ALEDO - Despite having 11 new starters on offense, Stephenville managed to play mistake free on that side of the ball for more than 46 minutes in its season opener Friday night.
But it was the one costly error, a fumbled exchange between quarterback Connor Washington and running back James Myles with 1:19 remaining, that proved to be the difference as Aledo held on for a 20-16 win in front of more than 8,000 in attendance at Bearcat Stadium.
Stephenville seemed to be on its way to victory when the Yellow Jackets drove 62 yards from their own 24 to the Aledo 14. But on third-and-four, it appeared Washington, a sophomore, and Myles, a junior, weren’t on the same page as the two almost collided in the backfield and the ball fell to the turf.
Aledo defensive end Brady Lambert immediately fell on top of the loose ball, and quarterback Trey Ozee scrambled eight yards for a first down three plays later to allow the Bearcats to run out the clock.
The back-and-forth battle proved to be the sixth time in the eight years the traditional powers have played in a game that was decided in the final moments. Aledo has now defeated Stephenville in back-to-back years for the first time in the series, which the Jackets lead 5-3.
“It was another great football game just like it always is when we play those guys. Those are fun games to be a part of,” Stephenville head coach Joseph Gillespie said. “Of course their not quite as much fun when you come out on the losing end.”
Aledo took its first lead when sophomore running back Johnathan Gray sprinted 17 yards for his second touchdown to make it 14-13 midway through the third. Gray finished with 116 yards on 19 carries and also had five receptions for 45 yards.
Stephenville jumped back on top 16-14 with a 21-yard German Chavarria field goal with 10:08 remaining, but Aledo answered with an eight-play, 68-yard drive capped off by a one-yard touchdown plunge by Devin Davis. The two-point conversion failed, but it didn’t matter as the scoring was complete.
The Yellow Jackets got on the board first when Myles ran to pay dirt from two yards out halfway through the opening period. Myles finished with 101 yards on 23 carries.
Aledo tied the score two possessions later when a 50-yard keeper by Ozee setup Gray’s first score from 10 yards out.
Stephenville responded with a 50-yard kickoff return by sophomore Aiavion Edwards, and the Jackets were back on top five plays later when Charlie Riola turned a short pass into a 15-yard score. Chavarria missed the extra point - the first miss of his high school career - and the 13-7 lead held until after halftime.
Washington was 19-33 passing for 210 yards and a touchdown in his varsity debut. Three of the incompletions came when he wisely threw the ball away to avoid trouble.
“I thought Connor did an excellent job under very tough circumstances, and I thought (offensive coordinator Greg) Winder and our offensive staff did a good job of putting him in a position to manage the game and be successful through their game plan and play calling,” Gillespie said.
Washington was never sacked behind an offensive line full of first-time starters.
“It all starts up front and our O-line played very well,” Gillespie said. “They are more experienced up front on defense than we are on offense, but we feel like we’re further along with that group than we thought we would be at this point.”
Riola led in receptions with eight for 87 yards, while Cole Stokes led in receiving yards with 92 on seven catches.
Ozee was 11-18 passing for 113 yards and also ran for 80 yards on eight carries despite being sacked twice.
The final stats were as close as the score. Stephenville had 349 total yards to Aledo’s 340 and 21 first downs to the Bearcats’ 17.