It was only a matter of time before the Waxahachie Indians would put it all together and deliver the victory that would wipe away a full 12 months of frustration.
But it was how the Indians did it — overcoming a 22-point second-half deficit and answering a number of serious body blows with some huge plays — that gives the team hope for this season.
Resilience is the Indians’ watchword for 2019.
Campbell Sullivan passed for 346 yards and five touchdowns — three to Brandon Hawkins Jr. — and rushed for a team-high 134 yards and a near-coast-to-coast score to close out a late 99-yard drive, and the Indians came up with big play after big play to pull out a 53-46 win against Mesquite Poteet at Lumpkins Stadium, snapping a 10-game losing streak dating back to last season.
“It’s a huge win for this football program and for these kids,” said Todd Alexander, who enjoyed his first home victory as Indians head coach — his initial triumph as skipper came at Ennis in last year’s opener. “They’ve been through a lot and they deserve this. I could not be any happier right now for them than I am right now.”
Sullivan, whose main pursuit is baseball — he’s verbally committed to Division I Dallas Baptist — is proving a quick study on the gridiron as well.
“To he best of my knowledge, I don’t think he’s played quarterback since his freshman year,” Alexander said of Sullivan. “He looked a lot more comfortable tonight. He’s more settled in, and I think he’ll continue to do that.”
The field was littered with big numbers for the Indians (1-1). Derrick Jackson rushed for 101 yards, Hawkins finished with 13 catches for 124 yards, and Kieran Page caught six passes for 118 yards and a TD. Placekicker Crisanto Perez drilled three field goals and was a perfect 7-of-7 on extra points.
Defensively, junior cornerback Preston Hodge left his mark, finishing with two interceptions — one defending a fade route on the game’s opening drive, and another midway through the fourth quarter as the Indians nursed a 4-point lead.
Hodge also had a hand in the moment which turned the evening completely around for Waxahachie.
The Indians’ biggest shortfall of the night came seconds into the second half, after a muffed kickoff return handed Poteet the ball on the Waxahachie 5-yard line. On the first play, quarterback Steven Fink went for the jugular, throwing his third touchdown connection of the night with Tristan Golightly to make it 39-17.
But special teams — which were strong for the Tribe all night, with the exception of one partially blocked punt — came up huge on the extra point, blocking Matthew Sierra’s attempt. After a scramble for the loose football, Hodge scooped it up and broke free the other way, returning it for two points.
“That play was huge,” Alexander said. “That was a big swing right there in the ballgame. It sparked us after they had a lot of momentum going.”
The PAT runback was like an intravenous shot of Red Bull for the Indians, who turned what looked like an almost-certain blowout into one of their great rallies of recent years.
“It shifted the momentum,” Sullivan said. “We knew we had it the whole time. We worked all week for this. We knew we had it in us.”
The Pirates managed only one more score afterward, burning the secondary deep on an 81-yard pass from Fink to Jailyn Graham for a 46-29 advantage. But the rest of the night belonged to the Indians.
A Jace Robinson fumble recovery in the red zone as Poteet was knocking on the door led to Jaden Basham’s 47-yard catch from Sullivan to make it a 10-point game; than after a 52-yard Fink punt was downed at the 1, Waxahachie executed a 2-play, 99-yard drive capped by Sullivan’s 88-yard keeper on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Indians forced a punt and marched 65 yards in 11 plays, with a pass-interference penalty on third down keeping the drive going. With 5:27 left, Sullivan found Hawkins for the third time in the end zone, and the Indians led for the first time all night.
Perez’s 36-yard field goal concluded the scoring with 2:28 left.
Poteet (0-2) still had time to try to force overtime or take the lead with a 2-point conversion, and the Pirates got as close as the Indians’ 34. But a false start backed Poteet up five yards, and on fourth down, junior Quincy Johnson broke up a pass from Fink to senior blue-chipper Seth McGowan to seal the deal with 1:26 left.
“I read the quarterback’s eyes and I saw the back (McGowan) come out, and no one was guarding him,” Johnson said.
The ailing McGowan, who has verbally committed to Oklahoma, was a shadow of his usual self, but McGowan at 50 percent is still mighty powerful. McGowan, who missed last week’s Pirate loss against Denton Ryan, rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown and added a 60-yard TD reception. But he only touched the ball five times in the second half, his role reduced to either pass blocking or going out wide as the Pirates abandoned the run for the most part.
“We don’t know his situation, but we game-planned like they were going to have him,” Alexander said. “The kids did a good job of containing him. He’s a big, powerful back and hitting (him) all night takes a toll.”
McGowan tweeted on Aug. 4 that he was “in a wreck a couple of days ago,” but no confirmation of any lingering effects has been given.
Fink threw for 388 yards and five TDs, but also tossed two picks and only completed half his attempts. Golightly and Graham wound up with 119 and 117 receiving yards respectively.
Next up for Waxahachie is the first road game of the year, a trip to Flower Mound to take on Marcus, a 26-19 winner against McKinney Boyd on Friday. The Marauders won at the Lump a year ago, 21-7.
The football games come thick and fast as fall progresses, but the Indians will savor this one for a while.
“We needed that monkey off (our back),” Alexander said. “It was a great time to do it, especially after losing your opener to Ennis.”
Waxahachie 53, Mesquite Poteet 46
Poteet 7 26 13 0 — 46
Waxahachie 7 10 19 17 — 53
P — Tristan Golightly 12 pass from Steven Fink (Matthew Sierra kick), 5:29
W — Brandon Hawkins Jr. 7 pass from Campbell Sullivan (Crisanto Perez kick), 0:45
P — Seth McGowan 25 run (kick failed), 11:13
P — Golightly 41 pass from Fink (Sierra kick), 9:09
W — Perez 27 field goal, 6:22
P — Xzaveon Jeans 1 run (kick failed), 5:16
W — Hawkins 14 pass from Sullivan (Perez kick), 2:31
P — McGowan 60 pass from Fink (Sierra kick), 2:11
P — Golightly 35 pass from Fink (kick blocked), 11:52
W — Preston Hodge conversion return, 11:52
W — Kieran Page 47 pass from Sullivan (Perez kick), 10:42
W — Perez 32 field goal, 7:44
P — Jailyn Graham 81 pass from Fink (Sierra kick), 5:40
W — Jaden Basham 47 pass from Sullivan (Perez kick), 2:32
W — Sullivan 88 run (Perez kick), 11:47
W — Hawkins 2 pass from Sullivan (Perez kick), 5:27
W — Perez 36 field goal, 2:28
Stats Poteet Waxahachie
First downs 21 24
Rushes-yards 27-268 41-238
Passing yards 388 346
C-A-I 18-36-2 25-36-0
Punts-average 3-39.0 3-23.0
Penalties-yards 12-113 8-55
Fumbles-lost 1-1 4-2
Rushing — Poteet: Xzaveon Jeans 10-78, Seth McGowan 12-74, Steven Fink 4-44, Tristan Golightly 0-39, Jaylond Police 1-3; Waxahachie: Campbell Sullivan 17-134, Derrick Jackson 23-101, Brandon Hawkins Jr. 1-3.
Passing — Poteet: Steven Fink 18-36-2 388; Waxahachie: Campbell Sullivan 25-36-0 346.
Receiving — Poteet: Tristan Golightly 6-119, Jailyn Graham 4-117, Seth McGowan 2-60, Xzaveon Jeans 1-44, Devon Stanley 1-28, TJ McCollum 2-14, Kennan Puckett 1-4, Charles Bradley 1-2; Waxahachie: Brandon Hawkins Jr. 13-124, Kieran Page 6-118, Jaden Basham 2-63, Shawn Cherry 3-34, DJ Hollywood 1-7.