By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVLLE (November 10, 2017) — Senior cornerback Cole Pettit says the his classmates on the Stephenville football team were calling it their revenge tour.
Friday night, they checked a big one off their list of those they were after for vengeance, beating Abilene Wylie 33-20 at Memorial Stadium.
More than that, they ended the tour right where they set out to be – alone at the top of 3-4A Division I as district champions for the first time since 2014 with the top seed entering the UIL playoffs.
How fitting an end to the regular season for it to have come down to the Yellow Jackets and the reigning district champion Bulldogs, a 4A Division I state finalist last season.
It’s the first district championship won by head coach Greg Winder and the first won by any current Yellow Jacket football player,
“We called it our revenge tour, because we lost so much the last two years and it was time to get back at those teams and remind everyone what Stephenville football is all about,” said Pettit, who began the year saying he felt his class was like a black eye on the face of the program after going 7-15 the past two seasons.
That’s a humble confession for a proud 17 year old. But it’s something he knew they had to come together and face head on as a team.
By the end of the game Friday, everything had come full circle, Wylie walking off frustrated in defeat as Stephenville players chest-bumped, danced, held up a sign and moments later roared as the trophy was brought out and raised, kissed, hugged and eventually passed around for photos.
Full circle back to the way things were, with Stephenville as district champions.
“It feels so great now to know that people will look back and see the next gold ball in the case and the return of the legacy of Stephenville football and remember us for that,” said Pettit. “We won’t go down as the class that couldnt’ win anything.”
So if this was the revenge tour and order has been restored, what are the playoffs?
“The playoffs? That’s the time for Stephenville football to prove it’s really back,” said Pettit.” Everyone around here and in our district has seen it, and now we want to go on a run and remind everyone else, everyone outside our district, that Stephenville is still one of the best programs in the state.”
That journey begins with Sanger, the fourth-place team from District 4, in a Region I-4A bi-district playoff in Saginaw. Opening kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. next Friday.
Wylie was relegated to the second seed from 3-4A Division I and has a bi-district battle with Decatur on Thursday in Graham.
Easton Jones was 15-23 passing, throwing three touchdowns to Blake Aragon, only the senior didn’t hold on to one of them. Instead, the ball slipped through his hand, and deflected off his shoe into the hands of Gage Graham, who raced the final few yards to the end zone untouched for 39-yard TD and 27-14 lead early in the fourth.
That proved to be a key tipping point in the game as Wylie had just missed two attempts at a field goal that would have pulled the Bulldogs within four with still 10 minutes and change on the clock at crowded and loud Memorial Stadium, it’s home side packed and the visitors crammed into two sets of temporary bleachers with their band and drill team in a third set due to construction already beginning to revamp the decades old facility.
Caysen Grant missed the first kick from 37 yards, but it was blown dead any way because of a Wylie penalty. Legendary head coach Hugh Sandifer elected to have Grant try again instead of attempting to convert on fourth-down and eight, and this time he missed well short of the cross bar, allowing Stephenville to go to work putting the game away.
The Jacket defense stepped up again with a four-down stop following the wild TD by Graham, and this time Aragon caught the ball to himself. The reigning 4A high jump champion went upstairs, and that’s where Jones most likes to find him. The seventh TD grab of the season by the Texas State pledge opened up a 33-14 advantage with only 5:14 left.
Grant gave Wylie a glimmer of hope by returning the ensuing kickoff 75 yards to make it a 13-point margin with five minutes left, but Jones, also a weapon as a punter for Stephenville, quick-kicked one out of bounds at the Wylie six, and the defense earned another four down stop after one Bulldog fist down.
Krece Nowak moved the sticks one last time for Stephenville, following the dominant offensive line that led him to close to 1,200 rushing yards in basically eight games.
Then Winder and Jones got to call the best play in football. Jones took a knee and it all ended the best way a regular season can – with a district championship.
If anyone deserved to have an obscure shoe-assist for an easy touchdown to help ice a significant win it was Graham, especially after working so hard for an earlier score that was called back for holding. He had intercepted a pass when Wylie went for it on fourth down in Stephenville territory, and raced away from everyone for what would have been a 60-yard return for a 14-0 lead.
Instead, Stephenville drove 68 yards for its second TD from “Hammer-back” Blu Caylor. A linebacker by trade, Caylor opened the scoring with a one-yard plunge, completing a 7-play, 33-yard drive with his team in position to lead from wire-to-wire.
The Jackets set the tone with, what else, their vastly improved defense. Wylie was forced to punt fro, its own end zone after getting the ball to begin the game, and the short kick put Stephenville in position for the early lead.
Wylie cut it to 14-7 before the first TD from Jones to Aragon restored the two-touchdown advantage 25 seconds before halftime
Grant, it seemed, had to do it all for Wylie and indeed he tried. None of the Wylie backs including him could get anything going on the ground against the dominating front seven of Stephenville, but Grant did pull Wylie within 21-14 when he took a throwback screen and juked one defender before crossing the goal line with another on his back.
But it was one of just two touchdowns allowed by the Stephenville defense, which this season has surrendered three TDs fewer per game than in 2016, a season full of losses that were nothing more than fading memories Friday, when the Jackets celebrated their biggest win in at least three years. It’s the biggest as head coach for Winder, and the biggest in the careers of every current player on the team.
Jones says it all came down to confidence.
“We didn’t have any confidence when we played them the last two years, but this time we were confident and we knew we could beat them,” said the third-year starting quarterback. “And we now if you can beat Abilene Wylie the way we just did that we can play with anyone, so we’ll be confident in the playoffs.”