Cat Fight: SSHS puts together solid second-half to squelch Paris' upset bid
By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor
Oct. 28, 2007 - Paris, with its playoff hopes dwindling and its roster in upheaval, played with the intensity of a caged animal Friday night. It took the Sulphur Springs Wildcats until the second half to finally close the cage door.
For the first time since the season opener, the Wildcats found themselves behind at halftime, but put up 18 points in the third quarter to gain control of the contest and come away with a 25-15 victory at Gerald Prim Stadium.
Sulphur Springs (7-1 overall) took another step closer to a playoff berth, but still has not clinched a postseason spot despite a 3-0 record in District 11-4A.
Paris (3-5, 0-3) still has a remote shot at the playoffs and played like a team that was fighting to salvage what was once a promising season.
Paris rode the legs of speedster Courtney Hill, the district 100-meter track champion who ran for 145 yards and a second-quarter touchdown of 41 yards that put Paris ahead, 7-0, at halftime.
Sulphur Springs, meanwhile, relied on the short passing game of Tyrick Rollison, who completed 28-of-37 passes for 285 yards, and a defense that again forced three turnovers to engineer the comeback.
Paris had recently lost over a half-dozen players to grades, injury and discipline issues, and they seemed to rally to the underdog cause.
SSHS head coach Greg Owens knew Sulphur Springs would have to withstand a fiery effort from the Lamar County Wildcats.
"Paris did what they had to do, run the ball, ball control, eat the clock, and then they finally popped a long one, and we were chasing them again," Owens said. "We came out flat. With all the publicity and all that, I think that got into our heads a little bit.
"Give Paris credit for what they did, but also give our kids credit for the second half. We take the opening drive, go down and score and get back into it."
Paris' defense sold out on the blitz, bringing linebackers or secondary players on a rush virtually every play. That limited the throwing time for Rollison, who was sacked a season-high seven times for minus-42 yards.
The Wildcats managed to overcome that in the second half after coming up empty on four first-half possessions.
Sulphur Springs took the opening kickoff and drove 84 yards to take its first lead of the game at the 9:32 mark of the third quarter. The drive was capped by Brittan Diamond's 1-yard plunge. The TD was set up by a 26-yard catch by DaQualin "Boo" Evans, who grabbed six passes for a team-high 95 yards, and a 23-yard gain from Chris Thompson on a jailbreak screen. On third-and-4 from the 10, Jeff Beck made a lunging, fingertip catch to take the ball down to the 3-yard line.
Beck then gave the Wildcats an 8-7 lead when on the attempted extra point, he took the snap then rolled right and barely got inside the pylon.
"They gave us some looks up front that we had to adjust to in the second half," Owens said. "You come out and start pressing when you're up against a ball-control group like that. But, I'm proud of the kids. They persevered, hit some plays and made things happen again."
The Wildcats added to their lead when the defense came up with its first turnover of the game. Paris quarterback Quin Rollerson tried to roll out on a pass, but was sacked and fumbled. The loose ball was recovered by Diamond, who had another strong game with 10 tackles from his linebacker spot.
It then took five plays for the Wildcats to convert the fumble into points, a 42-yard field goal by Oscar Marroquin, his longest of the season, to make the score 11-7.
Sulphur Springs got a break when the officials lost count of downs and mistakenly gave the Wildcats a fifth down in the possession.
What followed was a wild sequence of three turnovers in two plays from scrimmage.
On the kickoff following Marroquin's field goal, Sulphur Springs' Dalton Abner recovered Marroquin's high pooch kick to give the Wildcats the ball back. But, on the first play from scrimmage, Rollison's pass was intercepted by Paris' Tanner Martin.
Paris returned the favor, though, on its first play from scrimmage on a botched pitch out that SSHS linebacker Josh Dunn recovered and returned to the Paris 16-yard line. Dunn had 19 tackles to lead the Wildcats, while linebacker Dillon Verner, defensive end Tyler Francis and noseguard Jamal Freeman all got in on double-digit tackles.
The Wildcats then made Paris pay for the last mistake when Rollison hit Evans with a jailbreak screen, and Evans broke a pair of tackles to take the ball into the end zone. Marroquin's PAT gave the Wildcats an 18-7 lead midway through the third period.
Paris responded, though, with the most time-consuming scoring drive against the Wildcats this year, taking 16 plays and 7:31 off the clock to go 69 yards. The drive was kept alive by a crucial Sulphur Springs mistake. On third-and-9 from the 22-yard line, Paris tried to run the ball to the right side, but Diamond put a heavy lick on Courtney Hill at the line of scrimmage to bring up fourth-and-long.
The Wildcats, though, were hit with a personal foul penalty, giving Paris a first down at the 16-yard line. Five plays later, Rollerson snuck into the end zone from a yard out and Hill ran in the conversion to pull Paris to within 18-15.
Sulphur Springs came back with it own long, impressive drive, using over four minutes to go 81 yards and converting four crucial third downs along the way. The first conversion was a 17-yard catch by Beck along the home sideline in which he absorbed a big hit after the reception to convert a third-and-15 from the SSHS 14. Then, on third-and-1 from the 40, Diamond bulled his way for three yards.
Three plays later, the Wildcats faced third-and-9 from the 44 when Rollison hit Jace Jackson with a jailbreak and Jackson took off on a 44-yard gain down to the Paris 12-yard line. Following sack, Rollison then found Chris Thompson behind the cornerback on a 17-yard touchdown pass that gave the Wildcats some cushion at 25-15 with 6:45 to play.
Beck had six catches for 53 yards, Jackson finished with five catches for 63 yards, and Thompson had four receptions for 41 yards. Thompson's TD catch was his school record-tying ninth of the season.
"I was proud of the way the offense responded," Owens said of their last scoring drive. "They came back down and made it a 10-point game again. Jace made a great run.
"You just never know what's going to happen if you don't close things out. We wanted to move the ball toward the end. We're still learning, and we got away with a win tonight, which is the main thing."
The SSHS defense still had a job to do, and they did it, holding Paris on its next possession by forcing two straight incompletions after Diamond and safety Johnny McSheffery forced a third-and-long situation. Paris went 0-for-7 passing.
In a statistical oddity, Paris had zero yards passing and Sulphur Springs had zero yards rushing. Rollison's 42 negative yards in sacks came off the SSHS rushing total.
Paris ended the game with 280 yards rushing while Sulphur Springs had 285 yards in the air.