Wildcats ride big first-half lead to too-close-for-comfort victory

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

Sept. 23, 2007 - SHERMAN - The Sulphur Springs Wildcats played about as well as they could have in the first half Friday night.

Not so much in the second half.

A first-half blowout in which the Wildcats led 42-0 turned into a too-close-for-comfort 48-37 victory over the Sherman Bearcats at Bearcat Stadium.

The Wildcats came up with six turnovers, including a pivotal fourth-quarter interception and runback by sophomore safety Bryant "Day Day" Jackson, while not turning the ball over themselves. However, an avalanche of yellow flags contributed to the Sherman comeback as SSHS was penalized 19 times for 176 yards.

SSHS head coach Greg Owens was concerned about the penalties, but encouraged the Wildcats left the homecoming game with a win and a 3-1 record.

"In the second half, we got sloppy with the penalties, an enormous amount of penalties. Some of them were our fault, I know, maybe all of them," he said. "But, it's a win. I wish it was by more, but it's a win and we learned a lesson."

The lesson, obviously, is not to sit on first-half laurels, though it was easy to see why the Wildcats did.

The Sulphur Springs defense forced five first-half turnovers, including a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown by sophomore cornerback Shane McQueen, and the offense scored touchdowns on five of its first six possessions.

In addition, the Wildcats held Sherman's electrifying junior running back Waymon James to 53 yards on eight carries. But, James got loose in the second half and finished with 178 yards and two touchdowns on 16 totes.

""We were rolling, then we lost our intensity and they turned up their intensity," Owens said. "We stalled out offensively which gave them a chance, and the tide kind of turned."

By then, the Wildcats had a six-touchdown lead.

SSHS junior quarterback Tyrick Rollison completed 30-of-44 passes for 251 yards and five touchdowns, two of them to Chris Thompson and one each to Jeff Beck, Brittan Diamond and DaQualin Evans. In addition, Rollison ran for 76 yards and another touchdown.

Rollison was sensational in the first half, avoiding near sacks and tucking the ball and running when necessary.

He scored the Wildcats' first TD on an 8-yard run when he scrambled out of pressure, was hit at the 3-yard line and wriggled his way to the end zone to complete a 52-yard drive. The series got underway when SSHS linebacker Dillon Verner recovered a fumble forced by Josh Dunn.

The defense setting up the offense was a common theme over the first two periods.

It happened again on Sherman's next possession when Jackson picked off his first interception of the game and returned it 23 yards to the Sherman 9-yard line. Two plays later, Rollison evaded a rush and dumped a short pass to Diamond, who bulled his way across the goal line. Oscar Marroquin, who hit all five of the PATs he attempted, made the score 14-0 with 7:21 still to play in the first quarter.

McQueen's interception return made the score 22-0 less than a minute later, and the Wildcats put more points on the board before the first quarter was over when Evans hit Thompson on a 28-yard skinny post to complete an 80-yard drive.

The Wildcat defense forced a Sherman punt - when Dunn and defensive tackle Rodney Evans came up with a sack of quarterback Garrett Powell, who alternated series with Madison Carter throughout the game. The Wildcats then went 52 yards in nine plays, capped by Beck's 20-yard catch and run as he wove his way through the middle of the Sherman defense to put the Wildcats up 35-0.

Diamond, who had a strong game at linebacker with eight tackles, set up the Wildcats' final first-half TD with an interception and 28-yard return. SSHS turned the excellent field position into a 14-yard TD pass from Rollison to Thompson.

That gave the Wildcats a comfortable 42-0 lead at intermission.

The comfort didn't last long.

Sherman scored three touchdowns of its own in the third period on a 24-yard pass from Powell to Tyrone Sommers, a 2-yard run by Powell and a 1-yard plunge by James. The Sherman running back came into the game averaging 10 yards per carry and did nothing to hurt his average.

His first TD pulled Sherman to within 42-22 and the Bearcats were rolling with momentum after forcing a Sulphur Springs punt and getting the ball at the 43-yard line with 9 1/2 minutes left in the game.

But, the Bearcats tried to hit a home run on the following play, and Jackson was there to deny them. He intercepted Powell's throw on the 17-yard line and returned it all the way to the Sherman 20.

Six plays later, Rollison hit Boo Evans with a 3-yard fade pass to give the Wildcats a 48-22 lead.

Jackson's interception and return was the tide-turner the Wildcats desperately needed.

"It really was the biggest play of the second half for us," said Owens. "You lose that intensity sometimes when you get that far ahead. We lost that edge and they gained it. I talked about what would happen if they got their chili hot, and they did. They got it rolling, they got the momentum, and thank goodness we were able to counter it and recover some onside kicks."

The Bearcats ended up scoring two more touchdowns - on James' 18-yard run up the middle and then a 7-yard TD from Carter to Greg Millerick with 85 seconds remaining.

Both times, Jace Jackson recovered Sherman's onside kick attempts. Jackson also caught five passes for 31 yards.

He was one of five receivers to grab at least four receptions. Beck had seven catches for 64 yards, Thompson grabbed six for 72, Evans had four for 50 and Quentin Long caught four for 10.

Beck also did a solid job on special teams, averaging 20 yards on punt and kickoff returns.

Defensively, the front seven again led in tackles, with Dunn getting 12 stops, Diamond with eight, Rodney Evans with seven, Tyler Francis and Jamal Freeman with six apiece.

Dunn got in on three tackles for losses as did Evans, and Colton Nash had a sack, forced a fumble and recovered the ball all on the same play to end Sherman's final drive of the first half.

But, the biggest hit came from 160-pound cornerback Darrell Franklin, who leveled a wide receiver in the first quarter on a short route.

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