Jackets clinch No. 1 seed in 4A Division I playoffs with 38-27 win over Midlothian Heritage

Special to the Empire-Tribune

MIDLOTHIAN — Opportunity slipped through Midlothian Heritage’s hands in the second half, and Stephenville was right there waiting.

Stephenville High School defensive lineman Gavyn Sharp (79) runs down Midlothian Heritage quarterback Kaden Brown (2) during Friday's game at Don Floyd Field at MISD Multipurpose Stadium. The Jackets won, 38-27, to stay perfect on the season and seal the District 5-4A championship.

The Class 4A Division I No. 2-ranked Yellow Jackets returned not one, but two Jaguar turnovers for touchdowns — including a 96-yard scoop-and-score that completely flipped the game — and converted a fumble into an eventual TD, sealing the District 5-4A championship on Friday night at Don Floyd Field at MISD Multipurpose Stadium, 38-27.

The Jackets (9-0, 4-0) clinched the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A Division I playoffs, while Heritage (6-3, 3-2) will likely settle for the No. 3 seed.

Stephenville scored 24 consecutive points after Heritage had jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Junior quarterback Ryder Lambert completed 13 of 15 pass attempts for 101 yards and two touchdowns, one each to Coy Eakin and Reece Elston. Sophomore Tate Maruska added 63 rushing yards and a TD.

The turnover bug spoiled an otherwise sensational night for Heritage quarterback Kaden Brown, who rushed for 296 yards and a touchdown and completed 21 of 28 passes for 75 yards and a score.

Stephenville defensive lineman Gavyn Sharp (79) tangles with Midlothian Heritage's offensive lineman Elijah Mankins (55) during Friday's contest at Don Floyd Field at MISD Multipurpose Stadium. The Yellow Jackets went on to win, 38-27.

It looked like an upset was brewing in the first half, as the Jags led 14-0 before the Jackets finally cracked the scoring column with 2:01 remaining in the half to go into the break trailing 14-7. The Jackets opened the second half with a 20-yard chip-shot field goal by Corbin Poston to close to within 14-10.

Heritage put together a 13-play drive and was knocking on the door with the ball at the Jackets’ 5-yard line. But the ball was jarred loose, and senior defensive back Ben Kirbo picked it up and scampered 96 yards the other direction, putting the Jackets on top for the first time, 17-14, with 5:11 remaining in the third quarter.

Yet another fumble one play later, following the kickoff, was pounced upon by SHS’ Payton Poston, and the Jackets were in business again. Eight plays later, Lambert’s 13-yard pass to Eakin made it 24-14.

Following an exchange of possessions, Heritage quarterback Kaden Brown was hit behind the line of scrimmage as his arm was moving forward, and sophomore Camden McKinney hauled it in and rumbled 30 yards for yet another defensive score. At 8:19 of the fourth quarter, it was 31-14 and the game was all but decided.

Running back Jason Barela finally ended the HHS scoring drought on a 1-yard run with 3:28 remaining, but Eakin’s long return of an onside kick attempt set up Lambert’s scoring toss to a wide-open Elston for the final SHS score of the night.

With 29 seconds left, the Jags tacked on one final TD on Brown’s 7-yard pass to Stetson Sarratt.

Both teams have one last regular-season game remaining until the playoffs begin. HHS will travel to Alvarado, while the Jackets will host Brownwood at Tarleton Memorial Stadium. Both kickoffs are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday.