Second-half surge puts WHS on cusp of playoffs
Indians erase second-half deficit and all but clinch postseason return in homecoming win
Thanks to a huge surge in the second half, the Waxahachie Indians can start thinking about making plans for Week 12.
Mathematically, it’s not officially over that the Indians will be advancing to the Class 6A Division II playoffs for the second year in row. But … it’s over.
Barring some unforeseen event in the final two weeks of the regular season, the Indians essentially punched their postseason ticket with a 43-25 homecoming victory over Mansfield High at Lumpkins Stadium on Friday night.
The Indians erased a halftime deficit on the back of running back Jayden Becks, who rushed for 162 yards on 25 carries and scored two touchdowns. Quarterback Roderick Hartsfield Jr. was an efficient 13-of-15 for 119 yards and a touchdown pass to Jaelyn Davis-Robinson with one interception, and added 46 yards and two scores on the ground.
The defense, which had a tough time against nationally-ranked Duncanville the week before, tried to find its footing in the first half as the Tigers took an early 14-0 lead and still led 17-14 at halftime. WHS head coach Shane Tolleson chalked it up to big-game nervousness.
“There was a little bit of pressure on our part,” Tolleson said. ”We tried to overcompensate and make plays that weren’t our plays ... and they exposed us.”
The front seven shined again for the Tribe, but one player who stood out was Keith Abney II, who was in on numerous plays at the line of scrimmage.
“We know our defense is strong,” Abney said, “But once we got our offense clicking, we know it’ll be easy to win games. That’s how we got the big win tonight.”
Added Tolleson on Abney: “He’s a 100-snap-a-game guy. He doesn’t get enough credit. That’s unbelievable for 6A football. He might not have the glaring numbers, but the guy never comes off the field. He’s all-state in my opinion.”
The Indians (5-3, 3-2) own a tiebreaker advantage over the Tigers and would have to lose twice while Mansfield would have to win twice in order for WHS to be edged out of a playoff berth. With the Indians traveling to winless Waco and Mansfield still with Duncanville and Cedar Hill to play, that seems highly unlikely.
It didn’t take long for WHS to take the lead for good. Following an exchange of punts, Abney unleashed a long punt return all the way to the Mansfield 12-yard line. From there, Hartsfield pitched a jet sweep to Davis-Robinson for the go-ahead TD at the 6:10 mark of the third quarter, and the Indians never trailed again.
The Tribe sealed the outcome with a huge special-teams play near the end of the third quarter. A 42-yard field goal attempt by the Tigers was blocked by Jermy Jackson and Calvin Simpson scooped it up and ran it all the way back, putting WHS on top by 11 points and taking all the momentum into the final 12 minutes.
The Indians gave up a safety on Mansfield’s second blocked punt of the night, but Becks and Hartsfield each scored rushing touchdowns in the fourth to seal the outcome. The Tigers tacked on a 75-yard touchdown run against reserves in the final 1:52.
Running back Iverson Young, who forms a potent tandem with Becks, came out of the game with an unspecified collarbone injury in the third quarter. Tolleson said Young will likely not play against Waco on Friday.
A troublesome opening quarter started with the Tigers driving 75 yards for the opening score, followed by a blocked punt which led to another Mansfield TD making it 14-0 at the 3:2 mark of the first quarter.
“We’ve got to execute better,” Tolleson said. “Championship teams don’t let punts get blocked.”
The Tribe finally got on the scoreboard on the first play of the second quarter as Hartsfield faked a throw, tucked and ran 18 yards.
A promising drive ended on an interception at the 2-yard line, and Mansfield made it 17-7 on a 34-yard field goal.
The Indians then put together an impressive drive, mixing the run and pass to go 66 yards to make it a 17-14 game. Hartsfield completed passes to Abney, Jayden Watson and Young during the march, and Becks did the rest, including a 3-yard TD plunge with 3:07 on the clock.
With the big win behind them, the Indians head into this week with one thing in mind.
”If we beat (Waco), we’re in the playoffs,” Abney said. “We’ve got to prepare, and come out of practice prepared and treat them like any other team.”