By BRAD KEITH
COLLEGE STATION (June 30, 2017) — The two-day Division II Texas 7-on-7 Championships were a sort of microcosm of a football season for the Stephenville Yellow Jackets.
You know, minus the large crowds, cheerleaders, drill teams, playoff implications, all that fun stuff that doesn’t go on at Veterans Park & Athletic Complex, where its largely the teams, coaches, families and an occasional girl friend or two looking on.
Oh, and the run game is missing, and, of course, blocking and tackling, the most immediately recognizable reasons it isn’t ‘real’ football.
But it was as close to an imitation of the season ahead as one can hope to see in the world of touch football, and for teams dealing with some off-season issues, it’s much more valuable than “just touch football.”
There were eight games, while the UIL regular season will be 10 games long.
Yes, eight in two days because Stephenville, under the direction of 7-on-7 volunteer coach Dr. Clark Giddings, survived in an elimination bracket longer than ever before in a 7-on-7 state tourney. They reached the semifinals in the fist state tournament in 1998, but it was just a 32-team single-division, single-bracket and single-elimination event. They reached the consolation semifinals before losing 42-28 to Boerne in 2014.
(The Flash Today has decided to take a fun look into as much of Stephenville’s 7-on-7 state tournament history as possible using archives, and will publish the report on Saturday).
Thursday and Friday were ups – a lot of them actually – and there were downs, like the last 10 minutes against Navasota and the first half versus Melissa in Pool P competition Thursday afternoon.
There were players having to leave – not for injuries, per say, but Kyle Lindsey Friday afternoon for dehydration and Mason Holstein for dehydration and a concussion scare, but reports suggest both are now alright.
And there were Yellow Jackets finding a way, something Stephenville has grown accustom to since about 1990.
After an 0-2 start, Stephenville began a five-game win streak with a 42-14 rout of Falls City to conclude pool play. It was almost enough to get them into the championship, bracket, but the Jackets needed Melissa to beat Navasota and instead the perennially powerful Rattlers – in 7-man and 11 – held on for the 33-32 win to claim the top spot in the pool. Melissa came out second and Stephenville was ahead of Falls City in Pool P teams headed to the consolation bracket.
But that’s when it got fun. Espeically for a backup quarterback turned starter less than three weeks prior due to an injury.
Tyler Schouten, thrust into the starter’s role a year earlier than anyone intended because Easton Jones suffered a torn ulna collateral ligament (UCL) in his right (throwing) elbow while pitching in a summer baseball contest, show everyone there was hope, not just for a good showing in 7-on-7 but for the fall season ahead.
Schouten lit up a Hitchcock secondary that was overmatched by the deep Yellow Jackets receiving core, and Stephenville cruised to a 40-25 win.
Then the margin between teams, between victory and elimination, became razor thin, and that’s when a number of Yellow Jacket players were at their best, and when they showed they had plenty of fight – literally – in them.
Battlnig back and forth in a second-round consolation match-up against Gilmer, Clay Krause caught a touchdown strike and Blake Aragon a point-after conversion to give Stephenville its first lead, 27-26.
It didn’t take long for Gilmer, another storied prep program over the last couple decades, to answer for a 33-27 advantage, but the Jackets struck again with Kyle Lindse going to the house for a one-point edge.
The 34-33 lead held because of an interception by Holstein, a senior defensive back and honorable-mention Associated Press Sports Editors all-state pack last season. A fight broke out moments later, but that couldn’t change the outcome, with Stephenville moving on to meet Canton in the consolation quarterfinals.
Just as big as Holstein’s interception to keep the Jackets alive, was a simple touch – tackle? – by Cole Pettit to stop a Canton receiver short of the goal line. Canton had pressed Stephenville to overtime, taken the ball first in the extra period and quickly scored for a 26-20 advantage.
But Pettit, who had two interceptions against Navasota – with a third being negated by a debatable no-catch and incomplete call by an official despite even the intended receiver believing Pettit picked it cleanly – made his biggest play of the consolation tournament. Canton threw a pass short of the goal line – a mental error in any single-play, goal-to-go situation, and Pettit was Johnny on the spot, you could say, getting a touch on the receiver to give the ball to the Jackets needing a TD to tie and ensuing conversion to win.
Schouten delivered both, and by this time appeared to be having fun doing it. He found running back Krece Nowak – especially dangerous in 7-on-7 with his shiftiness and the ability to cause a mismatch when covered by linebackers – for the tying TD, and Crause for another big late-game score, this time the winning extra point.
The 27-26 victory sent the Jackets into a semifinal matchup with a strong defensive outfit from Bay City. But the Jackets brought their defense, too, matching their rout of Falls City for fewest points allowed over the eight games, to give the offense time to string together enough points for a 21-14 win.
As far as players stepping up at important times goes, Nolan Carroll’s only scoring play of the event couldn’t possibly have been timed any better. A junior like his quarterback, he was on the receiving end of the Schouten pass that, ultimately, with one more defensive stand behind it, sent the Jackets into the final pairing in the consolation tournament.
The five-game win streak ensured Stephenville would play the maximum eight games over the two days, especially big for a team breaking in a young quarterback. Schoutens’ only varsity competition has been while spelling Jones the last two summers, but in the state tournament, there was no Jones to follow, or weak opponent to come in against just so the senior starter could have a game off.
It was all Schouten , and he was just fine.
Everything was more difficult against a Midlothian Heritage squad that has the state’s leader (for all conferences) in receiving yards and the bulk of its skill players – and entire team – back after a run to the the third round of the 4A Division I playoffs in the school’s first year to be eligible for post season competition.
Heritage is preparing for just its fourth year of existence, and is positioned nicely in the talent hot bed that is suburban Dallas, to be an instant 4A power, even if the Jaguars are likely headed to 5A sooner than later.
With Lindsey’s absence and Holstein’s scare putting little chinks in the armor at receiver and secondary, and the most athletic opponent of the day on the other side, the going got rough early.
Heritage slowly built a 20-0 lead and took that into the locker room before Aragon, who was prolific in the last game and a half on Thursday, got Stephenville on the board, still down by a couple scores. Heritage never let Stephenville see light at the end of the tunnel, scoring both times the Jackets pull with in two possessions.
The Jaguars extended 20-6 to 26-6, and just as efficiently turned 26-14 into 33-14, which ended up being the final.
Lindsey was the top receiving producer for Stephenville before he left, posting three-touchdown outings against Falls City to wrap up Thursday’s action and Hitchcock to get started bright and early at 8 a.m. Friday. He and Aragon made it tough to cover the whole field, as anyone emphasizing the edge and boundary with their coverage was exposed in between with the likes of Crause and Kade Averhoff doing damage over the middle, and of course, Nowak doing what he does best out of the backfield.
Holstein and Pettit made the plays that stood out most, but there were simple third-down stops that also made significant impacts. Stephnville led 26-19 when Hitchcock finally got the first stop of the game on its eight possession Friday morning, but it was okay because the Jacket defense answered the call with their stop, and the offense quickly provided a two-score margin Hitchcock did not have time overcome.
Aragon had scored from Schouten for the 25-19 lead, and the ensuing extra-point by Krause stood as the official game-winning play as it was the 26th point and Hitchcock would finish with 25. That means Krause had three-game winners on Saturday as he showed a pension for being a go-to guy for Schouten in clutch situations – pads or no, tackle or touch.
Of course, the interception by Holstein was just as big in beating explosive Gilmer, which brought typical east Texas speed to the field, much like Navasota the day before.
Winning three straight games by one possession, two of them by one point and one of those in overtime, counts for something, even if it is touch football. Even if that extra meaning was nothing more than extra work for Schouten, it was work with the varsity receivers against talented, fast East Texas and Metroplex secondaries.
That’s more experience than he would get in pads or not just throwing the ball around the practice field back home in Stephenville this summer, but he still has to prove he can do it when play gets physical – and a pass rush is coming at him – under the lights this fall.
But so does everyone else, and that’s why 7-on-7 results are not necessarily an indicator of 11-man success. They are, however, an opportunity for gaining repoire with one’s receivers, gelling as a secondary and coming together as a team.
A five-game win streak that had a little bit of everything from dehydration and an overtime game to one-point and one-possession wins and even a fight, gave Stephenville maximum opportunities to improve such vital intangibles, making it a valuable two-day run for the Yelow Jackets.
Known in the late 1990s as one of the programs that re-created how offense – and, as a result, defense – is played in high school football, Stephenville has been a mainstay in 7-on-7 state tournaments. Coach Art Briles’ teams were passing the ball from sideline to sideline with this new invention called the spread, and only a few teams like Southlake Carroll, and a couple others, could match up.
As a result, Stephenville reached the semifinals in the first state tournament in 1998, hosted by Fox Sports Southwest at The Adams Course, also in College Station. The Yellow Jackets were one of just 32 teams competing in a single bracket division to invitees from all conferences, including Munday from 1A and Plano, one of the largest schools in the state in 5A. There was no 6A back then, and there was no Division II in 7-on-7. Nor was there a consolation bracket.