by a pair of TD runs by the Eagles as they gained the lead for the first time, 41-38, with 2:03 to go in the third quarter.
Salado, now 2-1, went on to build a 61-38 lead by the 3:56 mark in the fourth quarter before the Jackets notched their final TD, with 23 seconds left in the game.
"They were bringing more heat, and I didn’t make the right reads," SHS quarterback Gavin Rountree said on the field after the game. "We just came out in the second half and didn’t score points.
"We’ll bounce back as a team. We have a good, talented team, and our players have a good head on their shoulder."
Doty noted the significance of the major momentum change in his post-game comments, but added that the players are "resilient, tough and hard-nosed," and that "at the end of the day we’ve got a good football team."
Asked about what the game’s turnaround could be attributed to, said Doty, whose team is now 1-2 on the season. "I really think their level of execution and our lack of getting our guys in the right situation. We’ve got to stay strong for 48 minutes.
"Salado did a great job. They ran their offense extremely well. We’ve just got to have a higher execution level."
The Yellow Jackets’ strong first-half showing accounted for a large part of their overall total offensive output of 467 yards — with 286 yards passing and 181 yards rushing. SHS had 181 rushing yards as a team.
A key phrase for Doty’s players this week is that they must play a complete game, and he added, "We’ve got to get better. We know what type of football team we are capable of being.
"They’re resilient. We put so much time and effort playing this game, that this is a little setback. It’s not going to take away from our desire and our work ethic in practice to be great on Friday night."
Rountree completed 20 of 32 passes, with four touchdown strikes — with two to Trace Morrison, one to Reece Elston and one to Kason Philips.
Morrison led SHS in receiving with six catches for 146 yards. Elston added 43 yards on three receptions, and Philips caught four passes for 33 yards.
Philips ran for a team-leading 104 yards and one TD. Rountree added 74 yards rushing on 10 carries.
Through the first three games, the leading tacklers for the Yellow Jackets are Trace Morrison with 37 stops, Reece Young with 34 and Colton Accomazzo with 33.
Grayson Traweek, Coy Eakin and Morrison have caused one fumble each, and Elston has a fumble recovery.
On the offensive line, Logan Davis leads SHS in pancake blocks with five, and Gavyn Sharp has four.
Running back Kason Philips leads the team in rushing, with 364 yards on 52 carries (seven yards per carry), with five TDs. Philips also leads in overall scoring with 36 points, which includes one pass reception for a TD.
Rountree leads SHS in passing with 503 yards and five TDs, completing 38 of 63 attempts with two interceptions.
Trace Morrison has the team lead in receiving with 11 catches for 204 yards, with two TDs. Eakin is next with nine receptions for 151 yards, with one TD.