By Travis M. Smith | Ellis County Sports Sports
Cullen Stone proved to be the hero Midlothian Heritage needed Friday night on the gridiron against Decatur. Oh, and there was also a goal-line stand as the clock expired to boot.
The senior running back carried the football 18 times for a game-high 164 yards during the 28-25 road victory. His final four rushing attempts proved to be the difference in the game’s final two minutes.
No. 9 Midlothian Heritage (3-0) opened the game with a pair of first-quarter touchdowns — on rushes of 1- and 4-yards by LaTray Miller and quarterback Daelin Rader, respectively.
Miller ultimately rushed 12 times for 62 yards on the evening, while Rader ended his night 13-of-25 through the air for 178 yards. He added eight carries for 29 yards on the ground.
The Jaguars ultimately extended their lead to 21-0 when Antonio Pride Jr. picked off an Eagle pass and returned it 28 yards to the house. The score came with 11:30 to play in the first half. It was quickly followed by Decatur’s Preston Escobar completing a 40-yard pass David Juarez on the ensuing Eagle drive.
The 21-7 Heritage lead held as the teams headed into the halftime locker room and through much of the third quarter.
Decatur quarterback Landon Howell (14-34, 241yds, 3TDs, INT) eventually completed touchdown passes to Karter Houchin (4 yards) and Preston Escobar (17 yards) with under six minutes to play.
The pair of scores pulled the Eagles within a single score, 21-19, with 50 seconds to play in the third quarter.
That score held as Heritage moved inside the Eagles’ 10-yard line with the clock running toward 8 minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
Two snaps and one Decatur house blitz resulting in Rader being sack later, and the Jaguars faced a third-and-goal from the Eagles’ 16-yard line. Decatur brought pressure again on the ensuing snap and forced the Jaguars to attempt a 42-yard field goal.
The kick missed and set the Decatur offense up at its own 25-yard line. The Eagles promptly used three plays and one Heritage personal foul to move across midfield.
Howell then completed a 7-yard pass to David Juarez (7-120) while Jackson Carroll (8-39) bruised his way for four yards to put the Eagles in field goal range. The no-huddle pace ultimately led to a Decatur timeout with 6:08 to play in the fourth quarter and the Eagles at the Jaguars’ 32-yard line.
Six plays later, the Decatur offense then faced a decision to attempt a field goal or try to convert a fourth-and-6. Head coach Mike Fuller elected to keep the offense on the field — and it paid off.
Howell evaded two would-be tacklers in the backfield and found Preston Escobar in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown. Heritage blocked the point-after attempt, leaving the Jaguars trailing for the first time in the game, 25-21, with 3:34 to play.
The ensuing Jaguar drive began with promise, highlighted by a 21-yard Cullen Stone run to the Decatur 41-yard line.
Unfortunately, disaster struck on the next snap when Rader fumbled the football after a 5-yard gain. The turnover came with three minutes and change to play.
But the Heritage defense stepped up and quickly forced a Decatur punt. The three-and-out resulted in the Jaguars starting their final drive 81 yards from paydirt with 2:18 to play and two timeouts to burn.
Rader quickly completed a short pass to Wiginton and Stone rushed for 11 yards to move the Jaguars to their 49-yard line with 1:43 remaining.
Two snaps later, Stone broke free for a 33-yard scamper to the Eagles’ 5-yard line. He then carried in the eventual game-winning touchdown on the ensuing snap to put the Jaguars on top, 28-25, with 55 seconds showing on the fourth-quarter clock.
There was very little time to celebrate — at least not yet — for the Jaguars.
Howell and the Eagle offense used pass completions of 18, 37 and 17 yards to march inside the Jaguars’ 5-yard line with 7 seconds to play. A 2-yard run by Landry Phipps then moved the football to the 1-yard line.
Following a Decatur timeout, Howell tossed an incomplete pass that took 3 seconds off the clock and put coach Fuller in quite the quandary.
Once again, he chose to forego the field goal, and again it paid off — this time for the Jaguars.
Phipps was stuffed between the Eagle guards and the Heritage defense celebrated in rare walk-off fashion on the gridiron with a 28-25 victory.
Friday’s win improved the Jaguars to 3-1 all-time against Decatur, dating back to 2017.
Midlothian Heritage will return home next week to host (2-1) Paris at MISD Multipurpose Stadium. The Wildcats will enter fresh off of a 35-7 loss against Pleasant Grove.
Kick-off is slated for 7:30 p.m.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith