By Trevor Scott | KBEC Sports
The Life Waxahachie High School Mustangs fought off a valiant second-half comeback by the Athens Hornets to cement a 55-35 home win Friday night at Mustang Stadium.
For Life Waxahachie head football coach Heath Blalock, the victory also served as the “signature win” the Mustangs have been looking for over the past few seasons.
“We were looking for a signature win over the last few years, to be honest, a big one,” Blalock told KBEC Sports following the District 9-4A victory. “We’ve gotten to the playoffs, but haven’t gotten the win over a big team. We did tonight, and I’m proud of those kids.”
The win improved the Mustangs to 5-1 on the season and 1-0 in 9-4A action.
Mustang quarterback Gage Mayfield led the offense with five total touchdowns. He completed 8-of-his-10 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns, including a 63-yard scoring pass to Tony Evans (2-103). The Life Waxahachie senior also contributed big time on the ground with 15 carries for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
SirMichael Veasley was also a key contributor to the Mustangs ground attack, finishing with 11 carries for 65 yards. The senior was particularly effective late in the fourth quarter when he scored two touchdowns to vault Life Waxahachie ahead. Trenton James put the final touches to close out the game with an interception returned for a touchdown with 1:10 left in the game. It was his second interception on the night.
Athens running back Nathan Sims had a big night for Hornets, scoring all five offensive touchdowns before suffering an injury late in the game that proved to be costly.
As the teams headed into the halftime break, Life Waxahachie held a comfortable 35-14 lead after Mayfield had already tossed three touchdown passes and rushed for two more. It seemed, at least at the break, that the Mustangs were prepared to run away with a win in their 9-4A opener.
That was not the case, however.
The Hornets first recovered an onside kick, which eventually resulted in Sims running into the endzone for his third touchdown. The Athens defense quickly recovered a Mustang fumble and capitalized with a 19-yard score off another tough run by Sims tough, who fought through several would-be tacklers for his fourth touchdown of the night.
On the ensuing drive, the Hornet defense forced another fumble and Rowdy Godwin was in the right place to recover the loose ball for Athens.
The Hornets then drove down the field into the end zone trend with Sims finding the end zone for a fifth and — thankfully for the Mustangs — final time in this game.
A slew of penalties and the injury to Sims would ultimately be the downfall for Athens. Following a pair of Veasley rushing scores and with 1:10 left in the game, the Hornets had no choice but to let the ball fly and it wound up in the hands of Life Waxahachie defender Trenten James. He returned the interception for a touchdown and the final score of the game.
The Life Waxahachie offense amassed 530 total yards of offense, while its defensive unit limited the Hornets to 347 total yards — just 81 of those yards came through the air.
James led the defensive effort for the Mustangs with 13 total tackles, two interceptions and one returned for a touchdown. Jeremiah Fultz recorded 14 total tackles, while Jamal Whitman added 13 total tackles with a whopping 4.5 tackles-for-loss. Jalen Mann forced a fumble, picked off an Athens pass and broke up another in addition to his nine total tackles.
“We saw a lot of adversity in that third quarter, Coach [Zac] Harrell’s group played their tails off, and they fought hard, and they never gave up,” Blalock said. “We had to counter that, and fortunately for us, it worked out.”
When asked about the focus on adversity for them working in their favor and the strategy they had, Coach Blalock stated, “We just have to weather the storm when that happens and our kids are learning how to do that.” As for the 5-1 start, Blalock said he wants the Mustangs to continue to focus on the task and game at hand.
“We’ve proved we are a very diverse team, we can do a lot of different things on defense, we can do a lot of different things on offense, we’re just going to keep pounding and getting after it every day,” the head coach added. “Take care of our grades and everything we need to in the classroom, take care of our teachers, and take care of our brotherhood.”
Up next for the (4-2) Athens Hornets is (3-3, 1-0) Midlothian Heritage, which is coming off of a 51-13 win against Quinlan Ford. Life Waxahachie will look to keep the momentum rolling next week in (4-2, 1-0) Crandall.