Wildcats put non-district record behind them with exuberant win
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
Oct. 15, 2006 - MOUNT PLEASANT - New life in a new season.
The Sulphur Springs Wildcats went from the bottom of the standings to the top of the mountain Friday night.
The Wildcats cranked up the defensive intensity in the second half and had enough big plays in the offense to get Jon Holt in position to knock through a game-winning 21-yard field goal with less than a minute left in the game to send SSHS to a 31-28 victory over Mount Pleasant.
The victory not only ended a three-game skid for the Wildcats and gave them an exuberant win over their arch rivals at Sam Parker Field, it also got them off on the right foot in the District 11-4A race.
The Wildcats are now 2-4 overall, 1-0 in district, joining Texas High (a 30-21 winner over North Lamar) and Paris (35-10 over Lindale) atop the 11-4A standings. Mount Pleasant is 3-3, 0-1.
"We just made plays tonight. We've taken baby steps to get here," said SSHS head coach Greg Owens. "We got emotional. When we play with emotion, we're pretty decent. We can play pretty good when we play like that."
It was the most well-rounded Sulphur Springs effort since the win over Whitehouse a month ago.
Quarterback Brittan Diamond ran for 126 yards, including a key 47-yard gain in the fourth quarter that set up Holt's field goal, and threw for 133 more, including two touchdowns to DaQualin "Boo" Evans. He found more running lanes in part due to the success of the running backs.
Jeff Pitts rushed for 38 yards and caught two passes for 27 more, and Christian Person and Stephan Petty combined for 30 yards on the ground. Petty had a pair of rushing TDs in the Wildcats' heavy "Bulls" formation.
Defensively, the Wildcats allowed Mount Pleasant just one second-half touchdown, set up a TD with a fumble recovery and twice stifled the Tigers on fourth-down conversions.
"It was definitely the intensity the whole time. We just kept it going," said offensive tackle Colt Hooten, who also got in some time on the defensive line. "It was probably mostly because it was Mount Pleasant and it was district, and we were just tired of losing every week and having that same feeling in our guts."
It was certainly a different feeling on Friday when Holt knocked through the chip shot field goal with 48 seconds remaining. Mount Pleasant had one final chance, but on fourth-and-4 from midfield, SSHS cornerback Ryan Gibson broke up a short pass and the Wildcats took over with eight seconds remaining in the game.
It ended what turned out to be a back-and-forth contest full of emotional and momentum swings.
The Tigers came out in their usual two tight end, veer formation, featuring the running of speedy Jonathan Aguilar, who ended with 108 yards on 18 carries and bruising Derran Franklin (92 yards on 22 carries). That combination enabled them to take a 14-0 lead on Aguilar's 26-yard run in the first quarter and Franklin's 4-yard scoring jaunt early in the second period.
But, the Wildcats responded with two TDs of their own, in no small part due to the kicking game. Sophomore sprinter Quinten Long returned MP's second kickoff 40 yards to near midfield and the Wildcats capitalized, though it was tough.
The Cats had to convert a fourth-and-3 near midfield when Diamond found receiver Jeff Beck on a short crossing pattern. Right after Beck grabbed the ball, he got pounded by a MP linebacker, but held on for a first down. Beck grabbed five passes for 43 yards and four of his catches went for first downs.
Then, on fourth-and-8 from the 11-yard line, the Wildcats went for it again, and this time Diamond was under heavy pressure when he spotted Tyler Rhoades near the goal line. Rhoades made a sensational adjustment to come back for the ball and lunge down to the 2-yard line. From there, Stephan Petty ran behind the "Bulls" lineup for a 2-yard TD.
Person ran in the conversion and the� Wildcats had cut the lead to 14-8 with 4:18 left in the half.
Then on the ensuing kickoff, SSHS sophomore Darrell Franklin recovered a pooch kick that Mount Pleasant failed to cover, and the Wildcats had the ball right back on the 34-yard line. Four plays later, Petty had his second TD, this time from 5-yards out. Holt's extra point gave the Wildcats a 15-14 lead.
Mount Pleasant quickly answered, though, on a 74-yard drive that culminated in a 7-yard run by Aguilar and a 20-15 halftime lead for the Tigers.
"We knew we were in a dogfight in the second half, too," said Owens. "I was as nervous as all get out until we finally got a turnover, got some stops, and we converted some fourth downs.�
"We finally stepped up and made some plays. When we did that, things kind of started rolling for us."
The Wildcats received the second-half kickoff, but had to punt after one first down.
Mount Pleasant, though, fumbled on its second play from scrimmage and Petty gathered the ball in at the MP 18-yard line.
Three plays later, Diamond rifled a 6-yard slant to Evans, who got inside the cornerback for a TD and a 21-20 Sulphur Springs advantage.
The Wildcats had scored off a turnover, now came time for them to get a fourth-down stop.
Mount Pleasant drove the ball down to the SSHS 31-yard line, where the Tigers faced a fourth-and-1. A pitch to Aguilar went right, but SSHS noseguard Rodney Evans trailed the play and when Aguilar tried to cut it up, Evans hammered him for a 3-yard loss.
"I kind of figured they'd run it, and I just did what coach told me to do," Evans said. "I think we played with more emotion tonight. The coaches got our heads pumped up."
The Wildcat offense then took advantage, driving 66 yards, the final 21 coming on a Diamond-to-Evans fade route in which the 6-1 wide receiver jumped over the defensive back to haul in the pass and get a foot down in the end zone. Holt's extra point gave the Wildcats a 28-20 lead.
Mount Pleasant came right back with an impressive 72-yard, 15-play drive powered by Franklin, who carried 10 times on the series including a 2-yard TD run. Aguilar's two-point conversion run tied the game at 28-28 with 9:17 to play.
After exchanging punts, the Wildcats got the ball back at their own 26-yard line with 3:54 to play. They converted a pivotal third-and-7 with a 13-yard completion from Diamond to Rhoades. Then, Diamond made the play of the game.
On a lead draw, he ran up the middle, slipped a tackle at the the line of scrimmage and then bolted 47 yards down to the 11-yard line, where he was finally tackled. It ended up being a good thing he didn't score, because the Wildcats were able to run another 90 seconds off the clock before Holt came in to nail the game-winning field goal.
Defensively for the Wildcats, safety Tanner Higgins had 12 tackles, but none more important than the last one he made with 31 seconds left in the game.
Mount Pleasant's Trenston Hill caught a short hitch pass, but faked out one SSHS defender and might have scored if Higgins had not been able to grab his jersey and sling him out of bounds after a 15-yard gain.
That was all MP would get on their final drive.
Linebacker Josh Dunn led the Wildcats with 14 tackles, while defensive linemen Evans, Tyler Francis and A.D. Miles had eight stops each. The Tigers accumulated 274 yards rushing on 55 carries, but the Wildcats made the stops at the end.
"We started making plays, playing with some emotion and started scoring points. That was a big difference," Owens said. "We didn't turn it over, we kept battling and we finished the fourth quarter finally."