By Travis M. Smith | Ellis County Sports Sports
ENNIS — For the second-consecutive football season, Ennis and Red Oak opened state-ranked in the top-15 of Class 5A and faced off in week one. And the two teams once again put on quite the offensive show — combining for over 1,000 yards in a barnburner Friday night at Lion Memorial Stadium.
It was the host Lions who ultimately came out on the winning end of the 56-42 final. Ennis leaned heavily on its ground game after junior quarterback Jackson Gilkey (8-16, 197yds, 0INT) scored the first three touchdowns through the air.
Gilkey, who replaces now-Georgia Bulldog Collin Drake, tossed a pair of touchdowns to Gracen Harris (3-150) and a third to running back Devion Beasley (1-32).
Those three scores had the Lions on top, 21-7, as the first-quarter clock expired.
“We got tested,” Ennis head coach Sam Harrell told Ellis County Sports Sports. “Things looked so easy there early, but then, all of a sudden, the game changed. So we got tested and had to answer the bell or answer the call.”
In the second quarter, Red Oak ultimately outscored Ennis 21-14 to enter the halftime locker room down one score, 35-28.
The Hawks outgained the Lions in the first half, 386 total yards to 380, while also picking up 18 first downs to Ennis’ 12. Both teams were well over 150 yards rushing by the half and each had been flagged just twice for 20 combined penalty yards.
The oddity of the game — a matchup between two recently prolific passing offenses — was that both starting quarterbacks did almost all of their damage in the first half.
Ennis Gilkey ended the half 7-of-11 for 198 yards. He then completed just 1-of-his-5 passes in the second half for no gain. On the flip side, Red Oak starting quarterback Jaylon Robinson ended the first half 18-of-27 for 208 yards. He was 3-of-10 for 4 yards in the second half, while Kendall Brown completed 6-of-his-9 passes for 94 yards.
Ennis and Red Oak combined for just 98 second-half passing yards. They did, however, run the ball — well.
“The biggest takeaway that I am going to drive on and to get these kids motivated on is that we didn’t quit,” first-year Red Oak head coach Tony Holmes told Ellis County Sports Sports after the game. And we could’ve quit. We could’ve hung our heads, but we didn’t.”
Ennis struck first by marching the second half’s opening drive 71 yards to the house on 11 plays. Dee Johnson scored the second of his three rushing touchdowns when he capped the drive with an 8-yard score.
Johnson finished as the game’s second-leading rusher, carrying the football 27 times for 160 yards and three touchdowns.
Robinson, Red Oak’s starting quarterback, led all ball carriers with 164 yards and three touchdowns on 12 totes. His final rushing score came with 3:47 to play in the third quarter and pulled the Hawks within two scores, 49-35.
“The second half, I think, we answered the bell,” said Harrell of the Lions’ efforts. “Then we kind of did it again right there at the very end by letting Red Oak get back into it and make it exciting. But we answered again, and I thought that was real good. These guys, a bunch of them, haven’t had a whole lot of varsity experience, so it was definitely a great game for them to get a win and learn some lessons.”
Ennis ultimately outscored Red Oak 14-7 over the final 10 minutes of action.
The Lions amassed 565 total yards of offense on 67 plays, just edging the 543 yards on 76 plays by the Hawks.
Led by Johnson (27-160, 3 TDs), TT Cox (5-87, TD) and Beasley (5-64, TD), Ennis recorded a staggering 368 rushing yards against an athletic front seven. Both teams averaged more than 7 yards per carry.
Red Oak wideout Jace Wyatt (8-136) and Ennis’ Gracen Harris (3-150, 2 TDs) each topped the 100-yard plateau. La’Kelsey Johnson Jr, a four-star tight end prospect for the Hawks, pulled in six passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns.
When asked what the Hawks could take from the loss, Holmes noted the 0-1 start falls on the entire team and coaching staff.
“We won’t point any fingers because that won’t do us any good,” Red Oak’s head coach explained. “As a whole, we have to get better. There were things that we did good on both sides of the ball and things we did bad on both sides of the ball.
“We have five defensive linemen out right now,” he added. “We could blame that, but we could’ve done a lot of things differently. We fought. We are going to look at the positives and fix all of the things that we did wrong. Defensively, we did a lot of things wrong. We have a ways to go.”
Red Oak will look to bounce back when the Hawks host the (0-1) Sachse Mustangs, who fell to Coppell, 42-28, in their opener. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. at Billy Goodloe Stadium in Red Oak.
The Lions will stay home to face Keller Fossil Ridge at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The Panthers outlasted Azle in their season-opener, 42-41.
Harrell noted the Lions will need to focus on execution and conditioning as the season moves forward.
“We have to execute over and over and over. And we have to keep battling,” Harrell said. “Our guys learned that tonight. You also have to get in shape. We’ve been running and stuff, but as far as being in game shape, we weren’t in game shape. We had too many guys get cramps and that just means that the other guys on the sidelines have to be ready to go. We have to be ready at all times.”
All photos by Fred Phipps/Ellis County Sports Sports
Fred Phipps/Ellis County Sports Sports contributed to this report.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith