By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
Gatorade poured over the head coach Todd Alexander as the game clock struck zeros Friday night. And as the orange cooler then bounced on the turf at Vernon Newsom Stadium in Mansfield, the Waxahachie Indians celebrated their first-ever 6A football playoff berth.
Waxahachie defeated host Mansfield, 21-7, behind a herculean defensive effort and over 240 rushing yards by quarterback BJ Hawkins (23-170) and running back Shawn Cherry (19-73). It was, however, cornerback Preston Hodge and linebacker Jh’Marcus Head who ultimately sealed the victory in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.
The “District of Doom” win locked the Indians into the fourth seed out of District 11-6A — marking the program’s first-ever trip to the 6A football playoffs.
Yes, it’s final and official: The Waxahachie Indians are postseason bound for the first time since 2017.
Third-year head football coach Todd Alexander noted that he and his staff first learned early Saturday morning that Waco High would not be able to play its season in full. They knew then that the midseason, pool-play seeding would take effect.
A District 11-6A Executive Committee meeting was then held Monday morning and Friday’s slate of zone playoff games was agreed to determine the district’s playoff seeding.
The DEC had previously voted and approved that, if any team could not finish the regular season, the midseason zone playoff games would decide the final district standings.
Waco High’s forfeits combined with 11-6A having no open dates resulted in Friday’s tilts between Cedar Hill-Duncanville, Waco Midway-DeSoto and Waxahachie-Mansfield being the ultimate deciders in district standings.
“It kind of sparked our guys’ attention real quick,” said Alexander after returning back to Waxahachie and looking back on his pregame message to the team. “But, other than that, we didn’t hype the game up that much. We challenged them and said, ‘If you are going to be a playoff team, then you have to start acting like a playoff team.’
“We raised the bar with those guys this week on several different areas and they are pretty excited right now. Even tonight before the game started, I knew when I talked to them before the game that they had a goal in mind and that they were going to go get it.”
HOW THE FIRST HALF HAPPENED
The Indians built their ultimately-insurmountable lead with first-half rushing touchdowns by Hawkins and Cherry.
After a scoreless first quarter, Hawkins took the 10th snap of the Waxahachie drive and sprinted around the left end for an easy, untouched 3-yard touchdown with 7:29 to play in the half. The scamper wouldn’t have been possible without the blocking by the wide receivers and offensive line, as there wasn’t a Tiger within five yards of the quarterback when he crossed the goal line.
“He (Hawkins) looks like he has played quarterback his entire life,” said Alexander of the senior who has rushed for over 350 yards in the past two games. “He is one of those guys who doesn’t get razzled and he has earned his teammates’ respect and listen to him. He has taken that role and run with it…literally.”
Hawkins ultimately rushed a game-high 23 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns, while Cherry added 73 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
Passing yards were irrelevant for both teams on Friday, as they combined for just 40 total yards through the air.
One possession later, Hawkins sprinted to his right on a speed option and quickly pitched to Cherry on the drive’s 11th play. The running back then turned upfield for his fifth rushing touchdown of the season to put the Indians on top, 14-0, with six seconds left in the opening half.
Hawkins finished the first half with 13 carries for 93 yards and Cherry added 11 for 56, with each scoring a touchdown.
The Indians picked up 158 total yards of offense and 10 first downs in the first half, with 149 of those yards coming on the ground.
Mansfield, meanwhile, was limited to just 31 total yards of offense on 19 plays and four first downs.
SECOND HALF PARTY
Mansfield made the needed adjustments inside the locker room and promptly put together a six-play, 77-yard scoring drive to open the third quarter.
Young ultimately kept the final snap of the drive and rushed almost untouched through the heart of the Tribe defense for a 38-yard touchdown. The score came with 9:00 to play in the third quarter and cut the Indians’ lead in half, 14-7.
The Indian offense responded with a 17-play, 77-yard drive that Hawkins capped with a 20-yard touchdown run. Clyde Melick’s extra-point kick put the Indians on top, 21-7, with 33 seconds to play in the third quarter.
With Waxahachie maintaining the same lead late in the fourth quarter, Hodge made arguably the night’s biggest defensive play when he picked off a Hunt Young (6-10, 33yds) pass three steps in front of the end zone. His return to near midfield was called back by penalties assessed on the Indians, forcing Hawkins and the Tribe to start the drive from their own 1-yard line.
Mansfield had run 10 plays and moved inside the Indians’ 40-yard line before the interception.
“That was big,” Alexander said. “That was really big and it kind of let you breathe a little bit, even if we had to start at the one (yard line).
“[…] There in the last few minutes, I just knew our defense was going to get a stop and that it’d be over. I am pretty confident in those guys.”
Waxahachie was ultimately flagged for two block-in-the-back penalties and one blindside block on the interception return. The flags did not factor into the outcome near as much as the ensuing rushing attempt by Hawkins. Alexander noted the next two Hawkins carries that moved the Indian offense out of the shadow of its goal line were “huge.”
Hawkins rushed for 7 and 22 yards to advance the Indians offense to its own 38-yard line with just under five minutes to play. The pair of carries kept the Indians up two scores, 21-7, and in firm control.
Melick — who should be a shoo-in for 11-6A first-team placekicker and punter — eventually punted the ball away with 3:12 to play in the fourth quarter and the same two-score lead.
The Indian defense nearly recovered a fumble a few snaps later to seal the game with 1:10 to play, only to have the ball and defender bounce out of bounds.
Linebacker Jh’Marcus Head followed by applying late-game pressure with 41 seconds to play. He then almost recorded a second last-minute sack with 16 seconds on the fourth-quarter clock.
“Jh’Marcus has turned into a dadgum animal,” said Alexander of the linebacker’s play over the past few weeks. “But he’s a disciplined animal. He doesn’t go in there and try and make plays by himself; he does his job. And that is the same for the entire defense.
“Those guys are well-coached by [Matt] Cochran and he doesn’t leave any stone unturned during practice or a week of game planning. They are all unselfish because you might do your job all night and not make a tackle, but you did your job. And that is what matters.”
Waxahachie ultimately outgained Mansfield 250 total yards to 156, with 243 of those yards coming on the ground for the Tribe.
The game was initially delayed 30 minutes due to the officials arriving late. Oddly enough, the zebras were also late to arrive at the Corsicana versus North Forney and Ennis versus Forney games.
Waxahachie and Mansfield then played the first half in a blistering 42 minutes of actual time, as both teams leaned heavily on the ground game.
The full game was played in one hour and 50 minutes.
Despite the Indians’ having already locked into 11-6A’s fourth seed, Waxahachie still has three games on the district schedule.
The Tribe will return to action Friday, Nov. 20, against Waco Midway.
If possible, Waxahachie will face Waco High on Friday, Nov. 27 and Duncanville on Dec. 4.
All three games are slated for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Stuart B. Lumpkins Stadium in Waxahachie.
“It feels weird because we have three games left,” said Alexander when asked what the message would be, having already locked up an 11-6A playoff spot.
“But, it’s like I told them tonight, these last three games mean the world to us,” the third-year head coach continued. “They are huge for us. The kids are extremely excited, to say the least, and they deserve this so much after all of the adversity that they have been through over the past three years.
“[…] We will continue to tell the kids that these three games matter more than anything. We have already begun to hype these three games up because we haven’t even peaked yet. We have to keep playing and keep getting better and these three games will help us continue to get better going into the playoffs.”
All photos by Kirk Holt/KBEC Sports
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith