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Jackets taking on preseason favorite, No. 3 La Vega

Mark Wilson
Stephenville running back Kason Philips motors down the field for more of his incredible 276-yard, six-touchdown performance in Brownwood last Friday.

Whether you look at Friday’s football matchup between Stephenville and Waco La Vega as a crucial showdown or simply as an opportunity to maintain at least a tie for the early lead in the District 5-4A Division I standings, the importance of the game is no secret.

Coach Sterling Doty’s SHS Yellow Jackets (3-3 overall, 1-0 in district) went on the road in last Friday’s district opener and posted a 59-34 victory over the Brownwood Lions (2-4, 0-1) at Gordon Wood Stadium.

Stephenville will be home for its matchup against La Vega (4-1, 1-0) for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Tarleton State University’s Memorial Stadium this Friday, Oct. 9. It’s the annual SHS Heart of Gold game, this time benefitting Gilbert Intermediate School teacher Francisco “Frankie” Rodriguez (see separate article in today’s E-T). That check presentation will be on the field just before the kickoff, and will feature a video message from Rodriguez that was recorded from the physical rehab facility in Galveston where he is currently recovering from a serious car accident that occurred last December.

La Vega, which fell just short in 2019, at 14-2, in its quest to win back-to-back state championships, is back among the elite teams once again. The Pirates are ranked third in the state, coming off their 62-0 thrashing of Waxahachie Life School in their district opener. In the other district game last Friday, Midlothian Heritage (1-1) downed Alvarado (0-1), 56-23.

Senior SHS running back Kason Philips came close to tying the Yellow Jackets’ all-time record for individual touchdowns scored in a single game. In addition to rushing for an incredible 276 yards on 25 carries in the win at Brownwood, Philips scored six touchdowns on the ground. He scored on runs of 37, 11, 1, 25, 30 and 24 yards.

The all-time mark for the Yellow Jackets in rushing TDs in a single game is seven, set by James Myles against Fort Worth Poly in 2009, according to the SHS records provided by Cody Derrick. Myles also had six TDs in a game in a 2009 game against Arlington Seguin, and Roy Graham recorded six TDs in 1986 against Fort Worth Carter Riverside.

As a team, it was another impressive offensive showing for the Jackets, who have scored an average of 53.2 points in five of their six games. That’s not including the one game that has not fit the pattern of offensive fireworks — a 41-0 loss to Lampasas in the second game of the season.

“We’re playing really well on offense,” Doty said. “We’ve got to stick to our form and take what they give us. Our goal is to win a district championship. That’s no different going into Friday night.”

Lampasas (3-0) is No. 2 in the state behind Argyle (5-0) in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine’s Class 4A Division I rankings.

“It all starts up front,” Philips said on the field after Friday’s game in Brownwood, which was the 80th meeting between the two schools. “Those guys did a great job. At halftime we made some adjustments. Tonight we clicked and put the pedal to the metal.”

SHS quarterback Gavin Rountree continued to put up great numbers as well, this time passing for 355 yards as the offense racked up 727 yards in total offense and scored seven TDs in all.

Rountree noted that the offense hurt itself in the Lampasas setback.

“We’ve got something to prove,” said Rountree, who completed 24 of 34 passes, to five different receivers, and also ran for 59 yards on 11 attempts. “I expect us to go far. We’re looking forward to it.”

Trace Morrison and Coy Eakin led the receiving corps in the win over Brownwood. Eakin had 128 yards from eight receptions, while Morrison had 10 catches for 70 yards. Reece Elston had four catches for 45 yards, and Jackson Barkley caught one for five yards.

Other runners for SHS were Santos Mata, with 23 yards on one carry, Jeremiah Smith with 13 yards on three carries and Reese Young with a 1-yard TD run.

The SHS defense came up with four turnovers in all — three interceptions, and sophomore defensive end Malachi Arredondo returned a fumble 41 yards for the Jacket’s other touchdown.

After SHS took a 10-0 lead by the 8:01 mark in the first quarter, the Lions pulled within 10-7. The Jackets held a 17-14 edge going into the second quarter.

Stephenville’s lead grew to 31-14 by halftime, and to 52-21 before the Lions scored two of the last three TDs to make the final a 25-point margin.

Doty told the E-T after the game, “I think this just keeps the momentum alive that we built the last couple of games. We see growth from our team. That can be the product of a hungry football team. We’re going to enjoy this one, then put it to bed and the coaching staff will get busy on a plan (for La Vega) and we’ll go to work.”

FACING LA VEGA

La Vega’s Pirates were the preseason No. 1 pick by Dave Campbell’s. Their one loss this season was two weeks ago to the current top-ranked squad, Argyle, 35-7. Their season opener, Aug. 28, was a 20-7 win over Port Lavaca Calhoun — which is the fourth-ranked team in the state.

“They are just extremely talented and very well coached,” Doty said of the Pirates. “They return a lot of talent. They play fast and physical, and they execute well. They are very fundamentally sound.”

Doty noted that La Vega’s starting linemen are “huge” — with four or five of them weighing at least 300 points, and one tipping the scale at 360.

The starting quarterback to start the season for La Vega, Ara Rauls, has been sidelined since Sept. 4 with a broken arm. But Jordan Rogers, who had been a linebacker and running back, is now under center.

“He throws the ball well and he’s a dynamic runner,” Doty said, adding that among the most dangerous ball carriers for the Pirates is Jar’Quae Walton.

Stephenville defensive lineman Kevin Bowery (81) zeros in on a Brownwood ball carrier for a tackle during Friday's district-opening win on the road. SHS defensive end Malachi Arredondo (31) is also pictured, crashing in to help on the play.