Missed opportunities told the tale in the 98th Battle of 287 rivalry game at Lumpkins Stadium.
Ennis scored two touchdowns in the first half, while Waxahachie was forced to settle for two field goals after knocking on the door each time. The scoring discrepancy carried over into the second half and made a huge difference as the Indians couldn’t make up ground.
For the first time since 2014, the much-cherished U.S. Highway 287 road sign is in the Lions’ possession after Ennis took the lead for good on its first offensive drive on Friday night and pounded out a 21-13 season-opening win against the Indians, snapping a four-game WHS win streak in the longstanding series.
RELATED: Photos from the historic 98th Battle of 287
“We had more than our share of opportunities,” Indians head coach Todd Alexander said. “We dropped one in the end zone in the first quarter, and we punched in one in the second quarter and had it called back. I think we played well in the second quarter; we just shot ourselves in the foot.”
The Lions now once again lead the overall series, 47-46-5.
Waxahachie closed to within one possession with 4:29 left in the final period of play as senior quarterback Campbell Sullivan, an adept scrambler, found junior Brandon Hawkins Jr. open in the back of the end zone, the team’s lone 6-pointer of the night.
But Ennis executed its 4-minute offense to salt the game away, calling on a fourth-down keeper by Collin Drake to move the chains — and snatch both hope and signage out of the Indians’ grasp.
The decision to go for it in that situation — after a Jarius Jones run on third down came up a yard shy— was made easy, according to Ennis head coach Sam Harrell.
“When it was third and short and fourth and short, we knew we had to go for it,” Harrell said. “Because if you do make a first down, the game would be over. We called a great play on fourth down.”
Devion Beasley rushed for two touchdowns for Ennis, while Jones added 105 rushing yards and a TD and Clayton Jenkins caught eight passes for 119 yards.
Points were left on the table on both sides. The game’s only turnover happened in the third quarter as Ennis’ Jones attempted to dive for the pylon at the end of an 8-yard run, and the ball left his hand and was recovered in the back of the end zone for a touchback.
Senior Dyllan Santos was a big part of the Lions’ opening scoring drive, but he was not targeted again after a short reception early in the second quarter. Harrell said Santos “was on the field all night long.”
The Indians took a brief 3-0 upper hand on a 28-yard field goal by Crisanto Perez on the opening possession, but Ennis answered with a 63-yard drive capped by a short Beasley run and never trailed after that.
Another field goal, this time of 28 yards, by Perez made it 7-6, but that came after Waxahachie had the ball on the one-yard line with a chance to score on second down. A pair of penalties, one of which wiped out a Sullivan keeper for the would-be go-ahead score, kept the Tribe from grabbing the edge.
Beasley and the Lions marched 71 yards the other way, and his 16-yard run before halftime gave Ennis an 8-point cushion that proved insurmountable at the end.
The second half was played on even terms with the game still up for grabs, a positive that Alexander pointed to.
“Our defense played well,” he said. “They got after it. Those kids played with a lot of heart and a lot of poise, and they never quit until the final horn. That’s definitely something we can build on.”
The Lions, who ran the ball 15 times and threw it 12 in the first half, changed the run-pass ratio to 22-9 in the second half.
“When we went in at halftime, it seemed that power mentality was working better than throwing,” Harrell said. “So we decided to ride that a little bit.”
The Indians return to action at home Friday night against Mesquite Poteet, while Ennis travels to Dallas Bishop Lynch in the second of three consecutive road games to start its season.
Harrell, a three-time state champion coach, is taking the rivalry victory in stride and looking at a bigger picture.
“I’d call it a good win, but we’ve got a lot of things to do,” Harrell said. “The first game’s not that important because it’s a non-district game. You don’t want to put too much importance on it.
“But I’m happy for the kids and happy for the fans more than anybody. It’s fun for them to come over here and win.”