A Letdown
Same Wildcat team that beat MP doesn't show up against Lindale
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Oct. 21, 2006 - The Sulphur Springs Wildcats had a chance Friday to maintain a share of the district lead, hand their boss a victory over his former team and take a huge step toward a playoff berth.

None of that, though, transpired.

The Wildcats fell behind the Lindale Eagles by two touchdowns in the first half and never challenged in the second half en route to a disappointing 36-13 defeat at Gerald Prim Stadium.

The Wildcat team that upended Mount Pleasant, 31-28, on the road in the District 11-4A opener last week never showed up. Instead, Sulphur Springs fell to 2-5 overall and more importantly 1-1 in District 11-4A and into a four-way tie with Paris, North Lamar and Lindale for second place behind Texas High (2-0).

SSHS head coach Greg Owens, facing the school where he coached for 15 previous years, left the field frustrated with the Wildcats' execution, especially with so much at stake. Had the Wildcats' won, they would have likely been just one more victory away from clinching a playoff berth.

Now, they must face Paris (5-2 overall) and No. 1-ranked Texas High on the road the next two weeks.

"They didn't do anything we didn't expect - at times they just played harder than we did," Owens said. "I thought that's a game we should have won, but we made too many mistakes. We killed ourselves, from holding calls to bad snaps to bad throws, not making catches, missed tackles."

That laundry list shows how the night went.

A week after rushing for 181 yards against a physical Mount Pleasant defense, the Wildcats managed just 14 yards on the ground in 26 carries - 32 negative yards were the result of two errant shotgun snaps - against a much smaller Lindale defense. Quarterbacks Brittan Diamond and Tyrick Rollison did manage to throw for 252 yards - including each one completing a TD pass to DaQualin "Boo" Evans, but completed just 14-of-34 attempts.

Perhaps most telling, the SSHS offense was successful only once in five fourth-down conversions, and the successful attempt came in the final two minutes with the game already decided.

Meanwhile, Lindale quarterback Lucas Shipman - all 5-9 and 140 pounds of him - ran for 96 yards and completed 15-of-21 passes for 206 yards and two second-half TDs. The Eagles didn't turn the ball over.

The Wildcat defense was hampered by faulty tackling and the inability to get off cut blocks by the smaller Lindale offensive linemen. The SSHS defense knew what was coming, but were unable to stop it.

"That's a good offense," Owens said of Lindale. "They execute, they make things happen, and they abused us. The quarterback's tough, and they make plays. They made some plays, and that's stuff we're not doing."

The first quarter ended in a scoreless tie, but it foretold how things would go for the Wildcats. Sulphur Springs punted from near midfield on its second possession, but Lindale was flagged for roughing the punter, giving the Wildcats a first down at the Eagles' 31-yard line.

Sulphur Springs picked up one first down, but then faced a fourth-and-1 from the 11-yard line. Going with The Bulls short yardage package, the Wildcats were nonetheless stuffed for no gain and turned the ball over on downs.

The next series turned out worse as the Wildcats eventually faced a fourth-and-32 from their own 2-yard line. After a 33-yard punt, Lindale cashed in the opportunity in just three plays.

Shipman hit shifty receiver Eric White with a short pass on first down, and he made two tacklers miss on his way to a 27-yard gain that set up a 1-yard TD run by Josh Jackson. Leighton Kennedy's extra point made the score 7-0 with 6:57 to play in the second quarter.

The Wildcats went three-and-out, and Lindale responded with a 62-yard drive that hinged on two big plays by wide receiver Seth Bauman. He out-jumped and out-fought a Wildcat cornerback for a 33-yard gain down the home sideline, then made another big play on fourth-and-6 from the 14-yard line.

Lindale coach Mike Meador at first sent the field goal unit out, then called time out and put the offense back in. Shipman then rifled a slant to Bauman, who took it down to the 3-yard line. On the next play, White ran an end-around into the end zone for a 14-0 lead.

The Wildcat offense finally got in gear, driving 72 yards in just four plays. Diamond hit Chris Thompson with a 22-yard strike and Tyler Rhoades for a 12-yard gain before he found Evans on a 38-yard TD slant. Jon Holt's extra point cut the lead to 14-7 at halftime.

"We were fine at halftime," Owens said. "We punched it in there before halftime and felt like we could come out and run the ball in the second half. We felt like we could go and continue to do that."

It worked at first. On the first series of the second half, Diamond carried four times for 22 yards and found Thompson for a 20-yard gain. But, Diamond was sacked for a 6-yard loss, and on third-and-16, he ran a designed play in which he rolled right and tried to throw back all the way across the field. The ball was intercepted by Lindale's Travis Rhea.

That set off a string of three straight scoring drives by Lindale. Shipman hit Bauman for a 13-yard pass to cap off a 76-yard drive, found Bauman again on a 9-yard TD strike that ended another 76-yard drive, and then Logan Lawrence had a 1-yard TD run to cap a 45-yard series.

Sulphur Springs, meanwhile, had two straight three-and-outs and another unsuccessful fourth-down conversion.

"The defense played good in the beginning, but the offense couldn't generate anything," Owens said. "We've got to move the football, period. All I know to do is to get back to work."

The Wildcats did score a fourth-quarter touchdown with 6:19 to play when Rollison hit Evans with a 74-yard bomb. Evans finished with three catches for 124 yards and Thompson had four receptions for 86 yards.

Defensively, end Tyler Francis racked up nine tackles, including one for a loss and got in on a sack with Rashad Hall. Inside linebackers Josh Dunn (10 tackles) and K.C. Smith (eight tackles) were active, and outside linebackers RHall and Clay Wilks combined for 12 stops. Safety Tanner Higgins added six.

But, the Wildcat defense did not give Lindale a negative play in the second half after dropping the Eagles for losses five times in the first half.

All of that left Owens searching for why the Wildcats were unable to handle the success generated by last week's victory.

"I don't know what it is. Maybe immaturity, I don't know," Owens said. "We're having a hard time retaining from day-to-day and from week-to-week - I don't know why."

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