Lions nudge Indians in overtime in Battle of 287

Conversion gamble pays off for Harrell as Ennis wins third straight in series

Bill Spinks
Waxahachie Daily Light
Ennis football players celebrate winning the Battle of 287 for the third consecutive season on Friday night after the Lions beat the Waxahachie Indians, 22-21, in overtime at Lumpkins Stadium.

Waxahachie Indians fans have been treated to bonus football twice already in their first two games of 2021 at Lumpkins Stadium, with gut-wrenching swings of emotion.

In a truly-historic 100th Battle of 287 on Friday night, the outcome didn’t go as well the second time around, thanks to a gutsy call by Ennis head coach Sam Harrell.

After answering an Indian touchdown on their overtime possession, Harrell’s Class 5A Division II No. 6-ranked Lions decided to go for the 2-point conversion and the win. The gamble paid off as Ennis quarterback Jackson Gilkey found T.T. Cox open, giving the Lions a 22-21 win and allowing them to keep the road sign for the third straight year.

“Win or lose all the glory goes to God for allowing us to play this game,” Indians head coach Shane Tolleson tweeted after the game. “Our student section is second to NONE!

“(The) first season is over. The second season is here. Regroup and refocus. Record 0-0.”

Ennis (3-0) now leads the series, 50-48-2, with the two ties occurring in 1932 and 1941. Friday’s game was the first time in the series that the contest went into overtime.

For WHS fans, the game had a strong sense of déjà vu as regulation play ended deadlocked at 14-all and the Indians went on offense first.

Almost as quickly as had happened in the season-opening 28-22 victory over Rowlett, quarterback Roderick Hartsfield Jr. hit a wide-open Keith Abney II right on the pylon for a 23-yard touchdown and the Tribe took a 21-14 lead after Jesse Garfias’ PAT.

The Indians were inches away from walking off again on Ennis’ first play when Lions running back Jace Berry was separated from the ball at the end of a 2-yard gain, but Cox was there just ahead of WHS defenders to keep possession.

Berry ran up the middle for a gain of 10, then Gilkey passed to freshman Gracen Harris for the touchdown. After the Indians called time out when Ennis lined up for two, Gilkey tossed to Cox for the game-ending two points.

In a tight defensive battle, Ennis outgained the Indians in total offense, 303 yards to 234. WHS won the turnover battle 2-1, with Rhett Butler and Brendan White making fumble recoveries in the first half.

Waxahachie senior defensive end Brendan White hits Ennis quarterback Jackson Gilkey as he releases the ball during Friday night's Battle of 287 football game at Lumpkins Stadium.

Iverson Young finished with 71 hard-fought yards on 16 carries, and Hartsfield scored both WHS regulation touchdowns on the ground en route to 61 yards.

Hartsfield completed 7 of 16 pass attempts for 63 yards, including a 30-yard completion to Joseph Lankford and the overtime TD to Abney. He also threw one interception in the first quarter, to Ennis’ Dre Lewis.

Ennis played without two of its top players, Devion Beasley and Dee Johnson, because of non-football-related disciplinary matters. Cox, a wide receiver by trade, moved into the backfield and finished with 71 rushing yards on 16 carries, and Berry ran nine times for 51 yards and a score.

Gilkey was very efficient on the night, completing 19 of 24 passes for 212 yards. Freshman Harris caught 12 of Gilkey’s throws for 164 yards and two touchdowns.

The Indians (2-1) tied the game in the third quarter after a short Lions punt set them up near midfield. Hartsfield faked up the middle, kept around left end and took it 42 yards for the score with 4:45 left in the third quarter.

Ennis replied with an 85-yard, 13-play drive to regain the upper hand with 10:21 left in regulation when Berry found a big hole up the middle and scored from the 12. But the Indians came back with a 13-play drive of their own, aided by a 30-yard pass from Hartsfield to Lankford and a pass-interference penalty in the end zone. The Lions defense bowed up at the goal line, but on fourth-and-two, Hartsfield followed his blockers over the goal line to re-tie the game with 4:07 to go.

WHS had one more chance to win it in regulation, but turned the ball over on downs at the Ennis 28 with 23.5 ticks left.

The game’s opening minutes signaled what kind of dogfight it would be, with each team ending possessions with a punt and a turnover. Finally, toward the end of the first quarter, the Lions broke the ice in a big way when Gilkey hit Harris on a crossing pattern for a 69-yard touchdown play, and the Lions led 7-0 at the 2:17 mark.

That’s how the first half ended as each team put together a lengthy drive that stalled. WHS turned the ball over on downs at the Ennis 27, setting up a 7 ½-minute Ennis possession that ended with White’s fumble recovery after the Lions got as close as the Indians 14.

The Indians begin 11-6A play on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Hewitt against winless Midway, which is coming off a 27-16 home loss to South Grand Prairie. The following week, the Tribe will host Mansfield Lake Ridge at Lumpkins Stadium on Sept. 24, meaning the Indians will try to enter October with a 4-1 and 2-0 mark.

The Lions, meanwhile, will open defense of their two-time District 8-5A (Division II) championships next Friday at Greenville.