By BRAD KEITH
The Flash Today
FORT WORTH (December 8, 2017) – Last year Stephenville won four games.
Now they’re in the final four.
And headed back at AT&T Stadium for the first time since winning their fifth state championship in 2012.
Stephenville may not have slammed the brakes on Daimarqua Foster, but the Yellow Jackets did limit the Wichita Falls Hirschi running back to 100 yards less than his season average in a 31-21 Region I-4A Division I championship and state quarterfinal at Chisholm Trail’s Ranger Stadium Friday.
Next up is Kennedale at 5 p.m. on Friday, December 15, at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, a week before one of them returns there to compete for a state championship. The other semifinal is between Carthage and Waco La Vega, who have combined to win three of the past four 4A Division I titles.
Krece Nowak combined for more total yards than Foster, his equal on the ground and superior in the passing game. Nowak used a 47-yard reception on a wheel route to set up his own 7-yard run, capping a drive where he touched the ball on all five plays and moved it all 70 yards for a 17-0 Stephenville lead before the first quarter was in the books.
“We’ve been able to get out in front of teams and it’s been huge for us,” said Stephenville head coach Greg Winder, whose team has not trailed since opening minutes of a bi-district contest it won easily over Sanger. “It just changes the makeup of the whole game when you’re playing from in front.”
But Hirschi was playing in its first state quarterfinal since being eliminated by Stephenville at Texas Stadium in 1998, and after two decades trying to get back, the Huskies refused to go away easily.
Foster got the Huskies on the board with a 13-yard run, one of the two times all night he carried the ball farther than his average of 12.7 yards. Hirschi then pulled within four with its biggest play of the night, only to see it answered by Nowak and Stephenville.
Martez V’rana went over the top to Javen Banks for a 52-yard Husky touchdown before Nowak answered fire with fire. Just as Banks made his big catch along the Stephenville sideline, Nowak took a pitch wide to the left and turned up along the Hirshci sideline, giving the Huskies a good view as he raced away for a 24-13 lead.
“It’s all the offensive line just giving me big holes and giving Easton time to throw the ball, those guys do it all,” said Nowak, crediting Jason Poston, Scott Gill, Lane York, Tyvon Anderson-Robison and Devon Roeming. “At the end of last year I don’t think I could have seen us being in the semifinals at (AT&T Stadium). This is a great feeling.”
The Huskies finally got as close 24-21 midway through the third on the biggest play all night by Foster. It was fourth and two and he came out of wildcat and rushed virtually untouched 33 yards to the house before another wildcat-style play out of the swinging gate ended with Isaiah White taking the snap and plowing over the goal line on a quarterback power to add the two-point conversion.
Stephenville answered with authority and with Winder’s best play call of the night.
Facing third and goal, Stephenville got into the ‘hammer time’ heavy formation, but instead of sticking the ball in the gut of Blu Caylor and allowing him to pound away with it, Jones executed a nifty play-action pass that caught the Huskies in a backside blitz. Jones bootlegged right off the play fake, saw three Husky defenders closing fast, but also two Jacket receivers alone in that side of the end zone. The third-year starting quarterback did not have his best stuff Friday, but he didn’t need it to connect with Kade Averhoff on a soft lob for a three-yard TD late in the third quarter.
No one thought so at the time, but those points and the ensuing fourth PAT by Chase Carrillo ended the scoring.
Foster opened the fourth quarter by converting fourth and two with a nine-yard run out of the wildcat set to the Stephenville 16. Hirschi didn’t gain another yard the next three snaps, though, and a 33-yard field goal attempt fell several yards short because of a low snap that almost prevented the kick from ever getting away.
Stephenville kept the ball four minutes then punted. Hirshci lost 20 on a bad snap, five on a sack by Caylor and Silverio Vasquez and two more on a delay of game penalty from its four. The Huskies punted on fourth and 37 from their own two and Stephenville gained two first downs and ran out the clock.
“I’m just so proud of these guys, the way they have handled themselves, enjoying each of these but then coming right back ready to work for the next one,” said Winder. “We’ve got one more gold ball to go chase next week before we’re playing for a state championship. That’s kind of hard to believe.”
Especially after just four wins last year. Naysayers may have written off the Yellow Jackets, thinking a 7-15 combined record in 2015 and 2016 mean the end of a dynasty.
But Stephenville is back.
The Yellow Jackets are on to the semifinals for the eighth time after improving to 8-8 in all time in state quarterfinals. It was their seventh quarterfinal in 10 years and they are in the semifinals for the third time in six seasons.
Special teams were key again and not just because Hirschi missed a field goal in each half. Stephenville began the scoring with a 30-yard field goal by Carrillo and made it 10-0 when Hirschi muffed a punt that bounded into the end zone and was covered up by Gage Graham. The Huskies also muffed a pooch kick by Carrillo on second half kickoff following the Jackets’ final touchdown. Cole Stanley covered that one up for the Jackets.
That was one of five Hirschi turnovers on the night while Stephenville had four. The teams combined for eight turnovers before halftime. Nowak and Jones each lost fumbles on the initial two Stephenville drives and Jones was picked off twice, though one was on a long third-down pass and was as good as a punt and the other floated out of his hand as he was drilled trying to throw the ball 40 yards to the end zone at the end of the half. Ezekial Holmes dove for the interception but he was down when he caught it and time had expired.
Stephenville improved to 5-3 all-time against Hirschi. The Yellow Jackets will be seeing Kennedale for the first time since routing them with eight touchdown passes by Tyler Jones in the area round of the 2012 playoffs.
Photos below by RUSSELL HUFFMAN/TheFlashToday