WICHITA FALLS —Stephenville flexed its muscle and validated the Yellow Jackets’ No. 3 ranking in the class 4A Associated Press Poll in the second half, outscoring the No. 5 Wichita Falls Rider Raiders 20-6 after the break to capture the win here Saturday, 27-15.
"I told our guys at halftime, the final score is not going to be 9-7. If you keep playing good defense, we can win the football game," fifth-year Stephenville Head Coach Chad Morris said.
After the Stephenville defense forced a quick three-and-out to begin the third period, Cody Davis returned a Rider punt 62 yards to set the Jackets up at the Raiders’ five. Brad Mills scored his second touchdown three plays later on a five yard sprint around the left side, and the SHS had its first lead. Mills’ extra point kick made the score 14-9.
The Stephenville defense continued to dominate in the third, allowing the Raiders no first downs in the period.
Stephenville stretched its lead early in the fourth when Kody Spano dove over a pile at the goal line for a one-yard touchdown on a quarterback keeper. The play ended an impressive 18 play, 59 yard-drive that began in the third quarter and lasted until the 9:46 mark of the fourth, taking 5:44 off the clock. The Jackets failed on the two-point conversion attempt, but led 20-9.
Spano, known for his arm, used his legs heavily on the drive, running for first-down conversions on three consecutive third-down plays, after Cody Wood moved the sticks via the run on a fake punt after Rider appeared on its way to a three-and-out.
The Raiders’ tank wasn’t quite on empty yet, as on the first play of the ensuing drive, QB Shavodrick Beaver hit Eric Ward on a short curl pattern, and Ward escaped down the sideline for a 66-yard scoring reception. A pass for the two-point conversion was dropped, and the Jackets lead was cut to five, 20-15, with 9:30 still to play.
Rider was given a golden gift on Stephenville’s next possession. A pass by Spano deflected off a receiver’s hands and was picked off by Jake Awtry. The Raiders had the ball back with 6:30 remaining.
The Raiders couldn’t take advantage of the turnover, as Chris Featherston picked off a Beaver pass three plays later, giving the Jackets’ back the ball at the Rider 27.
Spano struck again to seal the deal for Stephenville, this time going through the air. He hit Chris Malone for a 26 yard pass with 3:36 remaining, and the PAT gave the game its final score of 27-15.
Any chance Rider had of a comeback ended on its next possession, as Chris Featherston snagged the Raiders’ hopes out of the sky with his second interception for the Stephenville defense.
Rider managed only two scores against the Stephenville defense after scoring 31 points on then No. 5 Wolfforth Frenship, followed by a 42-point performance against Class 5A Midland Lee.
"Hats off to our defensive staff," Morris said. "Our kids get a lot of credit and they deserve every bit of it. But our staff did a great job of getting everyone in the right position."
Stephenville fell behind early, as the Jackets gave up a safety while trying to punt on their second possession. Trey Taylor snapped the ball over the head of Davis, and the ball went out the back of the end zone, giving Rider a 2-0 lead.
The Raiders extended their advantage to 9-0 at the 7:18 mark of the second. A Beaver pass to Ward for a 30-yard touchdown completed a nine play, 54 yard drive.
Stephenville responded with a four play, 39 yard march to the end zone for its first score two possessions later. Mills scored his first touchdown on a five yard scamper for the final score of the half with the Raiders ahead, 9-7.
Brad Keith is the sports editor for the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at (254) 965-3124, ext. 241, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.