One would have to thumb back, way back through the Battle of 287 history pages to find a game where Waxahachie and Ennis combined to attempt just 22 passes, especially with an Ennis offense led by Sam Harrell.
Yet, that is precisely what happened Friday night at Lion Memorial Stadium and the Indians tossed the haymakers when it counted most. Waxahachie won the 97th meeting of the storied battle 54-32 behind 356 rushing yards to the Lions 343.
Almost even more impressive was that the Indians defense held strong and dug deep despite the Lions running 61 plays with 58 of those being either a handoff or short pass near the line of scrimmage.
Waxahachie head football coach Todd Alexander applauded the relentless effort his defense against a more-than-capable Lions rushing attack.
“When you talk about a running back like [James Harris] and a quarterback that you have to chase around all night then you get tired real quick, and you are on the field forever,” said Alexander after picking up his first win as a varsity head coach. “Then we score the first few plays of the first two possessions and, you know, our defense was tired. But they kept playing hard, and I am very proud of them for that.”
He added that it was vital for the Tribe to have depth along the defensive line, as well. “You have to have depth there, especially for situations like that. Those guys get gassed quick, and we were lucky enough to get some guys on the field tonight who helped us out tremendously.”
Demani Richardson led the way for the Indians with 161 rushing yards on nine carries. He also scored a game-high three touchdowns, which included a 46-yard scoring run on the Indians first offensive play of the season.
That first score came after the opening kick off sailed out of bounds and Alexander elected to have the Lions re-kick. The decision paid off when Josh Stearns returned the second kick to the Ennis 46-yard line.
Demani Richardson, just like he did in the first two postseason games last year, carried the first play from scrimmage to the house.
The Crisanto Perez point-after kick then split the uprights for a 7-0 Waxahachie lead just 20 seconds into the ballgame.
Waxahachie promptly forced the Lions offense into a three-and-out and running back Jaden Watson rewarded the effort two plays later.
Watson broke a tackle at the second level and then beat the Lions down the Waxahachie sideline for a 76-yard touchdown.
Perez tacked on the PAT for the 14-0 Waxahachie lead with 8:44 to play in the first quarter.
Watson finished the game with 16 carries for 120 yards and two touchdowns for the Indians, while quarterback Campbell Sullivan tallied 54 yards on his nine carries.
“Looking at the first half, we ran the football well. We were in a situation where it was working for us, so we just kept running at them,” Alexander said of the offensive game plan.
The Lions did finally find pay dirt in the first quarter, but it was not until after BJ Hawkins, a sophomore Indian defensive back, made a fantastic fourth-down pass deflection on the Lions second possession. In fact, he nearly intercepted the Dyllan Santos pass with one hand on the throwback to the quarterback’s left.
Unfortunately, a 4-yard Indian punt a little later gave the Lions the football back inside Tribe territory. It then took only two plays for Dyllan Santos to scamper in for a 35-yard touchdown. The quarterback added a two-point conversion run to pull the Lions within six with 3:51 to play, 14-8.
Santos carried the football 18 times for 126 yards on the evening, which was second on the team to last season’s second-leading rusher for the Lions, James Harris. The senior tailback was abusive with the football in his hands at times during his 12 second-half carries, finishing with a game-high 21 rushes for 197 yards and two touchdowns.
The Waxahachie offense did answer the Santos touchdown though — quickly.
Indian quarterback DJ Hollywood (5-7, 158 yards, 2 TDs) completed a tunnel screen to Keshawn Anderson (4-156, 2TDs) on third-and-11 and the senior wide receiver promptly broke two arm tackles to race 76 yards for the third Indian touchdown of the first quarter. The catch-and-run put Waxahachie up 21-8 with 2:07 to play in the frame.
“DJ connected a few times with Keshawn and it was huge,” Alexander said. “I think that is what DJ needed was a little confidence, and now that he has got it, I am excited for him.”
Ennis later added a field goal off the right foot of Marc Padilla with 8:07 to play in the opening half.
Despite all of the early scoring, Waxahachie did not pick up its first first-down until the ensuing drive, which is the only downfall to the three early touchdowns of over 40 yards. The Tribe pieced together a ground attack that drained six minutes off of the first-half clock and picked up five first downs. It was capped by a 1-yard Watson touchdown run.
The ball might have been fumbled and recovered by Indian tight end Jaylen Warren before a whistle was blown, but Watson appeared to cross the goal line before the football came loose.
The first half eventually ended with the Lions deep in the Waxahachie red zone. The Indians carried a 28-11 lead into the halftime locker rooms after rushing for 209 yards and throwing for 78 more, while the Lions accounted for 144 yards on the ground and 57 through the air.
Ennis did strike first in the second half on a 36-yard run by Harris, but the Indians again found the big play via a 66-yard touchdown run by Richardson with 8:30 to play in the third quarter.
He later added a six-yard score after an impressive 10-yard touchdown pass from Hollywood to Anderson on a slant — in which the wideout used strong hands to catch the football and then shake off a defender draped all over him — to nearly put the game out of reach.
A few possessions later, JJ Overton delivered the knockout punch with a 10-yard touchdown run with 20 seconds to play in the fourth quarter of the 54-32 Waxahachie win.
“That is going to be a different football team in week 10 than what it is today,” said Alexander of the 5A Lions after the game. “I honestly wish Sam and that staff, because I have relationships with a lot of those guys, the best. That is going to be a really good football team. But I am really proud of our football team tonight, too.”
Friday marked the 81st meeting between the two high schools on the gridiron over the last 80 years, dating back to 1939.
Waxahachie has now won each of the last four showdowns in the Battle of 287 and leads the all-time series 48-47-2. The Indians won the very first matchup in the series 37-0 in 1908.
Waxahachie travels to Mesquite Memorial Stadium to face the Pirates of Mesquite Poteet at 7 p.m. Thursday. Ennis will play Dallas Skyline at Forester Field at 7:30 p.m. Friday.