MIDLAND - Three fourth-quarter touchdowns in a four-minute span enabled Stephenville (8-5) to finally put away stubborn Canyon Randall (10-3) 34-13 in a 4A Division II regional semifinal at Grande Communications Stadium Friday.
The Yellow Jackets, who ran their perfect third-round playoff record to 12-0 since 1989, advance to next week's state quarterfinals to meet defending champ Aledo, a 40-14 winner over Hereford Friday.
"There's only eight teams left now and we're one of those great eight," Stephenville head coach Joseph Gillespie said. "I'm extremely proud of these kids. We've been through a lot this season, we've done a lot of growing up and we're still growing."
After a defensive struggle for the entire third quarter and first four-plus minutes of the fourth, Stephenville sophomore Witt Westbrook finally gave the Jackets a two-possession lead when he took an option pitch and raced around the left side for a 12-yard touchdown and a 20-7 cushion with 7:25 to play.
"I told the kids at halftime, if we can stick one more (touchdown) on them, it will be the ball game," Gillespie said. "I didn't think they could come back from a two-touchdown deficit."
Witt's older brother Holton Westbrook, a safety, made the next big play for Stephenville, picking off a pass at Randall's 27-yard line.
"We had held them to seven (points) for the first 42 minutes, and I was thinking surely we can hold them to (one score) in the last six (minutes)," Gillespie said. "Then when Holton got that interception, that to me sealed it for us."
Connor Washington hit Gabe Barrios on a 26-yard post pattern to the one on the first play of the ensuing drive, and the junior quarterback sneaked into the end zone on the next play for a commanding 27-7 advantage.
With Randall airing it out on its next series, Keaton Trinkle snagged an interception and returned it 62 yards for a TD to provide Stephenville's final tally.
The Raiders made it look closer with a quick last-minute touchdown drive.
The Jackets did have to finish without Aiavion Edwards, who appeared to injure an ankle. He rushed just seven times for 26 yards after topping the 100-yard mark in each of Stephenville's last nine games. The junior took the field only on PAT attempts in the second half.
"What I just heard is that it wasn't his bad ankle, it was the other ankle," Gillespie said. "We would love to go into a game knowing we didn't have to use him, but there's no tomorrow now, and that has to be the attitude you approach every game with at this point."
Witt Westbrook was stellar in relief, rushing for 120 yards.
Washington was 13-25 passing for 164 yards and avoided turning the ball over.
Stephenville looked on its way to taking complete control early, leading 14-0 in the first after a 17-yard scoring pass from Washington to Trent Morrison and a one-yard TD plunge by Padyn Giebler.
But Randall made it interesting, tightening up defensively and getting on the board with a 2-yard dive by Bret Scheve with 3:33 left in the second, and the score remained 14-7 at the break.
"They got some things working against us there near the end of the first half, but the kids really understood the adjustments at halftime, and we came out the second half defensively better than we went into halftime," Gillespie said.
The third-year head coach and Stephenville alum has been on the coaching staff since 1995 and has been a part of seven round-three playoff wins with the Yellow Jackets, including two at the helm of the program.
"I've been very blessed and fortunate to be a part of several of those, only a couple in the position I'm in right now," he said. "(The 12-0 round-three mark) is a testament to our kids and our coaching staff, and really to our fans and entire community, too."