By Travis M. Smith | Ellis County Sports Sports
MIDLOTHIAN — Two things were certain ahead of Friday’s crucial district tilt between Red Oak and Midlothian on the gridiron.
Each of 2,000-plus in attendance was prepared for quite a bit of offense, especially on the ground. The second? Whichever team found itself on the wrong end of the scoreboard would need a miracle and then some to qualify for the 5A postseason.
Behind 447 yards of total offense and three costly takeaways, the Hawks took firm control of the fourth seed in District 4-5A Division I with a 46-35 victory at Midlothian ISD Multipurpose Stadium. The game has been unofficially dubbed “The Battle of Ovilla Road.”
“We were the more physical team tonight, and that’s what coach kept saying we needed to be all week,” senior outside linebacker Cameron Green said. “We did that and pulled out the win.”
Red Oak head football coach Michael Quintero echoed his linebacker’s assessment, noting that the Hawks proved to be “fighters” in the second half.
“We have continued talking to the kids about finishing football games; it almost cost us this game and cost us the game last week. We have to play four quarters and stay focused.”
Red Oak, who missed two weeks of the season due to a now-resolved COVID issue, improved to 3-2 on the season and 3-1 in district play. Midlothian, meanwhile, now sits in a three-way tie for fifth place in 4-5A (1-3) and 3-3 overall.
Mansfield Summit, Colleyville Heritage and Burleson Centennial all remain undefeated in district play. That’ll soon change, obviously. Summit has played just two district games thus far due to positive COVID tests, having last taken the field Nov. 5 against Richland.
FRIDAY BY THE NUMBERS
The biggest stat to come out of Friday’s “Battle of Ovilla Road” was the three Midlothian turnovers — two lost fumbles and an interception.
Both fumbles came in the first half, which the Hawks led 27-21 as the teams headed to the locker room. The Nicholas De Los Santos interception, unfortunately, came with 51 seconds to play in the fourth quarter and the Panthers trailing, 46-35.
That score held through the final buzzer.
Despite running seven fewer plays (58-65), the Red Oak offense outgained Midlothian 447 total yards to 397.
Running back Zach Sanders led the way for the Hawks with an impressive 207 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries. He averaged a jaw-dropping 8.9 yards per carry, while the Hawks as a team picked up 265 yards on 35 attempts (265 yards).
Quintero was quick to shower praise on right tackle Charles Walker (No. 72) for leading the offensive line and running game to so much success.
“He was a road grader tonight and I’m proud of that young man,” said Quintero of the 6-foot-2, 275-pound Arkansas Tech commit. “He has made a decision this year to be as physical as he’s ever been and he has done everything that we have asked of him and done it with a great attitude.”
Senior quarterback Josh Ervin completed 17-of-his-21 passes for 178 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Raymond Gay Jr. (7-74) and La’Kelsey Johnson (4-39). Triston Edwards (3-26), Kentrell Anderson (2-22) and Jacob Russell (1-4) also pulled in Ervin passes.
Midlothian was led by its ground game, which featured four rushers with double-digit carries.
De’ago Benson led the pack with 11 rushes for 109 yards, while Ethan Hill scored twice on his 12 carries for 66 yards. Laine Martin added 11 totes for 57 yards and De Los Santos (11-43) added a rushing touchdown to his ledger.
De Los Santos also completed 5-of-his-10 passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns — one do-it-all-athlete Riley Angel (4-68) and the second to Carsen Bates.
Quintero pointed to the defensive front seven and better responsibility on the triple-option in the second half as being a key to the victory for Red Oak.
“They did a really good job of handling what was given to them,” the coach said. “They knew it was going to be physical all night.”
[…] You don’t see it every day and you can’t really replicate it in practice,” he added. “You really only get to see it in the game. The kids did a great job in the second half to adjust to the speed and react to what they were seeing.
“I thought we were a little sluggish in the first half and they got us a few times. But we settled down and just started seeing things better.”
Red Oak did ultimately overcome nine penalties for 75 yards. Midlothian was flagged just three times for 25 yards.
“We have to get rid of the penalties,” said Quintero of the Hawks’ penalty yardage. “We are killing drives and we are bailing teams out on three-and-outs. We just aren’t playing as disciplined as we need to be. We have to get it cleaned up.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
Red Oak took its first lead, 20-14, when Ervin faked an inside zone and found Jacob Russell wide open in the left corner of the end zone. The extra-point attempt was true and came with 3:12 to play in the first half.
The Panthers responded — quickly — when De Los Santos found Riley Angel on a corner route for a 24-yard touchdown pass just as the receiver snuck inside the front right pylon. Nicolas Arenare’s point-after kick split the upright and put Midlothian back on top, 21-20, with 1:37 showing on the second-quarter clock.
A personal foul on the Panthers following a 17-yard Ervin quickly completion moved the Hawks across midfield. Two more completions later and Ervin found La’Kelsey Johnson for an 18-yard touchdown to put Red Oak back on top, 27-21.
Ervin and the Red Oak offense used just 57 seconds of game time to travel 77 yards in five plays.
The score held and allowed those in attendance to take a breath after the game turned into an old-fashioned shootout.
Ervin completed 12-of-his-15 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. The quarterback also added two carries for 20 yards, though the Hawk backfield was led by Sanders’ 12 carries for 66 yards and a score. Iverson Young added five totes for 50 yards.
Gay pulled in five first-half catches for 60 yards and a touchdown, while Johnson had three grabs for 34 yards.
The Panthers were led by De’ago Benson’s eight carries for 1076 yards (13.4 YPC) and Ethan Hill’s eight rushes for 42 yards and a touchdown.
De Los Santos and David Smith combined to complete 2-of-their-3 passes for 40 yards and an Angel touchdown.
Red Oak picked up 14 first downs to Midlothian’s nine. The Hawks were flagged three more times for five more yards (5-25 to 2-20), while the Panthers committed the only first-half turnover.
The first-half scoring pace continued into the early minutes of the third quarter.
Red Oak opened the half with a four-play drive that Sanders capped with a 33-yard touchdown run. The score put the Hawks on top by two touchdowns, 34-21.
Each team added a touchdown in the third quarter to send the game into the final frame with the Hawks leading, 40-28.
Midlothian, however, refused to go away quietly.
On the Panthers’ first possession of the fourth quarter, De Los Santos took the drive’s eighth snap and rushed across midfield with just over seven minutes to play in the ballgame. One play later, he pitched to Carsen Bates on a speed option to move the offense inside the Hawks’ 25-yard line.
Following a timeout with the Panthers facing fourth-and-5, De Los Santos found Angel in the middle of the field for a 19-yard gain to the Red Oak 1-yard line. Hill ultimately capped the 18-play, 79-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
The scoring drive pulled the Panthers within a single score, 40-35, with 5:06 to play in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, Ervin and the Hawk offense had zero desire to keep the game close.
Sanders rushed for 39 and 23 yards to move Red Oak inside the Panthers’ 2-yard line. The running back scored two plays later for a 2-yard touchdown run to put Red Oak up two scores, 46-35, with 2:27 to play in the game.
De Los Santos was ultimately intercepted by Jackson Bailey on the ensuing drive with 51 seconds to play and after moving the offense inside the Red Oak 30-yard line. The turnover allowed Red Oak to run out the clock and secure the 46-35 win.
Red Oak will host (3-2, 2-0) Mansfield Summit on Friday at Billy Goodloe Stadium, while Midlothian faces (2-4, 1-3) Mansfield Legacy on the road.
Both games are slated for 7 p.m. kickoffs.
All photos by Fred Phipps/Ellis County Sports Sports
Fred Phipps/Ellis County Sports Sports contributed to this report.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith