Let's hear it for the defense: Wildcats hold Lions in check while Person churns out another school record
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Oct. 22, 2005 - GREENVILLE - This one goes to the defense.

On a night when the Sulphur Springs passing offense wasn't in sync, the Wildcat defense played their best game of the season, holding Greenville's speed in check for a 31-17 victory at T.A. "Cotton" Ford Stadium.

While the SSHS passing attack wasn't at its most efficient, senior running back Chris Person was. One week after setting a school record with 306 yards on the ground against Mount Pleasant, Person bettered the mark, running for a record 307 yards on 32 carries against Greenville.

Person's cut-back running style was at its best when the Wildcats took the lead for good in the second period. Person ran for 111 yards on one drive as the Wildcats started at their own 4-yard line and were hit with 25 yards in penalties during the possession that culminated in his 37-yard TD scamper that gave Sulphur Springs a 14-7 lead at halftime.

The SSHS defense also rose to the challenge, coming up with a pair of interceptions and holding the Lions to less than 260 yards of total offense.

"The defense played good. The offense played bad, and we still scored 31 points," said SSHS head coach Brad Turner. "We didn't execute well on offense. We just weren't ever in sync, especially in the first half. I thought we left three scores out there.

"We didn't execute the way we needed to, but the defense played really good. Usually, it's the defense played good here or there in spots, but it hasn't been a complete game. Tonight, it was."

The Wildcats improved to 3-0 in District 12-4A play, 5-3 overall, moving ever so closely to a playoff berth. Greenville (0-3, 2-6) was eliminated from playoff possibility. Sulphur Springs hasn't wrapped up a playoff berth yet, and they have sixth-ranked Texas High (3-0, 7-1) coming to town on Friday. (See the adjoining story about playoff scenarios.)

Sulphur Springs showed it could win a district game without having to score 40 points.

While Turner wasn't pleased with the offensive execution, the Cats still rolled up 598 yards as junior quarterback Logan Turner threw for 210 yards on 17-of-32 passing, and senior receiver Josh Riley had another big day with 10 catches for 118 yards and a TD. That gives him a Class 4A-leading 65 receptions on the season.

Defensively, safety Colby Mills and linebacker Stephan Petty led the team with nine tackles each, while linebacker Brittain Diamond and defensive end Keith Harris added five apiece. Middle linebacker Carlos Hernandez had two tackles for losses and Cole Strawn added a quarterback sack.

Cornerback Chad Rocker intercepted a first-quarter pass and teammate Ivan Beard picked off a fourth-quarter aerial as the Wildcats held Greenville quarterback Casey Ludford to 4-of-14 completions for just 38 yards. They also limited speedster Justin Lockridge to 57 yards on 17 carries.

"I don't care how many yards we gave up, the defense played well," Turner said. "They came up with some big stops."

Greenville's lone offensive touchdown came after a 71-yard run by Don Hune put them inside the 5-yard line, and the other TD was a 55-yard punt return from Curtis Johnson.

"We had a better week of practice," said Mills. "We took it very serious, and we came out tonight with the attitude that we were going to stop them. Coach Turner has been on us all week, and we knew we had to do our job."

Most fans believed the game would be another wild shootout, like the Wildcats' other two district games, a 49-33 win over Paris and a 56-42 victory over Mount Pleasant.

But, the Sulphur Springs defensive line stopped Greenville on three straight plays, as Demarcus Johnson, Colt Hooten and Fred Dale all registered tackles to force a Greenville punt.

The Wildcat offense then went to work, and the passing offense looked good early. Sulphur Springs ran the ball just twice for zero yards on the 63-yard drive that ended in Turner's 10-yard TD slant to Riley.

Spenser Daniel's PAT, which was a school-record 55th consecutive, gave SSHS a 7-0 lead midway through the first period.

But, that was the only offense Sulphur Springs could manage for a while. The Wildcats gained just four first downs on their next four drives.

Greenville, meanwhile, tied the game when Hune broke loose for a 71-yard gain before he was dragged down by Beard at the 4-yard line. The Wildcats held for three downs, but Lockridge finally got in the end zone on fourth-and-1. Cole Jones' extra point knotted the score at 7-7.

Greenville had a chance to take the lead on a 21-yard field goal, but the snap was mishandled and a frantic pass fell incomplete.

That gave the Cats the ball at their own 4-yard line. That was no problem for Person, who went over the left side of the line behind Jose Vargas, Lucas Garrison and Jacob Jenkins for 41 yards. On the next play, Person gained three yards, but a holding penalty followed by a dead-ball personal foul moved the Cats back to their 23, where they faced first-and-32.

Again, they went to Person for runs of 20 and 10 yards to set up his 37-yard TD run where he again ran left then cutback to the right for a 14-7 halftime lead.

"Right before half, that was a huge drive," Turner said. "It was first-and-forever, and we got a couple of big runs from Chris and converted the first down and stuck it in. That was huge."

The Wildcats' advantage rose to 21-7 on their first drive of the third quarter on a shoestring TD catch of 3 yards by wide receiver Tyler Rhoades.

Greenville, though, tightened the score on a 33-yard field goal by Jones after stops by Diamond, Strawn and Mills throttled a Lions' drive inside the 20. Greenville then really put the pressure on when Curtis Johnson returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown, cutting the SSHS lead to 21-17.

The Wildcats responded with a drive that went inside the Greenville 5, but Turner lost the handle on the ball attempting to score and the Lions' Courtney Barrett recovered in the end zone for a touchback.

The Wildcats' defense held again, though, forcing a punt, and the offense put the game away as Turner scored on a 5-yard run with 6:52 to play in the game.

SSHS added a 40-yard field goal by Daniel with 40 seconds remaining to set the final score.

The Wildcats had to overcome 11 penalties for 100 yards, but they turned the ball over just once.

"I guess we were due for an off night - it was an off night in my book - but we didn't score like we needed to," Turner said. "If you would have told me that we would come in here and hold them to 17 points, I think we would win the game. If our defense can hold opponents to 17 points, then we have a good chance of winning the game."

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