Not Quite Enough:
Wildcats fight back from three-touchdown deficit, but fall short
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Oct. 7, 2006 - The fans who left Friday's game early missed a great comeback by Sulphur Springs ... almost.

The Wildcats rallied from three touchdowns behind to pull to within three points before finally falling to Liberty-Eylau, 40-30, at Gerald Prim Stadium.

A large crowd gathered to watch the induction into the SSHS Hall of Fame of five former athletes, most especially current NFL player Damione Lewis, but many of them left by the time the Wildcats had fallen behind, 33-15, early in the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats fought back using a jumbo package on offense and a fumble return for a touchdown by Darrell Franklin to get to within 33-30.

But, L-E running back James Batts turned away the SS momentum with a victory-sealing 50-yard scoring run up the middle of the Wildcat defense to help the Leopards improve to 4-2.

Sulphur Springs (1-4), playing with four starters out on offense and two more on defense, waited too late in the game to match Liberty-Eylau's big-play ability.

"Too much speed on their part and too many mistakes on our part, that's the bottom line," said SSHS head coach Greg Owens. "It's kind of a broken record, but it goes back to fundamentals.

"L-E has a good ball club and there's a reason they're ranked as high as they are. I'm proud of the way our kids fought back, the way we played. We just kept battling and were in it. Another snap, another bounce our way and we'd be closer to it."

Liberty-Eylau was able to generate 292 yards rushing behind the 1-2 punch of Batts, 119 yards on 12 carries, and LaMichael James, 104 yards on 15 carries.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, managed just 51 yards rushing on 22 carries, as quarterback Brittan Diamond was sacked six times for a minus-37 yards. Stephan Petty, seeing his first action of the season at running back, churned his way to 31 yards on five carries - the second-best output by a running back this season - and brought some life to a stagnant running game in the second half.

Down 33-15, the Wildcats went to a jumbo lineup when facing fourth-and-1 from the L-E 27-yard line. The offensive formation features Petty at the I-back with defensive linemen Rodney Evans, Jamal Freeman and Tyler Francis inserted to block. After picking up the first down, the Wildcats stayed with the big lineup for the remainder of the drive, which ended in Petty's 2-yard TD run.

On Liberty-Eylau's next possession, the Leopards tried to run a sweep from their 38-yard line, but James lost the handle on the ball and SSHS sophomore cornerback Darrell Franklin picked it up at the 35-yard line and raced into the end zone.

It was the Wildcats' first return of any kind for a touchdown this season, and it pulled Sulphur Springs to within 33-30 with six minutes to play.

But, a minute later, the momentum shifted. That's when Batts took a handoff up the middle and raced 50 yards untouched to paydirt. Just like that, the score was 40-30, and after the Wildcats lost a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, they wouldn't be able to challenge again.

"We keep digging ourselves in a hole and shooting ourselves in the foot," Owens said. "When we get momentum, we just can't hold onto it sometimes. But, we're getting better.

"I love the fight in them, and we're coaching them hard. They're playing as hard as they possibly can, and that's what I'm proud of."

Liberty-Eylau took a 6-0 lead less than three minutes into the game on a 27-yard pass from quarterback Will Middlebrooks to Jermaine Waller. But, the play was set up by a 64-yard dash by James on second-and-14 from his own 10.

On the play, James looked to be bottled up, but slipped by three would-be Wildcat defenders before cornerback Ryan Gibson ran him down.

The Wildcats, though, came back with a strike of their own. Sulphur Springs drove the ball 35 yards in nine plays before hitting a big play. Faced with third-and-12 from the 50, Diamond found wide receiver B.J. Rodgers on a seam route and hit him in stride to complete the scoring play. Jon Holt's extra point gave the Wildcats a 7-6 lead midway through the first period.

Rodgers, filling in for Tyler Rhoades, whose jammed neck kept him out of the game, caught three passes for 70 yards. Diamond, meanwhile, completed 13-of-30 for 138 yards and two interceptions. Six of his passes went to Chris Thompson for 45 yards.

Liberty-Eylau retook the lead, 14-7, on an 8-yard run by Jacolbi Sims on its next possession. After that, the Wildcat defense stiffened, led by linemen A.D. Miles, DaMarcus Johnson and Jamal Freeman and linebacker Josh Dunn. They forced a missed 37-yard field attempt by Middlebrooks and three consecutive punts.

Unfortunately, the Wildcat offense was also forced into five consecutive punts.

The L-E offense generated one second-quarter TD on a 7-yard connection from Middlebrooks to Zach Fowler just 2 seconds before halftime. The TD was set up on a flat-out poor call by one of the officials.

With 43 seconds left in the half, Middlebrooks threw a jump ball pass in which two Wildcat defenders had inside position on the L-E receiver. When the ball fell to the ground, two officials within 10 yards of the play ruled it an incompletion. But, the official on the L-E sideline, who was 50 yards from the play, ran in and threw a late flag for pass interference. That 15-yard penalty was pivotal in keeping the Leopard drive going.

Going in at halftime ahead, 20-7, the Leopards quickly made it 26-7 on the third play of the second half. That's when L-E cornerback Patrick Dukes jumped on an out route by an SS receiver, intercepted a pass thrown by Diamond and sprinted 25 yards to paydirt.

Sulphur Springs' defense responded two series later when linebacker K.C. Smith gathered in a fumble by James and returned it 26 yards to the L-E 31-yard line. Two plays later, Diamond bulled in from 18 yards out and then caught the conversion pass from Jeff Beck to pull the Wildcats to within 26-15.

An interception by L-E's Emmanual Fagan set up another Leopard TD, this one on a 10-yard run by Batts, to make the score 33-15.

That set the stage for Sulphur Springs' late, but unfruitful, rally.

"We've been fighting back all year, we really have," Owens said. "I'm proud of these kids because they don't give up. We fight, but we're just learning and making mistakes. We've got to learn to overcome those mistakes, and right now we're not good enough to do that."

The Wildcats hope to have some of their regular starters healthy next week when they travel to Mount Pleasant to open the District 11-4A schedule. The Tigers (3-2) were beaten by Carthage, 24-21, on Friday.

"I really believe this district is going to be dogfight week-in and week-out," Owens said. "You never know how each game will go. We've got to be on our toes and playing hard because from here on out, it's a week-to-week thing."

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