|Half-and-Half: Halftime adjustments pave way for 35-19 victory|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
Sept. 25, 2004 - What a difference a half makes.
After finding themselves in a dog fight in the first half of Friday's homecoming match-up with Lancaster, the Sulphur Springs Wildcats put the game away in the second half with a ferocious defense and a ground-based offensive attack that paved the way to a 35-19 victory at Gerald Prim Stadium.
The Wildcats cashed in a blocked punt and fumble recovery for two early touchdowns on runs by Keelan Green, but Lancaster matched them touchdown-for-touchdown in the opening two periods, and Sulphur Springs went to the break with a tenuous 21-19 lead.
But, in the second half, the Wildcat defense, which had allowed 198 yards rushing in the opening two quarters, gave up just 29 total yards. The Sulphur Springs offense, meanwhile, featured junior running back Chris Person, who finished the game with 175 yards rushing on 20 carries.
His totals paved the way for two second-half rushing touchdowns from quarterback Logan Turner, who also finished with 25 yards on nine carries.
The win gives the Wildcats a 4-1 record going into next week's open date. Lancaster falls to 2-2.
SSHS head coach Brad Turner said the players knew they relaxed too much after going up 14-0 so quickly.
"We've got some players who thought we had 'em after the first two touchdowns, but that's a good football team over there and very capable of coming back at any time," Turner said. "We kind of relaxed a little bit. We got up 14-0 and thought this was going to be a cakewalk and it wasn't. We turned around and let them right back in it.
"But, in the end, I think there are good things to come out of a game like that because we found a way to hang on, and we kind of had to dig down a little bit, dig our heels in and make some adjustments."
The adjustments paid off as the Wildcat defense, led by 15 tackles from middle linebacker David Barnes, 14 from defensive end Patrick Radney and 12 each by free safety Keenan Clayton and end Tremayne Jones, limited Lancaster to minus-1 yard on 22 carries in the final two periods. Half of the Tigers' 26 offensive plays in the second half went for either negative yards or no yards.
"At halftime, it was either that we had to come out and play or we'd be upset when the game was over," said Clayton, who had the team's seventh return touchdown of the season when he took back a kick off 87 yards in the second period.
"The plan for the second half was to come out and keep our defense off the field as much as possible. Our main goal was to keep the ball in our offense's hands as much as possible."
The defense didn't have to stay on the field because they played so well in the first, third and fourth quarters.
The defense and special teams set up the Wildcats' first touchdown when after a three-and-out on Lancaster's first possession, Brian Shurtleff got through on the punt block and smothered the kick at the 15-yard line.
On the Wildcats' first play from scrimmage, Green took a handoff around the left side, where Jose Vargas and Chris Berry caved in the defensive line and wide receiver Rolaundo Wright got the clearing block for the 15-yard TD run. Spenser Daniel, who was good on all five PATs, made the score, 7-0 less than two minutes into the game.
Two possessions later, the Sulphur Springs defense gave the Wildcats the ball at the 6-yard line on a fumble recovery by Zach Attaway, his second of the season.
Again, it was one play, one touchdown for Green, the senior speedster.
"I just get the ball and run as fast as I can to the sideline," he said. "It's pretty simple. The O-line got their blocks, and if I get outside, that's pretty much the end of it."
But, after falling behind, 14-0, Lancaster found new energy in the second quarter behind tailback Terry Sampson, who finished with 119 yards on 17 carries, and receiver-turned-quarterback Steven Love, who had 41 yards rushing in the first half.
The Tigers went on a seven-minute, 53-yard drive to open the second period and cut the deficit to 14-6 on Sampson's 1-yard run.
The Wildcats struck right back, though.
On the ensuing kick off Clayton took the ball at his 13 and raced up the left side, where he received blocks from Dustin Dunn, John Hall and Brian Nix, then took off to the right side, spinning out of one tackle and bouncing off another before getting two more blocks from Hunter Potts and Josh Harrington, then shooting down the visitors' sideline.
The 87-yard kick off return was Clayton's third return of some kind for a TD this season. After Daniel's PAT, the Cats led, 21-6 with 4:43 to play in the half.
But, Lancaster added two quick touchdowns in the final three minutes on a 57-yard run by Sampson and a 90-yard interception return by Chad Washington when it appeared the Wildcats were going to punch it in themselves.
That made the score 21-19, and it was time for Sulphur Springs to make halftime adjustments. Which they did.
"We started off slow the last two weeks, then in the second quarter we played great. Tonight, we started off great in the first quarter, then in the second quarter we played bad," Turner said.
"They did relax, and I think they were more angry at themselves for letting it happen because they knew better," Turner said. "We went in at halftime and made adjustments. The coaches did a super job with that, and the kids adjusted. That's what good teams do."
With the Wildcat passing game not clicking - Turner finished 3-of-13 for 25 yards - they went to a two-back set featuring Person. It resulted in a 65-yard TD drive on the opening possession of the second half, capped by Turner's 1-yard TD run.
Sulphur Springs missed another opportunity following the next drive when Keidric Duffey tackled Lancaster punter Ernesto Guerro at the 4-yard line. A Wildcat fumble, though, led to a Lancaster touchback.
The Wildcats responded when they had to. Radney and Jones teamed up to sack Lancaster's Love and force a fumble at the SSHS 31. That led to a five-minute, 69-yard drive capped by Turner's second TD of the game on a 10-yard run with 31 seconds remaining that iced the outcome.
"I thought our kids responded well. That last drive was a championship drive," Coach Turner said. "There are things we could do better. We fumbled going into the end zone, we throw the interception down there. We could easily have had a couple more scores, but bottom line is that we did it when we had to."