By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
Before the opening kickoff, there was no doubt that a modern-day miracle of sorts would be needed for the Ennis Lions to upset No. 1 Aledo.
Those donning maroon inside The Ford Center at The Star in Frisco then saw three miraculous catches, two uncharacteristic fumbles, herculean efforts by both quarterbacks and an overtime finish that will not soon be forgotten.
Sam Harrell and company gave Aledo all it could handle and then some Friday night in the 43-36 5A Division II Region II championship. The effort was certainly valiant and should be applauded by high school football fans across Ellis County.
The Bearcats, who improved to 13-1 on the season with the win Friday, will now face Lubbock Cooper at 3 p.m. Saturday on the campus of Abilene Christian University.
Ennis ends the season with an impressive 12-2 mark and a heck of a lot to build on in year three of Harrell’s second tenure.
For those still wondering: Play it again Sam has officially returned, and the state is back on notice.
All-everything running back Jase McClellan (39-212) dominated the Lions and the scoreboard in the first half. The University of Oklahoma commit — who missed most of the season following a week-one arm injury — scored three times over the first two quarters to help the Bearcats to a 19-7 lead with 7:07 to play before halftime.
His first two scores came on runs of 2 and 5 yards with 5:58 and 2:57 left to play in the first quarter.
He then added a third score — this time from 3 yards out — three minutes and change after Collin Drake (17-28, 282) found Laylon Spencer (7-68) for an 11-yard touchdown to put Ennis on the board.
The touchdown reception for Spencer was the first of two highlight-reel catches in the corner of the end zone.
Following the third McClellan touchdown scamper, the Lion offense proceeded to turn the football over on downs inside the 30-yard line of Aledo. The failed conversion turned out to be a moot point, though, as Devion Beasley scooped a Bishop fumble three snaps later and sprinted 72 yards for an Ennis touchdown.
The Ramiro Perez extra-point kick was true and pulled the Lions within a single score, 19-14, with 2:33 to play before the half.
Any momentum the two Lion scores built was quickly washed away eight plays and 82 yards later when Bishop found Money Parks (3-39) for a 13-yard Aledo touchdown with three seconds left on the second-quarter clock.
That score sent the Bearcats into the half with a 26-14 lead and also provided Aledo, which was set to receive the second-half kickoff, with an opportunity to put the game out of reach when the two teams returned to the field.
It appeared the Bearcat offense was prepared to do just that, too, as Bishop and company quickly marched across midfield on just four plays.
McClellan then lost the handle on the football — an issue that would come back to haunt the running back later — two snaps later. The Lions recovered the fumble and set up the offense at the Aledo 31-yard line, but were unable to do anything with the free possession.
Aledo again marched down the field and deep into Ennis territory on the ensuing Bearcat possession, only to have McClellan stipped from behind at the Ennis 5-yard line.
It appeared that McClellan, who had gotten outside out of the Lion contain, began to coast toward the goal line before being stripped. He would’ve likely scored to put the Bearcats up three scores had he kept running full speed.
But he didn’t. And the Lions capitalized six plays and one thrice-deflected pass later.
The first highlight of the 92-yard Ennis scoring drive came when Karon Smith (5-100) caught a Drake pass that first deflected off of two Aledo defenders. Smith raced downfield for a 46-yard gain and into Aledo territory.
With the Ennis offense in a bit of a hurry-up, Drake then completed a beautiful 34-yard pass to Azain Brown (2-50) along the Lion sideline. Brown caught the football in stride with an Aledo defender in his hip pocket.
Two plays later, Drake connected with Spencer for a second time — this time from 12 yards out — to pull the Lions back within a single score, 26-21, with 2:57 to play in the third quarter.
If you’re in need of visual: Spencer’s second touchdown catch was in the same corner of the end zone that he made his miraculous grab last week against Frisco. It also looked a lot like it too, as he again went up and over an outstretched defender to make the catch.
Ol’ Lady Mo(mentum) was firmly back on the sideline of the Lions and remained there as the game turned toward the fourth quarter.
She was even still on the Ennis sideline after Micco Little drilled a 21-yard field goal to cap a nine-play, 48-yard drive to put Aledo ahead 29-21 with 10:43 to play in regulation.
And she was certainly behind the Lions when Drake completed a 48-yard touchdown pass to Skylan Simmons (2-59) just over one minute of game time later.
And, boy, was she pulling for the Lions when Drake completed a pass across the middle to Clayton Jenkins to convert on the Lions’ two-point attempt.
The two Drake scoring completions tied the game at 29-all with 9:22 showing on the fourth-quarter clock.
Yet, even with the momentum on their side, two things were evident.
The first was that the Aledo offense was moving the football with relative ease, only thwarted by two costly turnovers. The second? The Ennis defense needed a stop in the worst kind of way.
Both sentiments held true through the final nine minutes and into overtime.
The Bearcats pieced together a 12-play, 85-yard drive that ate the better part of five minutes off of the fourth-quarter clock. The possession ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Bishop that put the Bearcats on top, 36-29, with 4:55 to play in the fourth quarter.
Neither Mo nor Drake and the Lion offense were ready for the season to end quite yet, though.
The junior quarterback put the offense on his back — even picking up 12 yards on a fourth-and-2 situation — to tie the game at 36-all with 1:05 left in regulation.
And here’s one thing we aren’t going to do — second guess the decision to kick the extra point instead of go for two. Coaching in hindsight is easy. It’s even easier in hindsight from a couch or plastic seatback-chair.
Sam Harrell has enough skins on the wall to send PETA into a conniption. But I digress.
The 36-36 score held as the game headed toward overtime. Mo, however, would soon leave the side of the Lions.
For those unsure of the overtime rules in high school, they closely resemble those of the NCAA. Each team takes possession during each overtime “quarter” and begins first-and-10 at the opponent’s 25-yard line. There is no game clock but the play clock still runs per usual and each team has one timeout per overtime frame.
Aledo took the opening possession of the first-and-only overtime period and needed a 5-yard McClellan run on fourth-and-2 to keep its drive alive. Following a false start, Bishop rolled to his right before reversing field for a 17-yard touchdown run. Little split the uprights to put the Bearcats up, 43-36.
Ennis needed a touchdown to keep its season alive.
Drake provided a first down via a 10-yard run on the Lions’ first snap. He was then stopped for a 2-yard gain and threw two incompletions to put the Lions in a fourth-and-8 situation.
Drake’s pass was maybe a half-step late to his slanting receiver and, subsequently, knocked away by an Aledo defender.
The top-ranked Bearcats had — for a third time — narrowly defeated an Ellis County team. This time with a 43-36 victory to advance to the 5A Division II state semifinals.
Aledo previously defeated Midlothian 34-28 in overtime on Oct. 4 and then bested No. 7 Red Oak in the 5A Division II Region II semifinals 34-14 this past week.
Drake finished the game with four total passing touchdowns and 282 yards on 17-of-28 passing. He also added a team-best 13 carries for 65 yards.
Aledo outgained Ennis 585 total yards to 358 and 35 first downs to 16. The Bearcats rushed for 349 yards behind the pair of 100-plus-yard performances by McClellan and Bishop.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith