Kicking the Other Cats
Punt return, onside kick recovery propel Wildcats to district-opening win

Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Sulphur Springs senior Keenan Clayton (22, above) had a 66-yard punt return in the third period that gave the Wildcats a comfortable cushion.
-Staff photo by Ricky Russell

Oct. 9, 2004 - PARIS - Keenan Clayton was surprised when he saw the punt headed his way, but the Sulphur Springs faithful weren't shocked at what happened next.

The Wildcat senior fielded the third quarter punt at his own 34-yard line and took it 66 yards the other way for a back-breaking touchdown - the first of two SSHS TDs in less than a minute - that helped propel Sulphur Springs to a 37-17 victory over Paris Friday in the 12-4A opener at Noyes Stadium.

It was the fourth punt return for a touchdown in Clayton's career, and the eighth time this season that Sulphur Springs has scored off some type of return, four of them by Clayton.

Following his TD, the Wildcats' Keelan Green recovered an onside kick and followed it up with his second TD reception of the game as Sulphur Springs' tandem of Thunder and Lightning turned a 17-3 Wildcat lead into a 30-3 advantage in a matter of less than a minute.

It gave Sulphur Springs (5-1 overall, 1-0 in 12-4A) a share of the district lead along with Texas High (4-2), a 35-12 winner over Greenville (2-4), and North Lamar (6-0), a 49-21 victor over Mount Pleasant (2-4).

Paris was coming off an emotional homecoming victory over Liberty-Eylau, while Sulphur Springs had the week off, which head coach Brad Turner said may have contributed to their spotty play, including five turnovers and 12 penalties for 112 yards.

But, the Wildcats still won by three touchdowns, as Green caught a pair of TD passes from Logan Turner, running back Chris Person had another 100-yard game and two rushing TDs, Spenser Daniel booted a 28-yard field goal, and of course there was Clayton's punt return.

"We knew with the win over L-E, they'd come out and be real confident about it," Clayton said. "I think we let the air out of them when we held them on defense on their first possession of the third quarter, got the punt return, and then we got the kick off right back.

"I was surprised they punted to me. The last couple of games, they hadn't punted very well. Everybody got their blocks, and I just made a couple of moves and took it to the house."

The most devastating block was laid by Keidric Duffey at about the 45-yard line, then Clayton stiff-armed the final two would-be tacklers while tight-roping down the visitors' sideline.

After Paris' bench was hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which was marked off on the kick off, SSHS kicker Daniel popped an onside kick which Green caught in the air at the 30-yard line. Three plays later, Green made a juggling catch of a Turner pass and got in the end zone for a 30-3 Wildcat lead with 6:57 to play in the third period.

The Wildcats, though, were inconsistent on offense. They fumbled six times, losing four, and had an interception. One of the fumbles occurred in the Paris end zone and another set up a PHS touchdown. Sulphur Springs was also hurt by penalties and three shotgun snaps that went over the quarterback's head for 69 yards in losses.

But, they weren't inept. Person gained 124 yards rushing, 96 of it by halftime, behind the line of Jose Vargas, Chris Berry, Jacob Jenkins, Cole Strawn and Wes Woods. Turner completed 13-of-27 passes for 186 yards, including seven for 104 yards to wide receiver Rolaundo Wright.

Coach Turner stressed after the game that the Wildcats would need to play better to continue their five-game winning streak.

"The good thing about it is that we won the game. I'm glad about the victory, but we've got to play better than that," the coach said. "We made too many mistakes. We made some plays when we had to, but we left a bunch out there. We had penalties, turnovers and mental mistakes - too many mistakes.

"I'd like to think the off week had something to do with it, but we're going to play better teams than that one during district, and we've got to play better. But, we'll take the win."

Paris had some success moving the ball as well, with quarterback Matt Shores throwing for 176 yards on 14-of-30 passing. But, he was picked off twice, once by Clayton and an end zone interception by Jared Ramey that squelched a PHS drive.

The Wildcat defense, led by David Barnes with 13 tackles, Clayton with 11 and Duffey with nine, usually came up with the big plays when needed, including five sacks (one each by Patrick Radney, Harley Pier, Zack Attaway, Tremayne Jones and Travis Edmond), and by holding Paris to 1-for-5 on fourth-down conversions. The only conversion was a roughing-the-punter penalty on Paris' final TD drive.

Paris was led by Anquoin McCuin with 38 yards rushing on eight carries and five receptions for 71 yards.

"The defense did give up some yards, and No. 5 (McCuin) is a good player. They were on the field a long time. Paris would drive, but they never had a big play. They just kept the chains moving enough to control the clock," Turner said. "But, then we'd get a sack or make a play to stop their drive.

"People call it an ugly win. I don't know if there's such a thing as an ugly win because all wins are pretty to me. But, there are things we need to work on."

The Wildcats scored on their second play of the game following a 6-yard punt by Paris, who was trying to keep the ball out of the hands of Green and Clayton. Green got his hands on it anyway when Turner hooked up with him on a post-flag scoring pass covering 40 yards. Daniel's PAT gave SSHS a 7-0 lead four minutes into the game.

Neither team had much success the remainder of the first period as they traded turnovers, the final one coming off a high snap recovered by Paris' Quin Ashley at the SSHS 43-yard line. A 29-yard catch by McCuin moved the ball into range for Matt Dickinson's 32-yard field goal, cutting the Wildcat lead to 7-3.

Sulphur Springs looked their best the next two drives. Turner and Wright hooked up for a 16-yard gain and Turner took off on a 26-yard run to set up Person's 13-yard TD with 2:25 to play in the half. That gave SSHS a 14-3 lead.

Paris ran the clock down to a minute before punting, but Sulphur Springs went 70 yards in 11 plays, mainly on the back of Person's hard-nosed running. The 200-pound junior back rumbled by gains of 42 and 15 yards. On fourth-and-9 from the 23, the Wildcats looked like they would settle for a 40-yard field goal attempt, but after two consecutive timeouts by Paris, Coach Turner sent the offensive unit back on the field and his son, Logan, found Wright for a 12-yard gain to put the ball closer for Daniel's 28-yard field goal as time expired.

The lead quickly ballooned from 17-3 at halftime to 30-3 on TDs by Clayton and Green.

Paris sandwiched a pair of fourth-quarter TDs - on a 7-yard run by McCuin and a 1-yard pass from Shores to Michael Savage - around an 8-yard scoring run by Person.

The rest of the second half was a series of penalties (23 combined flags) and stop-and-go offense.

"We just couldn't sustain," Turner said. "We'd do good, good, good, then we'd have a penalty or a turnover or a bad snap that would put us in long-yardage situations. We had a good two-minute drive there before the half and came away with a field goal.

"I'm sure there are more good things once I watch the film. Usually, the bad things aren't quite as bad as you think, but we certainly have some areas we need to improve on. We've got to find a way to eliminate mistakes. I don't know if you eliminate them completely, but we've got to find a way to cut them down."

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