Headed to state: Yellow Jackets outlast Hirschi in semifinal shootout

Carson Field
Abilene Reporter-News

FRISCO — After low-scoring defensive battles in their previous three playoff games, the Stephenville Yellow Jackets got into a shootout Friday against Wichita Falls Hirschi.

The Yellow Jackets and Huskies traded touchdown for touchdown in the 4A Division I state semifinal game until Stephenville made a stop with 46 seconds left. That allowed unbeaten Stephenville to escape with a 38-35 win and clinch its first state title appearance since 2012.

Stephenville players celebrate with the gold ball trophy after beating Hirschi 38-35 in the state semifinals.

"Our kids stuck in there and battled all night long, just like we have all season," Stephenville head coach Sterling Doty said. "The belief that we have in each other and the way we work through the week just sets these moments up."

Stephenville outgained Hirschi 387-345 in total yards, and the teams combined for 45 first downs. There were seven lead changes as the teams combined for more than 700 total yards of offense.

Both teams threw the ball exceptionally. Stephenville’s Ryder Lambert posted 194 passing yards, while Hirschi’s Terrius Causey and Jimmell McFalls combined for 255 passing yards.

Stephenville wide receiver Coy Eakin catches a touchdown pass on a fade play in the 4A Division I state semifinals in Frisco on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. The Yellow Jackets won 38-35 to advance to their first state title game since 2012.

Stephenville’s Reece Elston and Coy Eakin combined for 180 yards on 13 catches. Eakin caught a touchdown on a 22-yard fade to give Stephenville a 38-35 lead with 9:20 left in the game.

“It all started with the linemen up front and a great throw from Ryder,” Eakin said.

With 77 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, Tate Maruska was Stephenville’s leading rusher. Julian Iribarren and Lambert both scored touchdowns on the ground, finishing with 66 and 31 rushing yards, respectively.

The game was a total contrast from Stephenville’s low-scoring wins against Paris, Argyle and Melissa. The Jackets scored 67 points total in those wins. Three wins have been by four points or less, however.

Stephenville quarterback Ryder Lambert throws a pass against Hirschi in the 4A Division I state semifinals in Frisco on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. The Yellow Jackets won 38-35 to advance to their first state title game since 2012.

Not only that, the Yellow Jackets hadn’t played a back-and-forth dogfight all year. While Stephenville consistently scored more than 30 points, the Yellow Jackets won every regular-season game by double digits and didn't see too much opposition in their highest-scoring games.

Still, they were ready for it Friday.

“We knew at some point we’d have to rely on our offense to make enough plays,” Doty said. 

Stephenville's Reece Elston pushes a pile of Hirschi defenders forward in the 4A Division I state semifinals in Frisco on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. The Yellow Jackets won 38-35 to advance to their first state title game since 2012.

Eakin added, “We don’t think about the past. We try to keep moving forward and do our job on the field.”

In a game where offense was on full display for both sides, key defensive and special teams moments pushed Stephenville ahead.

Stephenville kicker Corbin Poston nailed a 39-yard field goal as time expired in the first half, giving the Yellow Jackets a 24-21 lead. Those three points proved to be the difference between a trip to the state title and a trip home.

“Corbin absolutely drilled it,” Doty said. “It was ultimately the difference in the ballgame.”

One of the only defensive stops from either team set up Poston’s field goal. Hirschi had a drive going near midfield, but three negative plays in a row forced a punt. 

Causey punted into a teammate's back and caught it in midair before a swarm of Stephenville defenders wrapped him up. The Yellow Jackets then got enough yardage before halftime to set up for Poston’s attempt.

Stephenville's Jack Barkley prepares to hit Hirschi quarterback Terrius Causey in the 4A Division I state semifinals in Frisco on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. The Yellow Jackets won 38-35.

Stephenville’s other critical stop came on Hirschi’s final offensive drive.

The Huskies took over at their own 29-yard line with 3:18 remaining. A fourth-down conversion and a Stephenville personal foul moved Hirschi deep into enemy territory at the 24.

With their backs against the wall, the Yellow Jackets held their ground. They forced Causey to throw an incompletion on fourth-and-6 with 46 seconds remaining, allowing Stephenville to squeak out the three-point win.

“Ultimately, it came down to the stop down there,” Doty said.

Senior Coy Eakin runs after making a reception in Stephenville's 4A Division I state semifinal game in Frisco on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. The Yellow Jackets won 38-35 to advance to their first state title game since 2012.

Now 15-0, Stephenville will face Austin LBJ in the 4A Division I state title game on Friday, Dec. 17. 

It will be the team’s first state title game in almost a decade and will be Doty’s first as a head coach. That reality hasn’t set in for the coach, who took over in 2019.

“It has not hit me yet,” Doty said.

One game away from a state championship, the Yellow Jackets couldn’t be more ready to represent Stephenville at Texas high school football’s grandest stage.

Stephenville running back Julian Iribarren tries to push off a Hirschi defensive back in the 4A Division I state semifinals in Frisco on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. The Yellow Jackets won 38-35 to advance to their first state title game since 2012.

“I’m proud of our team, proud of our staff,” Doty said. “(We have) unbelievable community support.”

Eakin said, “We have an amazing community behind us and they are a big part of this season's run. It feels great for our team to move closer to our final goal."

Game summary

 Turning point: Stephenville's defense forced a turnover on downs with 46 seconds, allowing the Yellow Jackets to run out the clock and advance. In a game of back-and-forth offense, this single defensive series decided the outcome.

► Player of the game: Ryder Lambert, QB, Stephenville — Lambert was the leading man in the Yellow Jackets' offensive explosion. The junior signal caller finished the game with 194 passing yards and two touchdowns, as well a rushing touchdown and 31 yards on the ground.

Key stat: Seven lead changes. Both teams seemed to have an answer for one another, as the lead constantly changed. If not for Stephenville's mighty stop to end the game, there likely would have been an eighth.

Coach Doty said: "Our kids stuck in there and battled all night long, just like we have all season. The belief that we have in each other and the way we work through the week just sets these moments up. I’m proud of our team, proud of our staff. (We have) unbelievable community support.”

Impact: Stephenville advances to its first state title game since 2012.

Up next: Stephenville plays Austin LBJ game for the Class 4A Division I championship at 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 17 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.