A New Day Has Dawned: SS wrestles district title away from T-High’s stranglehold

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Nov. 4, 2007 - When the sun came up Saturday morning, a new day had dawned in District 11-4A - one without Texas High at the top.

The Sulphur Springs Wildcats dethroned the king, 28-24, at Gerald Prim Stadium on Friday in a thrilling, intense showdown of the top two teams in 11-4A.

Texas High came into the game riding a 27-game district winning streak and six straight district championships. The Wildcats ended both streaks with a pair of fourth-quarter, fourth-down stops and an efficient offense that scored more points than the Tigers had given up in their last four games combined.

SSHS junior quarterback Tyrick Rollison completed 31-of-44 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns - the final one coming on the Wildcats' first possession of the second half for a 28-14 lead.

From there, the SSHS defense made the lead stand up by stopping Texas High on fourth-and-2 from the Wildcats 34-yard line with 2:03 to play in the game, and then forcing an incompletion on T-High's last offensive play of the night with 10 seconds remaining.

Wildcat linebacker Rashad Hall broke up the pass at the 15-yard line, setting off a prolonged celebration as Wildcat fans joined the team to salute Sulphur Springs' first district championship since 1995. The Wildcats (8-1 overall) have a chance to go 5-0 in district for the first time since 1994 when they travel to North Lamar next Friday in the regular season finale.

If that happens it will be complete turnaround from last season's 2-8 record in Greg Owens' first year as head coach. The Wildcats are currently on a six-game winning streak, but none has been more important nor more impressive than Friday night.

"The preseason stuff doesn't get you to the playoffs, but it builds confidence in what you can do," Owens said, alluding to the team's overall record. "This was the product of a season's worth of hard work, and it even goes back into last spring and the summer. The kids put in a lot of hard work to get to this point."

Sulphur Springs certainly had the look of a district champion as Texas High (5-3-1 overall, 3-1 in district) had to use a kickoff return for a touchdown and a fake field goal for another TD to stay within striking distance.

After a first-possession punt, the Wildcats scored on three of their next four drives to take a 21-14 lead into halftime. They then took the opening drive of the second half and marched 68 yards to paydirt. The TD came when Rollison lofted a 24-yard pass to wide receiver Jace Jackson, who went up between two defenders and brought it down for a 28-14 SSHS lead.

"Coach (Jeff) Riordan told the offense at halftime that the first drive of the second half could be a district championship drive," Owens related. "Turns out, he was right."

The Wildcat defense also turned in a championship performance. Texas High looked poised to tie the game early in the fourth quarter when they took the ball inside the SSHS 5-yard line. But, on second-and-goal from the 4, Sulphur Springs defense linemen Ryan Miller and Tyler Francis bottled up T-High tailback Leroy Jones for a 4-yard loss. Then, on third down, Dalton Abner and Josh Dunn brought down Jones after a short reception to force the Tigers into a 23-yard field goal by Austin Gibson.

That tightened the score to 28-24, which would be the final thanks to two more defensive stands.

On the Tigers' next offensive possession, they drove to the SSHS 34-yard line, but on fourth-and-2, Miller, Dunn and Dillon Verner combined to stop T-High's Quentin Lee for a 1-yard gain to end the drive with 2:03 to play.

Texas High used its timeouts to get the ball back with 1:38 remaining, and quarterback Nathan Sorenson took them to the SSHS 25-yard line, where the Tigers had first-and-10. But, SS free safety Bryant Jackson knocked down a pass near the end zone, and then Owens called time out.

"I was just trying to calm them down. In your mind, you're thinking that Texas High is scrambling and trying to hurry up, but we also thought we needed to calm down and remind them of a few things," he explained. "They had already ran a trick play and a fake field goal, so we wanted to make sure we were ready for everything they might throw at us."

The timeout worked as Sorenson was sacked by Colton Nash and Francis on second down, and then threw an incompletion on third.

That brought up fourth-and-11 with 15 seconds remaining. Sorenson looked for a receiver on a slant pattern, but SSHS' Hall was there to break on the ball and knock it away.

"I thought the key was our defense making those two stops in the fourth quarter," Owens said. "We had to have them step up and make a couple of plays, and they did. That was a gut check type of thing, where you have to stick your nose in there and make a play.

"Texas High had the momentum there, and our defense had to get it back."

Dunn and noseguard Rodney Evans each had 11 tackles to lead the team, while junior safeties Johnny McSheffery and Jayden Wallace both had strong games along with linebacker Brittan Diamond and cornerback Dalton Abner.

Sulphur Springs took a 6-0 lead with 3:49 to play in the first period on Diamond's 2-yard run that capped an 80-yard drive that was fueled by the receiving of Chris Thompson, who caught four passes for 32 yards including a 5-yard catch on third-and-5 from the 12-yard line. Thompson finished with a team-high eight catches for 98 yards.

Oscar Marroquin's PAT attempt was blocked, leaving SSHS with a 6-0 lead. But, the lead didn't last long.

On the ensuing kickoff, a Texas High player muffed the catch and the ball was picked up by Slade Heathcott at the 24-yard line. Heathcott slipped one tackle and then hit the sideline and raced 76 yards for the touchdown. Austin Gibson's PAT gave the Tigers a 7-6 advantage.

The Wildcats, though, came right back as Rollison engineered a 75-yard drive that started with a 20-yard completion to DaQualin "Boo" Evans. the drive was kept alive on a 32-yard catch-and-run by Diamond after Rollison bought time in the pocket and then found his receiver downfield.

Diamond scored his second TD of the game two plays later when he caught a swing pass out of the backfield and leapt over two defenders into the end zone to complete the 10-yard scoring play. Rollison's conversion pass to Thompson gave SSHS a 14-7 lead.

Diamond ended the game with 61 yards on six receptions.

The lead almost instantly got cut again when Texas High's Brian Minnifield returned the ensuing kickoff 54 yards before being hammered out of bounds by the kicker, Marroquin, with the most jarring hit of the game.

The Wildcat defense held, forcing a 38-yard field attempt by Gibson, which sailed wide left.

Texas High ended up tying the score at 14-14 on its next possession when Sorenson ran a naked bootleg 23 yards to the end zone.

The Wildcats responded again, going 77 yards for their next score, overcoming a 10-yard holding penalty when Rollison found Evans for an eight-yard gain, then Hall ripped off a 17-yard run.

Hall also scored the TD when he took a screen pass at the 12-yard line and weaved his way into the end zone. Marroquin's kick gave SSHS a 21-0 halftime lead.

"We knew we had to just stay focused and stay in the game," Rollison said. "We knew they would play a lot of cover 2, so we needed to come out and attack them with our game plan.

"This is the biggest win we've had in a long time."

It was then up to the Wildcats to maintain that lead in the second half.

After going up 28-14, the Wildcats had a trick play pulled on them for a touchdown. Texas High lined up for a 41-yard field goal attempt with 3:10 left in the third quarter, but holder John Stilson instead threw a 24-yard scoring pass to Brandon Brown, who had lined up a wide receiver near the sideline in a version of the old hideout play.

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