Author: Yale Youngblood, Special to Big Country Preps

GAME STORY: Watkins’ big night fuels Brock past Malakoff, back to state title game

FRISCO — Running back Reid Watkins slashed and dashed for 136 yards and two touchdowns and made a late-game interception on defense to lead Brock to a 21-10 win over Malakoff in a Class 3A Division I state semifinal game Thursday night at the Ford Center.

En route, the game’s primary hero also led the Eagles back toward Arlington, where they will play for a state championship for the second year in a row next week, against defending state champion Franklin, which throttled Edna 41-13.

“Primary” is the key word in the preceding paragraph. Watkins’ stellar performance off the bench was one of many offensive highlights for Brock, which won for the 11th straight time after starting the season 0-4. The Eagles’ starter at running back, Brett Tutter, added 81 rushing yards, and steady quarterback Tyler Moody completed six of 11 passes for 55 yards and ran for the Eagles’ other touchdown.

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GAME STORY: Brock rallies past Whitesboro again, advances to Class 3A DI state semifinals

DENTON — Brock was down three to its fiercest District 4-3A Division I rival, Whitesboro, with just under seven minutes left in Thursday’s Region I-3A DI championship game. Prior to that point, the Eagles had mustered all of seven rushing yards in the first half, fumbled away a second-quarter, fourth-down try and winced agonizingly as an errant snap sailed 25 yards behind the line of scrimmage to thwart a promising first-half possession.

Meanwhile, Whitesboro had just taken the lead when receiver Jace Sanders sneaked his way to the sideline uncovered on a fourth and goal play — from the 22-yard line, no less — to seize momentum and threaten to avenge a 39-35 loss to the Eagles earlier this season.

In other words, Brock had the Bearcats right where it wanted them.

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GAME STORY: Second-quarter explosion fuels unbeaten Crawford to area-round win over Coleman

WEATHERFORD — Crawford converted an eight-minute, second-quarter stretch into four unanswered touchdowns en route to a 34-13 win over Coleman in the area round of the Class 2A Division I playoffs Friday night.

Holding a 7-6 lead after a first quarter that saw both teams score on their initial possession, the Pirates struck in a variety of ways — and generally quickly — to stake a 34-6 halftime advantage and, essentially, to end the Bluecats’ season. Coleman, which placed second in District 5-2A Division I, wound up the year at 9-3. Crawford kept its perfect streak going and is 12-0 heading into the Region II-2A DI semifinals.

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GAME STORY: Iglesias, Paradise too much for Breckenridge in chilly bi-district rout

PONDER — Old Man Winter made his first appearance in North Texas Friday night, but not even the bone-chilling 35-mph winds he brought with him could upstage Paradise quarterback Austin Iglesias. Fleet of foot and strong of arm, the junior rushed for 112 yards, passed for another 105 and accounted for 40 points as the Panthers routed Breckenridge 47-7 in a Region I-3A Division I bi-district game.

Though the matchup between a pair of 8-2 teams was much-anticipated — and though the Buckaroos were still competitive midway through the third quarter — Iglesias almost single-handedly turned this one into a rout. He scored on rushes of two, one, 12 and five yards, and passed for touchdowns good for 41 and 52 yards, while also adding a two-point conversion run and another two-point pass to register an otherworldly individual effort.

As a result the Panthers rolled up 418 yards of offense and put the game away for good with four unanswered second half scoring drives during which Iglesias either ran or passed for a touchdown.

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FEATURE: Talented Lions playing ‘Brownwood football’ as stretch run approaches

As Texas high school football legacies go, there are few programs on a par with Brownwood. Under legendary coach Gordon Wood, the Lions made getting to and winning state titles almost commonplace. From 1960 to 1981, Wood led his team to seven championships and finished second another time.

However …

Given that the last raising of the trophy occurred more than four decades ago, it certainly could be argued that what was noted in the previous paragraph is old news.

The fact is: It isn’t.

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FEATURE: Forsan’s success this fall a complete team effort

Forsan’s 40-7 steamrolling of Reagan County last Friday in the District 3-2A Division I opener isn’t exactly a newsflash. After going 10-2 last year, the Buffaloes are making a habit of being a regional threat.

But the way the Buffs took care of their offensive business against the Owls not only defied 2022 convention, it served notice to future opponents that this monster has multiple heads.

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FEATURE: Cooper volleyball squad hitting its stride at just the right time

It’s not an overstatement to say that the Cooper volleyball team’s playoff prospects weren’t very promising three and a half weeks ago. After falling to Wylie on a Saturday on the road, the Lady Cougars were 0-3 and looking up at every other team in District 4-5A. 

Then they lost the next match — a midweek nondistrict matchup with Graham.

And that’s when the asterisk that marks just where Cooper’s season turned around was inserted.

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FEATURE: Through unique experience, Merkel seniors are paving way for Lady Badgers volleyball program

You probably should make a point to remember the seven girls noted in the ensuing paragraph, because what they are accomplishing at Merkel High School this year is virtually unprecedented.

Sydnee Barnes, Jada O’Kelly, Kloe Pursley, Autumn Hammond, Avery Hollaway, Micah Hollaway and Avery Chacon are seniors on the Lady Badgers volleyball team, meaning the 2022 season represents their final time to play the sport in high school.

It is also their first.

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FEATURE: Veteran quarterback Baronet taking game to next level for Brady

Whether you’re a coach, fan, Old School patron of the game or analytics nerd, you have to be impressed with what Hayden Baronet is doing on the field and to the record books at Brady this fall.

In his third year as the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback — and only halfway through the regular season — Baronet has already amassed 1,436 yards in total offense and accounted for 18 touchdowns. Last week, in the Bulldogs’ 47-27 win over Christoval, he completed 18 of 29 passes for 231 yards and two TDs and rushed for 179 yards and an astonishing five touchdowns. 

And that’s just taking into consideration what he is doing on offense. In the game against the Cougars, the senior also had 10 tackles, an interception, a pass breakup and a tackle for loss from his free safety position on defense.

Add all of that up, and you get … well, if your name is Hayden Baronet, you get the state’s “Built Ford Tough” Player of the Week honor in Class 3A, a weekly award bestowed on the top performer from each classification.

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FEATURE: Young Wylie squad working to build consistency as district play ramps up

Last year, the Wylie volleyball team finished the season perched on hallowed ground, setting/spiking/toughing its way to a 32-14 record en route to the Region I-5A quarterfinals. 

For those keeping score at home, that’s three rounds deep in the playoffs — marking the program’s deepest run since making the jump to Class 5A.

While coach Shay Cox appreciated the accomplishment of her very bulldog-ish Lady Bulldogs, she also knew every time she reviewed the list of the 2021 graduating players that replicating that kind of success and sustaining the momentum this season was going to be a tall order.

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FEATURE: Evans, Hamlin finding surprising success out of ashes of 0-10 campaign

When you score all of 28 points during an entire season and win none of 10 games in the process, there’s a tendency for your fans to figure that whatever happens the next year is bound to be better than what happened last.

But even the most ardent among the Hamlin Pied Piper faithful have been pleasantly surprised by how the team’s 2022 campaign has begun.

Take last week, for instance. Hamlin blanked Crosbyton 33-0 to run its record to 2-1. Coupling that triumph with a 6-2 victory over Water Valley the week before, the Pied Pipers have now put together a win streak. Even more importantly, they’ve shown that coach Chris Evans, who can find a silver lining among even the darkest of clouds, might have something in that mantra of his.

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FEATURE: Sophomore RB Wilkerson a budding star for resurgent Comanche Indians

Two games into the 2022 football season, the Comanche Indians have already doubled their win total from a year ago and mustered nearly 100 points. But that’s only part of one of the area’s better “feel good” stories as fall unfolds.

Comanche has also introduced a prime candidate to make fans do a double-take as they pore over the area’s weekly stat sheets moving forward.

Displaying a scintillating blend of thunder and lightning, sophomore running back Sawyer Wilkerson gained 103 yards on 12 carries in Comanche’s season-opening 49-7 victory over Brady. Then, last Friday during a 42-18 thumping of Bangs, Wilkerson upshifted to race for 273 more yards (on 18 carries). That means every time this year that a stadium announcer has uttered the words, “Wilkerson with the carry,” the back has carried the ball an average of 12½ yards.

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FEATURE: Physical Santo defense off to dominating start

In an era when video-game offenses across the state routinely test the mettle of the ERCOT grid, the Santo Wildcats are quite content to go “Old School” in 2022.

(As a reminder, Old School has a sign outside the door that proclaims: “Offense Sells Tickets. Defense Wins Championships!”)

While it’s still a bit premature to raise trophies, it’s high time to exclaim what the Wildcats have accomplished on the defensive side of the ball so far this fall.

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GAME STORY: Wylie rallies but drops nine-inning thriller to Aledo in Game 1

CLEBURNE — In a Region I-5A semifinal series opener marked by upwards of a dozen potential tell-tale moments, two bouncing balls ultimately sealed the deal in Aledo’s nail-biting, 6-5, nine-inning win over Wylie on Thursday evening.

The first, which denied the Bulldogs a chance to gain the upper hand in the best-of-three series, came off the bat of Wylie catcher Landon Williams in the seventh inning. The game was tied 5-5, and Williams was hitting with two outs and teammate Riley Hood leading off from first base after being hit by a pitch.

The junior backstop blasted a line drive to deep left field, which would have easily scored Hood — save for fact that it bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double. That left Hood at third and Williams at second, and the Bulldogs couldn’t bring either home.

The second, and deciding hop, occurred two innings later. With two outs in the bottom half of the inning and a runner on first, Bearcat right fielder Zach Harrison hit a soft popup some 130 feet from home plate toward the first base line. Had it gone 131, Wylie right fielder Grayson Beardon might have been able to catch it. Instead, his dive came up just short, and the ball caromed off his glove away from second baseman JT Thompson, who was also in hot pursuit — just far enough for Aledo’s Parker Stegall to race around the bases and beat Thompson’s throw by a few feet.

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GAME STORY: Abilene High drops heartbreaker to Carroll in Reese’s final game

Photos by Seth LaRue, special to Big Country Preps

WEATHERFORD – In a Region I-6A quarterfinal softball game that offered practically everything a fan could ask for, the one thing lacking at the end Friday night was a happy ending to Abilene High coach Jim Reese’s storied career.

With one thunderous swing of the bat, Southlake Carroll’s Lillian Cooper saw to that. On a 3-2 pitch from AHS reliever Diana Silva, the Lady Dragon shortstop launched a three-run home run well beyond the center field wall. The blast capped a four-run eighth inning by the Lady Dragons, giving Carroll a thrilling — and controversial — 9-8 win over the scrappy Lady Eagles in a win-or-go-home game for Abilene High.

They went home, but not without a fight. After Cooper’s missile cleared the wall to make it 9-5 in the top half of the eighth inning, the Lady Eagles opened their half of the frame with four straight hits to cut the lead to the final margin. But Carroll pitcher Cameron Timmons induced four straight ground balls thereafter, three of which were converted to outs before AHS could scratch for the tying run.

As a result, Carroll, which beat the Lady Eagles 7-5 on Thursday in the first game of the best-of-three series, advances to the next round of the playoffs with a 21-13 record. Abilene High finished its season at 15-11 — and with a lot of questions that begin with the words “what if …?”

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GAME STORY: QB Cowgill, RB Texada fuel Grapevine past Wylie 34-24

GRAPEVINE — Wylie’s scrappiness and penchant for big plays served it admirably for three quarters of the Bulldogs’ Region I-5A Division II bi-district battle with Grapevine on Friday night. But in the end, the Mustangs’ balanced attack — led by running back Caleb Texada and quarterback Max Cowgill — proved more than the visitors could match in an exciting 34-24 loss that ended the Dogs’ up-and-down 2020 season.

Texada was the lone ball carrier for Grapevine, but he ran with distinction, amassing 190 yards on 29 totes, while adding two scoring runs. Meanwhile, Cowgill, a keenly accurate senior signal caller, completed 23 of 35 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns. Those collaborative feats helped propel Grapevine to an 8-3 record and a chance to advance in the playoffs. Wylie finished at 4-4.

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GAME STORY: Stephenville cruises past Benbrook, into area-around matchup with No. 1 Argyle

FORT WORTH — Kason Philips ran for 167 yards and four touchdowns and Gavin Rountree went 8-for-11 passing for 183 yards and two more scores to lead the Stephenville Yellow Jackets to a resounding 56-14 thumping of the Benbrook Bobcats in a Region II-4A Division I playoff game Friday night at Farrington Field.

Philips powered, raced, zigged and zagged to scoring runs of 1, 3, 18 and 40 yards, as the Yellow Jackets struck early and often to improve their record to 6-5. In fact, Stephenville scored on five of its first six offensive possessions. And the Jackets even added a defensive score in between when Ryder Lambert returned a fumble 42 yards to help punctuate a dominant effort by Stephenville in all three phases of the game.

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GAME STORY: Garcia, Cooper defense steal show in 48-0 win over Arlington Heights

FORT WORTH — Cooper’s super back Noah Garcia ran for 163 yards, caught a pair of passes good for another 82 yards, and scored five touchdowns to lead the Cougars to a 48-0 rout of Fort Worth Arlington Heights on Thursday night at Farrington Field.

At that, the senior speedster was just one of several offensive heroes for Cooper. Senior quarterback Aidan Thompson went 11-for-14 passing for 245 yards and three touchdowns, while sophomore running back Jeremiah Riley ran for 107 yards as the Cougars won their fourth straight game.

In the process, they improved to 4-1 on the season and 3-0 in District 3-5A Division I play. The Yellow Jackets, who have had several games canceled because of coronavirus and were playing for the first time in three weeks, fell to 2-1 overall and 0-1 in district.

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GAME STORY: Brock drops heartbreaker to Pottsboro in 3A state semis

FRISCO — For the second consecutive year, the Brock Eagles stood at the doorstep of a Class 3A state title game, only to have the welcome mat yanked from beneath them in gut-wrenching fashion.

Friday, the Pottsboro Cardinals did the dirty deed by way of a 36-35 win in a game for the ages at the Ford Center at the Star. An offensive battle that saw only two punts all night – one by each team – ultimately came down to a gem of a defensive play. Eagle running back Cash Jones’ “jump ball” pass to quarterback Jaxon Gleaton was picked off by Pottsboro’s Tyler Farris in the end zone with 45 seconds left, thus ending Brock’s season at 12-3. The Cardinals improved to 15-0 and will play the winner of Grandview and Columbus in the title game at AT&T Stadium next week.

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GAME STORY: Brock avenges district loss to Pilot Point, advances to state semis

BEDFORD — In a Class 3A regional final that featured a rematch between District 4 heavyweights Friday night, the Brock Eagles cashed in on their shot at revenge — pretty much literally.

With running back Cash Jones churning for 223 yards and a touchdown — and adding an interception, to boot — the Eagles avenged their only district loss by besting the Bearcats 31-21 at HEB ISD’s Pennington Field. With the win, the Eagles trumped Pilot Point’s 20-14 victory over them earlier in the year, ran their record to 12-2 and earned a spot in next week’s state Class 3A state semifinals against Pottsboro, which edged Gladewater 35-34 in overtime in another regional final Friday night. Pilot Point finished its season at 12-2.

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Fast start, big plays spark Haltom past Abilene High 28-14

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS — Haltom’s quick-strike offense accounted for three big-play touchdowns, and that was enough to propel the unbeaten Buffalos to a 28-14 win over Abilene in a District 3-6A game Friday night that probably left the Eagles wondering, “What if …?” afterward.

Though the Buffs improved to 7-0 on the season and 3-0 in league play, Abilene High’s defense often put the clamps on a team that was averaging more than 50 points per game — and that had taken down perennial district kingpin Trinity 48-34 a week earlier.

It couldn’t stymie Haltom’s talented quarterback Michael Black three times, however, and that was pretty much the difference in a hard-hitting game. Black ran for a 51-yard score and threw a 51-yard touchdown bomb to Decorian Mitchell. At that, it was his third scoring play that showed why the Buffalos are so dangerous.

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Abilene High earns emotional win at Hurst Bell

BEDFORD — Sparked by big plays by the offense, defense and special teams, the Abilene High Eagles earned an emotional 28-7 win over the Hurst Bell Blue Raiders in a District 3-6A game Friday night at Pennington Field.

Just days after the passing of Coach Del Van Cox’s father, Nowlin “Corky” Cox, the Eagles struck quickly on a bomb and a blocked a field goal — and intercepted a pass at a key juncture in the game — to improve their record to 5-1 overall and 2-0 in district. Bell fell to 1-5 and 0-2.

Afterward, during Cox’s postgame speech to the squad, dozens of Eagles shouted, “We love you, Coach!” and then proceeded to give him a group hug after he congratulated them on their effort against the Raiders.

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Miscues cost Cooper in loss to Grapevine

DENTON — Cooper let one slip away Friday night — literally.

Taking advantage of a lost fumble, a pair of in-and-out-of-the-receivers’ hands interceptions and a slew of kicking game bobbles by the Cougars, Grapevine dealt the visitors a 31-13 loss at soggy Apogee Stadium. The venue, on the campus of the University of North Texas, served as the Mustangs’ home field because of construction on their own stadium.

Friday, it also served as a virtual rain gauge, as a steady showers sprayed the setting throughout the game, which was delayed for 30 minutes by lightening spotted in the area at the close of the first quarter.

The Cougars likely felt they had been struck by a figurative lightening bolt, as a number of potential Cooper possessions wound up with the ball on the ground or in their opponents’ hands at the most inopportune times.

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