WAXAHACHIE — As the football sailed through the brisk air Friday night at Stuart B. Lumpkins Stadium, Jeffrey Alexander turned, adjusted and high-pointed a pass over a Tiger defender. Truthfully, he caught more than just the pigskin for a 38-yard gain deep in Lancaster territory.
The 6-foot senior wide receiver came away with all the momentum the Waxahachie Indians needed to fend off the visiting Tigers and clinch one of four District 10-5A-playoff spots with a 30-16 victory.
Not only did Mansfield Timberview falling to Mansfield Lake Ridge 42-37 solidify the Waxahachie playoff berth, but it also narrowed the district playoff picture. Lake Ridge is the top seed out of District 10-5A in 5A Division I (big school), as is Mansfield Legacy in 5A Division II. The two will play District 9-5A representatives Burleson Centennial and Burleson, respectively.
It then gets a little dicey and the Indians remain in limbo.
If Mansfield Summit defeats Mansfield Timberview next Friday, the Indians will play District 9-5A champion and familiar foe of yesteryear, Everman, in the bi-district round of the playoffs Friday, Nov. 17.
If Summit loses, the Jaguars will be in a three-way tie with Timberview and the winner of Midlothian-Lancaster. Because Summit turned in an enrollment of 2,147 in 2016, the Jaguars will go Division I if they do indeed make the postseason. If they do not, the Indians (2,055 students in 2016) will play as the second big school in Division I out of District 10-5A.
So much for those 200-something playoff scenarios in which we entered the ballgame.
It is the first time for (6-3, 4-2) Waxahachie to reach the postseason under third-year head coach Jon Kitna and the first time for the program since 2012. Oddly enough, that was the same year the Indians last defeated the Lancaster, as they now lead the all-time series that dates back to 1928, 43-17.
The Indian offense was anemic in the first half, as the Tribe walked into the locker room trailing Lancaster 14-3. The three points came via a 41-yard Raymond Kennedy field goal — his first of two from 40-plus yards on the evening. The senior placekicker then added a 29-yard field goal to put Waxahachie on top 30-16 with 2:20 to play in the fourth quarter.
Throughout the season, the third quarter has spelled disaster for the Waxahachie on both sides of the football. From losing a double-digit lead (and game) against Mansfield Summit to their inability to move the football against Mansfield Legacy, the third frame has not been kind to the Tribe.
Until Friday, that is.
The Indians outscored Lancaster 24-0 in the third quarter thanks primarily in part to two Tiger turnovers. Waxahachie then forced three more turnovers in the fourth quarter to finish plus four in the turnover department (6-2).
The stat and performance left Waxahachie Defensive Coordinator Rocky Robinson beaming on the field after the postgame celebrations.
"I am very very proud of the guys. We didn't make a whole lot of adjustments in the second half, but the biggest message we had was to love your brother. Everything you do you have to love your brother, and that is what our guys did tonight," Robinson said. "They came out here and loved their brother on every snap and every play. They just did a fantastic job. All of the credit goes to the kids. They played their heart out tonight."
In total, Waxahachie forced five second-half turnovers — three interceptions and two fumbles. The defense also pitched a shutout after returning from the locker room, as Lancaster's lone score via a fourth-quarter safety with 7:38 to play after, you guessed it, a Tiger turnover.
Robinson credited his defensive backs, namely Jerreth Sterns, Demani Richardson and Nick Henderson, among others, for remaining coachable throughout the season.
"Our DBs were great as always. Those guys are awesome back there, and they are always very coachable. Again, they love their teammates, and it showed tonight," he added. "[...] We are an evolving defense and we are getting better each week. The kids are trusting the system, and they are executing. We play fast, we play hard, and we finish. That is our motto, and that is what we did tonight."
Though Lancaster outgained the Indians 370 yards to 292, Waxahachie began most drives, especially those in the second half, with a short field.
Bryse Salik finished 12-of-22 for 128 yards and an interception, while Jerreth Sterns completed his lone pass for 19 yards to tight end Will Morgan for a touchdown.
Keshawn Anderson led the Indians on the ground with two carries for 86 yards after he scampered for a 77-yard touchdown run with 2:45 to play in the third quarter to put Waxahachie up 24-14. Demani Richardson added five carries for 45 yards and a score, while Sterns carried the football six times for 17 yards.
Jeffrey Alexander led all Indian receivers with 53 yards on three catches. Sterns hauled in four passes for 32 yards.
Lancaster quarterback Trevor Hatton completed 12-of-29 for 175 yards and four touchdowns and added 18 carries for 59 yards. Devante Lacy carried the football 17 times for 75 yards, while Jayce Medlock led the Tiger receivers with four catches for 86 yards.
Waxahachie closes out the regular season Friday, Nov. 10 at Vernon Newsom Stadium against district champion Mansfield Lake Ridge. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith