By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
Legendary head football coach Sam Harrell is no stranger to the storied rivalry between Ennis and Waxahachie. In fact, he’s helped pen quite a few memorable chapters over the first 99 meetings among the schools separated by roughly 17 miles along US Highway 287.
There have been questionable calls at the goal line, blowouts on the road to state titles and district championships decided on the final snap.
Then there was Friday’s defensive showcase in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Stuart B. Lumpkins Stadium in Waxahachie that found yet another way to make history in a rivalry that began in 1908.
Helmets flew. Crowds roared. The bands played. And fight songs hit all-time highs as the two storied programs headed into overtime tied at 14-all.
Harrell promptly made the Ennis plan clear to his Lions: If Waxahachie scored first, Ennis would go for the two-point conversion if they too found the end zone in overtime. He’d been burned by a back-and-forth overtime affair before, most notably against Corsicana in the early 2000s.
“Once overtime got there, I knew we’d go for two,” Harrell said.
It wasn’t a bluff, either.
After Waxahachie quarterback Roderick Hartsfield Jr. connected with Keith Abney II for a 23-yard touchdown, Harrell and the Lions were afforded the opportunity to put the game on the line. The touchdown had given the Indians their first lead of the ballgame, 21-14, and came on the second snap of the lone overtime period.
“When Waxahachie scored, I told our sideline that if we scored, we were going for two,” recalled Harrell of his decision that ultimately sealed the 22-21 Ennis win. “We actually had another play called, but when Waxahachie called timeout, we switched it.”
Ennis quarterback Jackson Gilkey (19-24, 212, 2 TDs) took the snap from the gun, rolled right and found an open TT Cox just across the goal line. Cox caught the pass around his knees and quickly jumped up to celebrate with teammates as they rushed the field from the sideline.
“Jackson did a great job and found TT in there and fired it to him,” Harrel said. “I really didn’t [see it]. There was so much action in there that I thought it got knocked down. I didn’t think [Waxahachie] got it, but I thought they knocked it down.”
The successful two-point conversion capped a night when the Lions outgained the Indians 303 total yards to 234. With both starting running backs out of action due to off-the-field disciplinary issues, the Lions mustered just 91 rushing yards on 30 attempts against a fast, active and swarming Indian front seven.
Waxahachie also forced four fumbles but recovered just two. One of those they did not recover came on the Lions’ second play from scrimmage in overtime.
Running back Jace Berry (9-51) busted through the middle of the Indian defensive line for a 6-yard gain, only to be met by a pair of Waxahachie linebackers and subsequently stripped of the football near the 20-yard line.
The ball rolled end-over-end toward the Indian sideline, ultimately recovered by Cox some 15 yards from where the ball came loose. Had Cox not landed his outstretched hand on the pigskin, there were two Indians just a step and a half away, ready to fall on it and seal the Waxahachie win.
Fate was in favor of the Lions, however.
Berry rushed for 11 yards on the ensuing snap and Gilkey connected with Gracen Harris (12-164, 2TDs) one play later for a 12-yard touchdown. The Lions followed with the successful two-point conversion and celebrated all 17 miles back down U.S. Highway 287.
Ennis now leads the all-time series 50-48-2.
Friday marked the first time either team won by a 22-21 final over the rivalry’s 113-year history.
It was also just the third time the two teams were separated by one point.
And, because of a somewhat recent rule change, Friday was also the first time the Waxahachie-Ennis rivalry needed overtime to decide the winner.
The closest games over the first 99 meetings included:
• 1999 – 3-7 (4)
• 1991 – 24-21 (3)
• 1979 – 12-14 (2)
• 1950 – 12-13 (1)
• 1969 – 7-8 (1)
• 1932 – 6-6 (0)
• 1941 – 0-0 (Ennis shows Wax forfeit, Waxahachie Daily Light reported an actual game)
Ennis Football marked Friday’s game as the 103rd meeting, while Texas Football has the rivalry at 98 games played. Spotty record keeping in the early 1900s is to blame or credit, whichever you prefer.
Either way, the history is real and both programs played with fierce pride Friday night.
“I know what’s in that locker room,” Waxahachie head football coach Shane Tolleson said. “I am heartbroken for those kids because they love this city and this community and want so badly to make this community so proud of them. And some of them don’t know how yet to win the big ones, but they will.
“[…] I am so freaking proud of our kids. I hurt because they hurt. It’s just like a dad. I hurt because they want so badly to make this program what it’s going to be. And these seniors want to do it before they leave. They want it now.”
Tolleson and the Indians were without offensive coordinator Mike Dormandy due to illness, which led to running backs coach Shawn Sparks taking over the game management and play-calling duties. Tolleson applauded Sparks, saying he “did an awesome job with the clock and gave us a chance to win. We just didn’t execute.”
Ennis carried a 7-0 lead into the halftime locker room, having outgained the Indians 179-73 in the first half behind 149 yards passing.
The lone score came on the Lions’ third drive in the first quarter when Gilkey connected with Harris for a 69-yard touchdown. The freshman wideout ended the first half with eight catches for 126 yards.
Iverson led the Indian offensive attack with seven carries for 41 yards and two catches for four yards.
Waxahachie eventually found a bit of a groove in the second half, outpacing the Lions 161 total yards to 124.
After each team punted to begin the third quarter, the Indian offense faced a critical fourth-and-a-foot on its second possession.
With the heavy goal-line package in, Hartsfield faked an inside zone, broke to his left and outran the Lion secondary to the end zone. His 41-yard scamper, followed by Jesse Garfias’ successful point-after kick, tied the game at 7-all with 4:40 to play in the third quarter.
The Lions responded with a 13-play, 71-yard drive that resulted in a 12-yard Berry touchdown run.
The former Waxahachie quarterback carried the football six times on the drive for 37 yards to help the Lions to a 14-7 lead.
Ennis wasn’t the only offense prepared to march 70-plus yards to the endzone on a 13-play drive, either.
After just six plays, a false start on third-and-one from the Lions’ 35-yard line could’ve stalled the ensuing Indian drive. A well-timed screen and even better downfield block by Keith Abney II sprung Joseph Lankford for a 30-yard gain to continue the Tribe’s march toward a tie game late in the fourth quarter.
Three snaps later, Waxahachie benefitted from a blatant pass interference in the back-right corner of the endzone to set up first-and-goal from the Ennis 2-yard line.
Facing fourth-and-goal, Hartsfield powered his way through the heart of the Lion defense for a 2-yard touchdown. Garfias split the uprights to cap the 13-play, 75-yard drive and tie the game at 14-all with 4:07 to play in regulation.
After the game, Tolleson disclosed he did consider going for two points and the win.
“I thought about it and just went with [the kick],” he explained. “If there had been less time, I would’ve gone for two, but I felt like there was enough time left on the clock for us to get a stop and go down to kick a field goal and not chase points.”
The Waxahachie defense delivered on Tolleson’s intuition, too, forcing the Lions into a quick three-and-out that put the Tribe offense back on the field at the Lions’ 40-yard line.
Behind the strong running of Iverson Young (16-71), the Indians moved to the Ennis 27-yard line with under one minute to play in the fourth quarter. A pair of incomplete passes then had the Indians facing fourth-and-9.
Tolleson said he did not consider a field goal attempt, which would’ve been of the 44-yard variety.
“Jesse does a great job kicking for us, but I am not going to put a kid in a position to fail,” he said, noting the Indians have not worked with the first-year junior kicker on longer field goals. “I am going to lose a game, not the kids.”
The Indian offense did not pick up the first down. Ennis then elected to essentially run out the fourth-quarter clock.
The rest was history — literally.
Hartsfield connected with Abney to score the first-ever overtime touchdown between the two teams in their 100th meeting. Gilkey used his strong right arm to find the end zone twice for the Ennis win.
And all 10,000-plus in attendance left having witnessed one of the all-time great games between the two storied programs.
“I tell the kids all of the time that we don’t want moral victories and there is no moral loss. You either get it done or you don’t, because that is what people judge us by,”
Tolleson said. “But, I will say this, I also tell them all the time that I want for when people watch us play that they do not know the score because of how hard we are playing. They shouldn’t know if we are up by 20 or down by 20 because we are playing so fast. In my opinion from the sideline, I saw that tonight.”
As for the atmosphere provided by the packed house at Lumpkins Stadium, Tolleson smiled and said, “This is why you come to Waxahachie.”
The Lions will look to remain unbeaten when they travel to Greenville. Waxahachie will begin District 11-6A play on the road against Hewitt “Don’t Call Us Waco” Midway. Both games are slated for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on Friday.
BY THE NUMBERS
ENNIS – 7 0 7 0 8 — 22
WAXAHACHIE – 0 0 7 7 7 — 21
First Downs 16 11
Total Yards 303 234
Passing Yards 212 63
Passing 19-24 7-16, INT
Rushing 30-91 33-171
Yards Per Carry 3.03 5.18
Penalties 10-75 5-26
Turnovers 2 1
Ennis: Jackson Gilkey 19-24, 212yds, 2 TD
Waxahachie: Roderick Hartsfield Jr. 7-16, 63yds, TD, INT
Ennis: TT Cox 16-71; Jace Berry 9-51
Waxahachie: Iverson Young 16-71; Hartsfield 6-61, 2 TD; Jayden Becks 11-39
Ennis: Gracen Harris 12-164, 2 TD; Jace Berry 2-23; Carlos Jiron 1-14; Sylan Simmons 2-6; Cox 1-3
Waxahachie: Joseph Lankford 1-30; Keith Abney II 1-23, TD; Young 3-7; Becks 2-3
All photos by Kirk Holt/KBEC Sports
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith