Ennis outlasts Red Oak in opener

New quarterback Gilkey throws 3 TDs in first start; RB Johnson adds 3 TDs

Don Hullett
Daily Light correspondent
Ennis football players get ready to take the field for the start of Friday night's game against Red Oak at Lions Memorial Stadium. The Lions defeated the Hawks, 56-42.

ENNIS — The first game of the season in football is and always will be an exciting time, whether you start on the road or at home, it makes no difference.

Coaches wonder if the players that are replacing last year’s squad will be able to fill their shoes of their successors. Fans hope that this will be the start of one of those special seasons that includes a long playoff run that ends right before Christmas with a state championship.

Such was the case last Friday night, Aug. 27, at Lions Memorial Stadium when the Red Oak Hawks made that Ellis County 20-mile trek to play the Ennis Lions — and just like last year’s opening game, the Lions came out fast and strong to hang 56 points on the board against the Hawks, as opposed to 52 points amassed last year.

The Lions won the coin toss and elected to defer their choice until the start of the second half. Red Oak took the opening kickoff and ran 8 plays but only were able to pick up 17 yards total and then punted the ball to Ennis. The Lions gained possession on their own 11-yard line and took a mere 2 plays for the Lions to show off their new combo threat as freshman receiver Gracen Harris caught a pass from new starting quarterback Jackson Gilkey across the middle and then ran away from Hawk defenders for an 87 yard touchdown. Allan Hernandez tacked on the first of his 8 extra points to cap a perfect evening of kicking for the Lions.

The ensuing kickoff yielded the same results for the Hawks, as they went 3 yards in 5 plays and punted the pigskin back to Ennis. The Lions took over on their own 40 and proceeded to run 5 plays with the last one ending with Gilkey finding Harris again, this time for 54 yards and a touchdown. Hernandez was true on the extra point and Ennis had a 14-0 lead after 2 early possessions.

At that point someone must have alerted Red Oak that the game had started 30 minutes earlier, because their offense finally showed up. The Hawks went 73 yards in 14 plays with quarterback Jaylon Robinson finding La'kelsey Johnson for a 3-yard touchdown pass, with the extra point added by Dylan Vasquez to make the score 14-7 Lions. Ennis closed out the scoring in the opening quarter with a pitch and catch from Gilkey to senior Devion Beasley for 32 yards making the score 21-7 heading into the second quarter.

From there, Red Oak took the kick from Ennis and drove 71 yards in 9 plays. The drive culminated when Robinson ran 8 yards for a TD, after Vasquez added the kick to make the score 21-14. The Mighty Hawks kicked off and the Lions started their 4th drive of the game from their own 30, and this time EHS put together a 14 play, 70 yard drive that ended when Beasley scampered 20 yards for his second TD of the night. Hernandez tacked on the extra point to make the score 28-14.

Red Oak came right back to close the gap to 28-21, after another touchdown run, this one from 30 yards out. This inaugural season game had started out like a romp, but had now turned into a nail-biting display of deciding which team would be able to stop the other at a critical point in the contest. So far, both teams had equally been able to prove they could move the ball up and down the field offensively; however, both squads' weakest links had shown to be their wavering and inconsistent defenses at times.

The Lions continued to burn out lights on the scoreboard with a 5-play, 79-yard drive. This time, senior T.T. Cox (wide/slot receiver) shredded the Hawks for a 56-yard run. Not to be out done, Red Oak stormed back with a 62-yard drive in 5 plays with quarterback Jaylon Robinson finding La’kelsey Johnson for a 40-yard touchdown pass that once again cut the Ennis halftime lead to 35-28.

Ennis took the second half kickoff and demonstrated that offensively the first half was not a fluke, as the Lions ran the ball down Red Oak’s defensive throat and moved 71 yards in 13 plays with senior Dee Johnson finding pay dirt from 8 yards out.

ROHS was not able to answer the Lions’ opening touchdown and punted the ball back to Ennis. This time Dee Johnson sprinted 10 yards for his second rushing TD of the evening to give the Lions a bit of a cushion at 49-28.

Red Oak then found the end zone once again when Robinson torched the Lions defense with a 59 yard run. Ennis’ Dee Johnson wrapped up the scoring for the night for the Lions when he collected his third touchdown (in the fourth quarter) – this one was from 3 yards and Hernandez was good again, 56-35.

The Hawks scored with about 3 minutes left in the game on a 2-yard plunge by Chris Taylor, PAT by Vasquez. Red Oak next recovered the onside kick and things started to get a bit nerve-wracking for the Lion fans. But Ennis was able to get that before-mentioned critical stop when they halted a 4th and 13 try by the Hawks, to make the final score of 56-42.

Top players for Red Oak were Jaylon Robinson, who was 21 out of 37 with 2 TDs in passing. Robinson also added 164 yards with his feet and 3 TDs with his throwing arm. Jace Wyatt added 8 catches for 136 yards and La’kelsey Johnson Jr. had 6 receptions for 76 yards and 2 TDs. Overall, the Hawks gained 543 yards total offense.

Offensively, Ennis was paced by Gilkey, going 8 out of 16 for 197 yards and 3 TDs. (FYI: He had several well-thrown balls dropped by his receivers.) The Lions were led on the ground by Dee Johnson with 27 touches for 160 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Cox had 5 carries for 87 yards and 1 touchdown. Receivers were led by Harris with 3 grabs for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns and Beasley with 1 catch for 32 yards and a touchdown.

Outstanding players on defense were seniors Lazarus Becks, Beasley, Eric Gonzalez, and Ashton Ehly.

Red Oak will move on to play Sachse in Red Oak on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Lions (1-0) will host the Keller Fossil Ridge Panthers, who are coming off of a 42-41 win over Azle, on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Lions Memorial Stadium.