Jackets measure up, block La Vega
BELLMEAD - Tyler Jones had a hand in four touchdowns and Chase Varnado blocked a punt to help seal the deal as No. 5 Stephenville (3-1) upended No. 2 Waco La Vega (3-1) 43-22 at Pirate Stadium Friday.
La Vega scored 15 straight third-quarter points to pull within seven before Varnado blocked a punt that Mookie Carlile recovered and almost returned for a touchdown with 9:40 left in the game.
Two minutes later, Jones fired his second touchdown pass - a 16-yard strike to Alex Sanchez - and Stephenville was in control with a 36-22 lead.
"It ran through my mind that I had been close to a few (punts) before that," said Varnado, a senior defensive end. "I knew the time and situation of the game and knew it was now or never. We ended up scoring right after that and it kind of knocked the fire out of them a little. I figured if somebody had to do it, it might as well be me."
Gillespie said no doubt it was the biggest play of the game.
"Playmakers have to make plays at crucial times and that was a crucial time," Gillespie said. "That's a great football team we just beat. If we had been playing them through the years I imagine we would have a great rivalry."
Opportunistic senior cornerback Jared Stroebel started the scoring with a 43-yard fumble return. Carlile stripped the ball, which landed directly in Stroebel's lap before he sprinted down the Stephenville sideline for an early lead. Stroebel saw an increase in action with Preston Brown out because of a stomach virus.
Jones and Brice Gunter took over from there. Jones rushed for an 11-yard score then hit Gunter over the middle for a 20-yard catch-and-run TD to give the Jackets a 22-7 halftime lead.
Jones burst free for a 38-yard TD run on the opening drive of the third quarter and Stephenville appeared ready to blow the game open.
But La Vega answered the bell with star running back Randy Gober gaining big chunks of yardage - he had 186 yards on 21 carries - and Ayorinde Gibson finding the end zone on consecutive possessions to pull the Pirates within seven.
Gober's tough running style left an impression on Varnado.
"He's strong and he has thick legs; he never gives up on the play. He's a good runner for sure," said Varnado. "I think they have the best all-around team we've seen this year."
Gibson did all La Vega's scoring with TD runs of 27, 4 and 1 yards plus a two-point conversion. He rushed for 56 yards and quarterback Marcus Evans added 86. La Vega rushed for 328 yards and had 423 yards of total offense to Stephenville's 355.
Jones was 13-19 passing for 183 yards and also rushed for 126, a total of 309 yards of offense. Witt Westbrook, who finished the scoring with a one-yard TD plunge with 45 seconds left, rushed 14 times for 50 yards.
Gunter led all receivers with six catches for 113 yards. Sanchez had five grabs for 55 yards for Stephenville, which meets 4A Amarillo in Snyder at 2 p.m. next Saturday.
It was the Jackets' second win in three weeks against a No. 2 ranked team. They defeated 4A's then No. 2 Aledo on Sept. 7.
Follow Brad Keith on Twitter @etsports.