A Long Time Coming: Wildcats break 50-year jinx against McKinney with convincing win

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

Sept. 1, 2007 - Half-a-hundred was long enough.

The Sulphur Springs Wildcats ended a half-century of futility against McKinney on Friday, and they did it convincingly.

After a hit-and-miss first half, the Wildcats seized on their opportunities in the second half to pull away to a 31-14 victory over the Lions in the season opener at Gerald Prim Stadium.

It was the first victory for the Wildcats in 24 regular season games against McKinney dating back to 1956.

Sulphur Springs fairly dominated the game in the first half, but went to halftime down 14-12 after McKinney capitalized on a couple of big offensive plays, including a 99-yard TD pass.

In the second half, though, it was all Sulphur Springs, thanks to a high-powered offense and a shut-down defense.

SSHS junior quarterback Tyrick Rollison put up over 450 total yards, rushing for two TDs and throwing for two more, both to Jace Jackson. Slot receiver Chris Thompson hauled in over 100 yards receiving, kick returner Jeff Beck was electrifying, and the Wildcat defense didn't allow McKinney to cross midfield in the second half until the last-ditch final drive.

"The kids did great, did a super job," said SSHS head coach Greg Owens. "Defensively, we were super. We were flying around making plays. The kids rose to the occasion.

"I'm proud of the kids because they persevered through a rough first half. We learned a lot of lessons tonight and got a victory at the same time. These kids will be fired up and excited about it."

Rollison finished with 347 yards passing on 36-of-49 attempts, a whopping 73.4 percent completion rate. He threw one interception, but it was a pass that went off a receiver's hands. He also ran 17 times for 110 yards. Thompson caught nine passes for 119 yards, while four other receivers hauled in at least four passes each.

Beck was one of those, catching six balls for 52 yards, and returning three kickoffs for a 35-yard average, setting up the Wildcats near midfield after each return.

His 39-yard return of the second-half kickoff set the Wildcats up to take the lead for good, and they did with a tidy 54-yard drive in six plays that ended when Rollison scrambled away from trouble and weaved his way 14 yards into the end zone. That put the Wildcats up, 18-14, just two minutes into the second half, and they scored on two of their next four possessions to put the game away.

The Cats' last two TDs came on a slick 28-yard catch-and-run by Jackson in the third quarter to give the Wildcats a 25-14 lead after Oscar Marroquin's PAT, and on back-up quarterback Johnny McSheffery's 4-yard TD on the Wildcats' final drive.

That was a different script than the first half when Sulphur Springs scored twice, but also had one drive end on an interception and two more stall on downs, including one inside the 1-yard line. It was at that point the Wildcats found themselves behind 14-6 when McKinney sophomore quarterback Zach Lee hit Dario Jackson on slant pattern. An SSHS linebacker was supposed to be in the passing lane, but when he wasn't there - and the cornerback bumped the receiver without bringing him down -Jackson outran the SSHS defenders 99 yards for the TD and a 14-6 McKinney lead.

The Wildcats, who scored in the first quarter on a 9-yard fade pass from Rollison to Jackson, came right back with a touchdown of their own, this time on a 5-yard run by Rollison, to get within two points at halftime.

"We just kept killing ourselves in the first half offensively," Owens said. "The defense played a great first half and kept battling and battling. Offensively, we just couldn't get it in the end zone.

"Finally, things started clicking for us in the second half. We still put 31 on the board. It was a sloppy 31 and it was a win, and we'll take those anytime we can get them. We broke a little streak and made some history while we were doing it."

The Wildcats offensive line, with three sophomores (Colby Suggs, Alex Peek and Beau Carpenter), one junior (Jake Russell) and one senior (Dakota Graham) was solid, and Rollison's ability to scramble away for positive yardage helped out. Sulphur Springs had 154 yards rushing and finished with 507 yards of total offense.

"I thought our O-line played pretty well. Obviously we've got some red zone issues we've got to fix. We'll look at the film and work on correcting those," Owens said. "We had pretty good protection."

At times, the Wildcats went to a hurry-up offense, what they call Nascar, and it appeared to tire out the McKinney defensive linemen.

"We couldn't run some screens because their D-line was so gassed they couldn't rush," Owens said. "It was tiring them out, and that's what that offense is supposed to do."

McKinney had 284 yards of total offense, but just 74 of that came in the second half.

The Sulphur Springs defense produced five sacks all of last year, but had four on Friday. End Colton Nash and linebacker Josh Dunn each had 1 1/2 sacks, while Rashad Hall and Rodney Evans combined on a sack.

Dunn led the team in tackles with 12, while end Tyler Francis had a very active game, ending with five tackles and several quarterback pressures. Evans and linebackers Dillon Verner and Brittan Diamond had six tackles apiece.

The Wildcats also came up with two turnovers, both of which set up touchdowns. Cornerback Dalton Abner grabbed a first-quarter interception and returned it for an apparent TD, though a penalty nullified the return, and safety Bryant "Day Day" Jackson returned a fumble 30 yards.

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