By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
Five-and-a-half feet proved to be the difference Friday afternoon at Stuart B. Lumpkins Stadium.
Facing a fourth-and-goal situation from the Waxahachie 13-yard line, Waco High quarterback Sean Mooney quickly connected with Remond O’neal in the left flat. The wide receiver turned upfield and broke two tackles before being driven out of bounds at the Indians’ 2-yard line by Corey King and Jace Robinson.
The game-saving tackle with 49 seconds to play ultimately secured the fourth-consecutive District 11-6A win for the playoff-bound Indians, as Waxahachie held on to defeat visiting Waco High, 19-15.
Senior outside linebacker Jh’Marques Head couldn’t hide the smile after the game when asked about the final defensive stand.
“It showed that we are building [our team] with our defense,” Head said. “We are getting better each day and each practice. That is what we always have to do — finish strong.
“[…] Our offense keeps fighting and the defense, we come and get it and make the plays when we need them the most. When it comes down to it, that’s all we need for success and it’s what has helped us get these Ws.”
Third-year Waxahachie defensive coordinator Matt Cochran admitted that the coaching staff did not precisely know what to expect from the Lions during the ball game or on fourth-and-goal. After all, Waco High hasn’t played in two weeks due to an internal COVID-19 outbreak. The Lions have also rarely had a full team on the field this season.
“In that situation, I was thinking that they would try and get the ball to No. 16 (O’neal), and they did,” Cochran said. “He is their go-to guy. He is a good player. Those situations come down to ‘who is going to man-up and win this challenge?’ And that’s what happened — our boys manned up.”
The final Waco High drive covered 77 yards on 23 plays and spanned nine minutes and 30 seconds. It was also just the second Lion possession of the second half.
The Indians used a 15-play, 75-yard drive and 9-play, 50-yard drive — capped by a 6-yard BJ Hawkins touchdown pass to AJ Thomas touchdown and a 27-yard Clyde Melick field — to ice over 13 minutes off the second-half clock.
Waxahachie head coach Todd Alexander said after the game that, while he is always impressed with the Tribe’s defense, he was incredibly proud of their fight today.
“They were tired today, for one thing, especially in that first half when they didn’t come off of the field,” Alexander said. “They just showed grit and a never-give-up attitude. We are super proud of those guys, especially guys like Jh’Marques Head, who is the leader of that group out there on the field and that’s no secret.”
With the victory, Waxahachie won its fourth consecutive game for the first time since 2016. Even more impressive is that the Indians last won four district games in 2017 and 2012.
And, to take it a step further, Waxahachie last won four-plus consecutive district games in 2011 (Terrell, Red Oak, Forney, Corsicana, West Mesquite, Lancaster, Ennis) under then-head coach David Ream. Having missed the postseason in 2010 to end a 20-year run of playoff appearances, that 2011 season marked the Indians’ return to the tournament. They have made the playoffs just three times since (2012-Ream, ’17-Jon Kitna, ’20-Alexander).
Waco, on the other hand, is now 3-23 overall since 2018 and has just one district win over that span.
“Our program has needed this so bad,” Alexander said. “We would’ve paid good money for a win the last couple of years. I know we didn’t play all that great today, but we still have to realize that it is a ‘W,’ and those are always great for our program. We have to rise up and play better than we have the past couple of weeks and freshen our guys up. We will find ways to do that next week and go from there.”
Alexander noted that the Indians have had no time off during the Thanksgiving break, as they’ve practiced every morning — including Friday before the game.
“They got out of bed early to come up here and grind it out in practice,” the head coach said. “We got them out of bed this morning and practiced before the game. We have to find some ways for these guys to freshen up to continue doing what we want to do and keep raising the bar. We are going to try and get these guys a little bit of rest and get a little bit of energy back into their legs.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
In a rather wacky first half, the two teams combined for 11 first downs (Waco 6) and just north of 200 total yards of offense (Waco 111, Waxahachie 94).
Waxahachie quarterback BJ Hawkins and the Indian backfield ultimately accounted for 69 rushing yards on 20 carries (3.5YPC) in the first half, while the Tribe defense limited the Tigers to 1.8 yards-per-carry on 17 attempts (30 yards). The Indians turned the football over three times (two fumbles, interception) in the first half.
Waco scored twice in the second quarter on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Mooney to Jeremiah Bennett (2-16) and a 4-yard Mooney run. The first score was also accompanied by a block point-after-touchdown kick that O’neal scooped and carried into the endzone for an unplanned two-point conversion.
That’d be it for the Waco offense on the afternoon, too. The Lions’ ensuing drive ended on its second play when Mooney was tackled in the end zone for a safety to cut the Waco lead to 15-2 with 4:35 to play in the first half.
Waxahachie took possession at the Waco 44-yard line following the free-kick and marched down the field on 10 plays. Running back Shawn Cherry (12-35) capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown, pulling Waxahachie within on score, 15-9, with 1:41 remaining in the second quarter.
The Indians received the second-half kickoff and added their two third-quarter scores (Hawkins-to-Thomas touchdown and Melick field goal) for the 19-15 final.
Waco ultimately outgained Waxahachie 191 total yards to 187.
Mooney, who did not play in the third quarter, completed 13-of-his-17 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown.
Hawkins passed for 42 yards and a touchdown on 4-of-10 passing for the Indians. He also rushed a game-high 20 times for a game-best 83 yards.
Waco High ran 51 plays to Waxahachie’s 48.
Waxahachie is slated to return to the gridiron for the regular-season finale at 7:30 p.m. Friday at home against No. 2 (6-1, 3-0) Duncanville. The Panthers and DeSoto Eagles mutually agreed to cancel their District 11-6A game ahead of kickoff this past Friday.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith