By Travis M. Smith | Ellis County Sports Sports
WAXAHACHIE — There are a multitude of ways to describe Friday’s District 11-6A matchup between Mansfield Lake Ridge and Waxahachie on the gridiron.
Despite the two teams combining for 24 penalties and nine turnovers, the only stat that truly mattered was the final score — and that went the way of the Indians.
Waxahachie defeated visiting Lake Ridge, 30-21, on its annual Pink Out at Stuart B. Lumpkins Stadium.
The victory improved the Indians to 2-0 in 11-6A, inching them ever closer to a second consecutive playoff berth as they head into a much-needed bye week.
Waxahachie has now defeated Lake Ridge in back-to-back seasons (31-21 in 2020) for the first time since the two first met in 2012. The Eagles lead the all-time series 7-3.
As for Friday, six of those turnovers and 14 penalties (113 yards) went against the Indians.
Waxahachie ultimately managed to outgain Lake Ridge 274 total yards to 217, with 205 coming on the ground for the Indians.
Junior running back Iverson Young led the Waxahachie rushing attack with 23 carries for 164 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Young is nearing 600 yards rushing on the season, averaging 118.4 yards per game for (4-1, 2-0) Waxahachie.
Jayden Becks added 13 carries for 65 yards and a touchdown for the Tribe.
Junior quarterback Roderick Hartsfield Jr. struggled on the evening. He was often forced to throw off his back foot and in the face of a multi-defender blitz.
Hartsfield finished the game 4-of-12 for 69 yards and one touchdown. He also threw four interceptions, though one came at the end of the first half in a sort of Hail Mary fashion.
Lake Ridge was led by surprising freshman quarterback Kennen Miller. The word “surprising” is needed, seeing as how he began the season fourth on the Eagles’ depth chart.
In fact, Miller was third on the depth chart as the game kicked off Friday. A handful of plays after the first snap, Wesley Smith and Torin Sheehy were bound to the sideline for undisclosed injuries and Miller came on in relief.
He finished the game 7-of-23 passing for 34 yards and one touchdown to one interception. But it was on the ground where Miller found success, rushing 16 times for 124 yards and a touchdown.
HANKIES AND HEADACHES
The game had turned just seven minutes old by the time Waxahachie committed its third turnover. It would, unfortunately, become a trend on an otherwise celebratory evening for the Tribe.
The Indians faced third-and-goal at the Eagles 13-yard line when Iverson fumbled the football on a counter between the tackles.
A Becks fumble and the first of four Hartsfield interceptions marked an end to the first two Indian drives of the eventual two-score win.
The latter led to the first touchdown of the game — a 13-yard Marcus Hayes touchdown run for a 7-0 Lake Ridge lead with 7:16 to play in the first quarter.
Iverson responded on the ensuing Waxahachie snap with a 61-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-all.
After each team fumbled on its third possession, Lake Ridge took over at its 14-yard line with 4:41 to play in the first quarter of the tied game.
The Indian defense again held tough, forcing a second Lake Ridge punt and putting the Waxahachie offense back in business in Eagle territory (34-yard line).
Hartsfield connected with Keith Abney II on a go-route up the Waxahachie sideline for a 32-yard completion. Jayden Becks bulldozed his way into the end zone from 2 yards out on the ensuing snap.
Jesse Garfias’ extra-point was true, giving the Indians a 14-7 lead with 3:24 to play in the first quarter.
On the ensuing Lake Ride possession, a questionable 15-yard personal foul gave the Eagles new life on second-and-11. They capitalized one snap later when Miller broke into the Waxahachie secondary for a 71-yard touchdown. His score came with 2:50 to play in the first quarter, which — at that point in the game — felt like it might never end.
The first quarter took 49 real minutes. It was long, no doubt.
The opening frame eventually and unceremoniously came to a close shortly after Garfias lined up to attempt a 41-yard field goal with 33 ticks remaining. His attempt clanked off of the crossbar to keep the game tied at 14-all. The miss should be largely attributed to the hold.
The two teams combined for 237 yards and four turnovers over the opening 12 minutes (of game time, not clock time).
The second quarter began with yet another Waxahachie turnover — this one being the second Hartsfield interception. The junior quarterback tried to fit the ball between Lake Ridge safety Major Spencer and tight corner coverage down the sideline. Spencer ultimately came down with the football at the Eagles’ 10-yard line.
This time, however, the turnover would benefit the Indians.
The Lake Ridge offense struggled — again — to move the football against the stout Tribe front seven and lined up to put from its own end zone. The ensuing snap sailed over the Eagle punter’s head and through the end zone for a safety and 16-14 Indian lead.
A little over seven minutes of game time later, Hartsfield redeemed himself for his second interception.
The Waxahachie signal-caller dropped back in the gun and fired a strike between the same safety and cornerback for a 36-yard touchdown to tight end Joseph Lankford. The ensuing extra-point try to put the Indians on top by two scores, 23-14, with 12.3 to play in the first half.
Lake Ridge then fumbled the kickoff at the Eagles 34-yard line and Waxahachie recovered.
So, with six seconds to play in the first half, Hartsfield heaved a pass downfield and into the hands of a Lake Ridge defensive back as he crossed the goal line. The interception was the fifth turnover for the Tribe in the first half.
FEWER HEADACHES, MORE HANKIES
The second half began the same way it ended for the Indians — with an interception on a deep passing attempt.
Lake Ridge followed the turnover by methodically marching deep into Waxahachie territory, thanks partly to an atrocious pass interference penalty against the Indians on fourth-and-4 near midfield.
The Eagles went on to attempt and make a 24-yard field goal — only to have a 5-yard illegal substitution penalty give Lake Ridge a new set of downs.
Two plays later, Miller connected with Carson Nguyen for an 11-yard touchdown. The touchdown was the first for both Lake Ridge skill players on the season.
The Eagle score and successful extra-point kick cut the Waxahachie lead to 23-21 with 6:02 to play in the third quarter.
Waxahachie went three-and-out on its next offensive drive but then received quite the treat a few plays later.
After the Indian defense forced the Eagles into a fourth-and-long situation near midfield, the Lake Ridge punter caught a short-hopped snap — on a knee. The mental miscue marked the ball down where it was “recovered” at the Eagles’ 36-yard line.
Waxahachie scored five plays later when Young scampered in from 17 yards out. The running back’s second touchdown came with 11:04 to play in the fourth quarter and put the Indians on top, 30-21.
After back-to-back kickoffs out of bounds, five offensive penalties thwarted the Eagles’ ensuing drive. The constant flow of yellow hankies led to the Indians starting their second drive of the fourth quarter from their own 38-yard line.
There were a total of 12 penalties assessed over the final quarter and a half, ranging from illegal man downfield (5) to pass interference (2).
The game was finally put out of its misery (kidding, kind of) when junior safety John Nelms Jr. picked off an under-thrown post route to seal the Waxahachie win with just over four minutes to play in the ball game.
The Indians will now take their 4-1 start to the season and, more importantly, first-ever 2-0 record in 6A district play into a bye week. There are plenty of points of emphasis for first-year head coach Shane Tolleson to turn his team’s attention to during the “off” week, too.
The Tribe will need to clean up penalties and turnovers, especially on the offensive side in order to stay ahead of the chains. Of course, they’ll also work to iron out the passing game while also reinforcing the basics that have made the defense so special.
Waxahachie has outscored its opposition 117-89 on the season, for a 23.4 to 17.8 points per game average.
And, once they’ve done all of that and let some injuries heal, the Indians will be “rewarded” with a pair of road games against (3-2, 2-0) Cedar Hill and (4-1, 2-0) Duncanville on Friday, Oct. 8 and 15, respectively.
Waxahachie then returns home to face (3-2, 1-1) Mansfield on Friday, Oct. 22 for homecoming. That game will very likely decide a District 11-6A playoff spot.
The kickoff for all three games is slated for 7:30 p.m.
All photos by Kirk Holt/Ellis County Sports Sports
****Photo gallery to come****
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith