Eighth-ranked Melissa rallies to hand Jackets third straight loss
For Stephenville, keeping things in perspective is needed when looking back at Friday night’s 65-58 football loss on the road in Melissa.
The unbeaten Cardinals moved into the state’s top 10 rankings (Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine) for the first time this week, to No. 8. And Melissa entered the Stephenville game ranked third in another statewide poll.
SHS head coach Sterling Doty’s Yellow Jackets, now 1-3, will play their next game this Thursday, Sept. 24, at Cooper High School in Lubbock, taking on 4-0 Dumas (7 p.m. kickoff).
The Yellow Jackets once again were frequently able to light up the scoreboard, getting three rushing touchdowns from running back Kason Philips, while quarterback Gavin Rountree ran for two and threw for three scores, including a pair to Trace Morrision.
The Jackets produced an incredible 692 total yards in total offense, scoring eight touchdowns on 79 plays from scrimmage.
But SHS had difficulty shutting down the Cardinals’ high-octane, big-play offense.
That’s where the perspective needs to come in, when looking at Melissa’s squad.
The Cardinals have averaged scoring 58 points a game the last three weeks, on the way to their 4-0 record. Stehenville’s 58-point effort was 30 more than any of Melissa’s other four opponents have scored this season — including the Cardinals’ 58-28 win over Sunnyvale, the preseason No. 7 team in Class 4A Division II. Last season, it took eventual Pleasant Grove to eliminate Sunnyvale from the playoffs, in the Region II-4A final.
The Yellow Jackets won their season opener over Sweetwater, but since then dropped matchups against Lampasas and Salado. Lampasas has since moved up to No. 2 in the state in Class 4A Division I (following No. 1 Argyle’s win over Waco La Vega). Salado, which improved to 3-1 with a 40-21 road win over Mexia Friday, has scored at least 40 points in each of its wins. Salado’s only loss was in the second week of the season, to unbeaten Grandview — the second-ranked Class 3A Division I team in the state.
But those facts don’t really make a third consecutive loss feel any better for the Yellow Jackets. They had fought back from deficits of 15-0 and 22-7 to gain the lead in the third quarter — only to see Melissa tie the game at 58 with 2:02 remaining in the fourth quarter. Then the Cardinals scored the winning touchdown with just 16 seconds left in the game.
Doty said the loss hurt, but the team will keep it in perspective and learn from it as they go through the short week leading to Thursday’s game in Lubbock.
“The kids work extremely hard, and they lay it on the line every week,” Doty said of the Jackets. “They believe in the overall process, and they see in the video how close we are. The wins are going to come along as we continue to get better every step.”
Another factor that came into play is having a total of seven players brought up from the junior varsity over the past two weeks. That was in an effort to give relief to the players who were playing on both offense and defense. With the benefits of those substituions, however, also came the fact that there were fewer players with varsity playing experience on the field.
Also, several injuries have thinned out the depth as well. Colton Accomazzo suffered a shoulder stinger versus Melissa, and is listed as “day to day” while running back Kason Philips was shaken up during the game but was able to return. Bryson Dill is still sidelined after having thumb surgery. Ruben Reyes will be out this week with a knee sprain.
“Defensively, we had some guys in some new spots,” Doty said. “We had some youth on the field. They played extremely hard, they played physical, and they are only going to get better as the year goes along.”
After Melissa gained its 15-0 midway through the first quarter, Philips recorded his first TD of the game, on a 9-yard run that made it 15-7 with 3:49 to go in the opening quarter.
Melissa quickly struck back with an 81-yard return on the ensuing kickoff. But SHS pulled within 22-21 by the 6:55 mark in the second quarter as Rountree connected on TD passes to Reece Elston (33 yards) and Morrison (23 yards).
A missed scoring opportunity came in the third quarter when the Jackets reached Melissa’s 29-yard line and went for a pass into the end zone on fourth down. The pass fell incomplete, and Melissa recorded a 71-yard TD run to increase its lead to 29-21.
A penalty against the Cardinals negated a 65-yard scoring run, and on the next play Stephenville’s Austin Brown recovered a fumble. That led to a 25-yard TD run by Rountree as the Jackets pulled within 29-28.
Corbin Poston’s 38-yard field goal with five seconds left in the second quarter gave the Jackets a 31-29 halftime edge.
Philips scored on a 22-yard TD run with 7:40 to go in the third quarter, and Rountree sprinted 62 yards for a score as SHS pulled away to a 44-29 lead with 6:17 left in the period.
After Melissa cut the margin to 44-37, the Jackets extended their advantage to 51-37 when Rountree connected with Morrison for a 52-yard TD strike at the 2:09 mark in the third.
But Melissa’s offense rallied again, this time inching to within 51-50, but missing on its extra point kick early in the fourth quarter.
Philips capped the next scoring drive with a 5-yard TD run that gave the Jackets a 58-50 edge at the 5:03 mark.
But the Cardinals pushed to the SHS run on their next drive before getting a TD and a tying 2-point conversion to knot the score at 58, with 2:02 left.
Melissa forced a punt and went on to record the winning score, on a 19-yard TD run, with just 16 seconds remaining in the game.