Primed and Ready: Wildcats look good to go after final pre-district contest

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

Oct. 7, 2007 - TEXARKANA - Greg Owens looked at Friday's match-up with Liberty-Eylau as a primer for the District 11-4A race that starts next week.

After beating the defending Class 3A state champions, 44-22, at Harris Field, the Wildcats look primed and ready.

Sulphur Springs got another tremendous outing from junior quarterback Tyrick Rollison and his band of sure-handed receivers, who connected for six touchdown passes.

Owens, the SSHS head coach, wanted his team (4-1) to respond positively from having a bye last week without losing momentum from putting together consecutive wins over Denison and Sherman. They did.

"This was a very good game for us, a great win," Owens said. "We talked about earlier in the week how this was going to prepare us for district with the speed we're going to see, and I think we played pretty well."

The Wildcat defense, minus two starting linemen who were out with illness and injury, held L-E's electrifying senior running back LaMichael James in check for most of the first half. But, James got loose for two long scoring runs on consecutive L-E possessions and threw a TD pass on a fake punt to account for the Leopards' scoring.

He finished the game with 247 yards rushing on 25 carries, but the Leopards had just 258 yards of total offense.

Rollison more than countered James' output. The Wildcat quarterback completed 29-of-35 passes (83 percent) for 321 yards and six TD passes to five different receivers.

Jeff Beck caught seven passes for 92 yards, including a dazzling 42-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown, while Chris Thompson and DaQualin "Boo" Evans each had six catches. Thompson had two TD grabs and Evans one. Jace Jackson and Rashad Hall each had a touchdown reception as well.

"Again, that just shows what this offense can do," Owens said of his team, which is averaging 40 points per game. That would be a school record if the pace continues through the remainder of the season.

"We had some kids making plays," Owens said. "Boo Evans went up and got a couple of passes and Beck made some big plays. Everybody did well up front. There were some blemishes in there, but overall, they played good."

The Wildcats hope that their momentum carries over into Friday's 11-4A opener at home against Mount Pleasant. The Tigers (3-2) were the only other district team in action on Friday, and they lost 21-17 to Carthage.

Despite all the offensive fireworks by the Wildcats, it was the L-E kicking game that gave Sulphur Springs its first points of the night.

After the Wildcat defense held L-E to minus-7 yards on the game's opening drive, Leopard punter T.Q. Lowe went back in deep formation. He just wasn't deep enough. The snap sailed over his head into the end zone, and Lowe kicked it past the back line for a safety.

With less than two minutes gone off the clock, the Wildcats had a 2-0 lead and the offense hadn't had a chance to touch the ball yet.

The lead grew to 30-0 late in the second quarter as the SSHS defense bent a little but didn't break for the first 23:45 of the contest.

Junior defensive end Colton Nash ended one L-E drive with an alert interception of a pass that deflected off the receiver's knee. Then, he came up with a recovery of a fumble caused by senior Brittan Diamond to stop another drive.

Diamond ended the game with 10 tackles as he and fellow linebackers Josh Dunn and Dillon Verner all had double-digit tackle totals. Junior Ryan Miller, starting in place of injured defensive tackle Rodney Evans, had a strong game with eight tackles, the same as Nash, and strong safety Johnny McSheffery got in on seven stops. Diamond, Verner and Nash each had two tackles for losses.

Their play through the first two quarters allowed the offense all the breathing room it needed.

The Wildcats scored on their first possession, as Rollison completed all five passes he through, including a 4-yard TD to Thompson. Oscar Marroquin kicked the first of his four extra points for a 9-0 lead with 8:15 to play.

Nash then came up with his interception five plays later, and the SSHS offense went right back to work.

The Wildcats had to overcome a 10-yard holding penalty, but did so successfully when Rollison moved around in the pocket and then rifled a 25-yard completion to Thompson. Three plays later, Rollison hit Beck with an inside screen, called a "jailbreak," and the senior receiver cut through the L-E defense after a crushing pancake block from sophomore guard Alex Peek freed him for the 42-yard TD and a 15-0 lead.

"We were just taking what they were giving us," Owens said of the Wildcats' offensive gameplan. "We converted on some big stuff, first-and-20 and second-and-15. We overcame all that, and they did a good job with those things."

Another L-E breakdown in the kicking game led to an easy SSHS TD. A poor snap on an attempted punt rolled past L-E's Lowe, who was swamped by Diamond at the 2-yard line. Two plays later, Rollison connected with a leaping Thompson for the touchdown, the sixth of the season for the senior wide receiver.

The Wildcats made the score 30-0 with 3:31 to play in the half on a fantastic 23-yard throw-and-catch by Rollison and Evans, who made an over-the-head grab while tight-roping the sideline of the end zone. The 69-yard drive was fueled by Rashad Hall, who ran four times for 24 yards.

But, L-E's James is too good of a runner to be shut out, and he showed it on the Leopards' final possession of the first half when he raced around the left end for a 37-yard TD. SSHS safety Dalton Abner blocked the extra point and the Wildcats headed to the locker room with a 30-6 lead.

The Wildcats were in a similar position when they played Sherman, taking a 42-0 halftime advantage, then having to hold on for an 11-point win. Things got a little hairy for the Wildcats in the third quarter again.

James scored on the Leopards' second play of the second half, zig-zagging his way to a 79-yard TD to cut the SSHS lead to 30-14.

But, the Wildcats responded on their next possession, traveling 54 yards in eight plays and converting two third downs along the way, including the TD when Rollison connected with Jackson for a 10-yard TD. The pair hooked up earlier in the drive on a 22-yard gain on third-and-8.

"We again had a great first half. We had a little bit of a scary third quarter, but they've got athletes who can go at any time so we can't let our guard down," Owens explained. "They got hot, but we battled back and put some more points on the board."

L-E's special teams finally came through for them on their next possession when James took a short snap on a fake punt and threw a 47-yard TD pass to Jeremy Whigham to cut the SSHS advantage to 37-22.

The Wildcats responded with their longest drive of the game, though, taking 12 plays to go 80 yards, capped by Hall's shoe-string catch of a swing pass and turning it into a 5-yard touchdown.

After that, both teams started pulling starters as the heat and humidity took its toll, especially on the Leopards, who had multiple players cramping up late in the game.

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