FLASH STAFF REPORT
WICHITA FALLS (November 25, 2017) – There were highlights galore and points in droves, but in the end there was one constant in favor of Stephenville Friday night, the primary reason they Yellow Jackets advanced past Pampa to meet Argyle – senior quarterback Easton Jones.
The third-year starter was 21-24 passing for 273 yards and four touchdowns. He hit six different receivers with at least two passes. He ran when he needed to, scoring a fifth touchdown that way as Stephenville raced out to a 44-point lead and won 64-34 over Pampa in a Region I-4A Division I area playoff at Wichita Falls ISD Memorial Stadium Friday.
Jones, through two playoff contests, is 32-38 passing for 328 yards and 7 TDs without a single interception. That’s a completion percentage of 84.2 percent and a NCAA-standard QB Rating of 284.2.
Having persevered two seasons of losing records – the first at Stephenville since the 1980s – and stem cell therapy to repair a torn ligament in his throwing elbow, Jones took full advantage when his opportunity on the big stage came Friday. His 45-yard TD pass to Gage Graham had the Jackets quickly soaring and scoring, as did a pair of Blu Caylor “Hammer Time” touchdown runs.
But the biggest play of the night belonged to the Stephenville defense, which going back to defeating Abilene Wylie in the 3-4A Division I district championship is a holding penalty on a Graham interception return away from having defensive touchdowns in three straight games and four of five. Cole Pettit did the honors last week, and this time it was junior linebacker Zane Walker returning one 68 yards to the house, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Stephenville scored the first 14 points and the game was barely 3-1/2 minutes old, but just as quickly, Pampa marched down the field and scored, and just as the Harvesters gifted Stephenville an early turnover, the Yellow Jackets were also in a giving mood early on. Pampa was happy to welcome in the holiday season by accepting the gift – a lost fumble right outside the red zone on the Stephenville end – and moments later, the sweet 16 4A Division I sides were even at 14-14.
But Jones gave the right arm a rest and instead gave Stephenville the lead with his legs, scrambling to make it 21-14 before Pampa drove right back to Yellow Jacket territory only to have Walker take it all the way the other way.
And then it really snowballed on the Harvesters, as they fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, recovered inside the 10 by Pettit, the seventh takeaway of his senior season.
Jones found senior receiver Blake Aragon to make it 42-14, and Pampa’s attempt to answer was picked off by Gage Graham.
Krece Nowak joined the scoring party by cashing in that takeaway for a 49-14 lead at intermission.
The outcome determined, the third quarter provided entertainment before Pampa made the fourth quarter painful to watch.
The third began with a Harvester field goal. Then Stephenville made it 55-17 with a second Nowak TD, only for Pampa to block the point after and take it the other way for two.
Cole Stanley was bored waiting for his opportunity to be the next Yellow Jacket quarterback so he checked in and caught a five-yard TD – his first as a receiver – from the current QB for a 63-19 advantage.
Pampa then scored the final 15 points of the third and also the game by recovering an onside kick in between.
As Stephenville fans were discussing where the highly-anticipated showdown between the Jackets and No. 3 Argyle would be next week – it’s at Mansfield ISD Stadium with opening kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. if you haven’t heard already – it’s team was trying to show mercy on the court.
But Pampa used all its timeouts and stayed in hits hurry-up offense, though Stephenville, even while cycling backups on and off the field, surrendered nothing further and the final stanza was scoreless after 97 total points in the opening three.
Stephenville head coach Greg Winder improved to 15-15 overall, another sign the Yellow Jackets have put 3-8 and 4-7 marks of the past two seasons behind them.
That’s good, because there is no time for looking back with Argyle ahead in the Region I-4A Division I semifinals, the deepest the Jackets have been since Joe Gillespie, Jarrett Stidham and Kaegun Williams were all here in 2014 to leaed Stephenville on to the quarterfinals. That was also the last time a Stephenville team won a district title, and the last group of Jackets to record 10 wins.
Until this season, as Winder’s third team tries to return to the quarterfinals, where the Jackets were five times in six years from 2008-14, and where Pettit said they belong when he called he playoffs this team’s statement tour.
So far it’s been as successful as its preceding “revenge tour,” that ended with them capturing the district title.
A big statement next week – against an opponent many believe should be ranked No. 1 in the conference – would have the Yellow Jackets on the precipice of a much bigger championship.