By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
BUDA – To the biggest and the fastest goes the football game, unless the smallest and slowest plays with mechanical perfection.
The Hays Rebels, falling short of mechanical perfection Friday night, thus lost their homecoming game to the defending state champions in Class 4A Division I. However, the Rebels” 35-24 loss to Rosenberg Lamar showed how good they can become. It also demonstrated their shortcomings.
At times, the Rebels moved the ball steadily and played solid defense. But they also showed their vulnerability to the big play against kids from communities that simply produce faster athletes. Opposing speed at the skill positions has sent the Rebels to defeat three times in their first five games.
That might not be exactly what Hays coach Bob Shelton wanted in the first half of this season, but he certainly knew what to expect when he scheduled Lamar, along with Class 5A teams Bowie and Bastrop in advance of the district schedule. Indeed, the pre-district schedule wasn’t designed so much for the district slate as for the playoffs, since the District 17-4A competition doesn’t figure to prepare the Rebels for teams that will survive to Thanksgiving.
As Shelton put it Friday night, watching the Lamar players celebrate their first win in the stadium named after him, “We’re not going to be playing this kind of talent.”
That’s not a swipe at the other schools in District 17-4A. It’s just the truth. No one, including Hays, can match Lamar, Bowie or, to a lesser degree, Bastrop, in terms of raw athletic talent. And the Rebels weren’t going to be familiar with that kind of playoff talent unless they took it on early.
So, the Rebels remain the district favorites, despite their 2-3 start, by virtue of their winning tradition and their experiences through the first five weeks. Barring some unfathomable catastrophe, they’ll finish within the top four of the six-team district and go to the playoffs. What will they find there? Now, they know.
At the very least, they know they’ll need to at least keep the big plays even. If the game were all about statistics, total production through the course of a game, then Hays played the Mustangs at least evenly, outgaining them 363 yards to 353.
But the game also is about moments, opportunities and finishing plays. After the Rebels drove 75 yards in six plays on their first possession, taking a 7-0 lead with Torrance Smith’s eight-yard touchdown run, they drove again on their next possession to the Lamar 39. Then, Hays quarterback Trey Berry threw an out route and Lamar’s Corey Hodge closed on the pass, probably faster than Berry’s ever seen a defender close on the out route. Hodge intercepted and ran 62 yards for a touchdown to tie the game, 7-7.
“We had the momentum, then I threw a pick six and gave it back to them,” Berry said. “We have to cut down mistakes. I’ll take the blame for that.”
On the next Hays possession, Berry threw another interception, this time to Lamar defensive back Jarrod Seahorn at the Hays 42. Three plays later, Jordan Towers ran 32 yards for a touchdown, putting Lamar into a 14-7 lead.
The Rebels took that shot and reacted by driving 59 yards in ten plays, ending with Berry’s one-yard touchdown run to make it 14-14. But on Lamar’s next possession, quarterback D.J. Smallwood threw 56 yards to Jamal Williams, putting the Mustangs on the Hays eight. Two plays later, Towers ran five yards for a touchdown to give the Mustangs a 21-14 lead.
Knowing a two-touchdown deficit would be deadly against the defending state champs, the Rebels still went three-and-out on their next two possessions. The defense held the first time, but the second went awry when Smallwood threw 38 yards to Errol Nolan, putting Lamar on the Hays 26, then Smallwood found D.D. Goodson for a 30-yard score with 36.5 seconds left in the half to make it 28-14.
“We made some mistakes in the first half that I think hurt us,” Hays coach Bob Shelton said. “We did some good things, but we did some bad things, too.”
The air went out of this game about midway into the third quarter, after Hays marched from its own 20 to the Lamar 26 in 14 plays after the kickoff. The Rebels turned it over on downs when Berry threw incomplete on fourth down. Two plays later, Towers blew around right end for a 70-yard touchdown run, giving Lamar a 35-14 lead.
Hays just couldn’t answer Lamar’s big plays. When a fourth-quarter field goal of 30 yards by Alex Perez brought the Rebels within 35-17, the Rebels recovered an onside kick at their 48. Smith then hauled in a 36-yard pass from Berry to the Lamar 16, but he fumbled, Lamar recovered, and time was running out as 7:47 remained.
A 22-yard touchdown pass from Sam Breyfogle to Berry brought the Rebels within 35-24 with 4:22 left. But the Rebels never again touched the ball because Lamar thumped the Hays defense for steady gains of five, six and seven yards on the ground. The drive only ran out when the clock did.
Lamar improved to 1-2 by winning its first game in three weeks after Hurricane Ike wiped out its last two scheduled games. The Mustangs already opened with a nine-game schedule, working out a game with Hays to get that many, and they’ll only replace one of the cancelled game, which means they will play eight times during the regular season.
Last year, the Mustangs won the state title with running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Watching Rodgers rush for 186 yards to help Oregon State beat top-ranked Southern California 27-21 Thursday night, it’s easy to see what they’re missing. Then, the Mustangs lost their first two games of this season.
But Hodge’s first-quarter interception for a touchdown might have put Lamar back on path Friday night.
“Not playing in three weeks was a different feel,” Lamar head coach Lydell Wilson said. “When we got the two interceptions in the first quarter, we started to find ourselves again, but you could see we still had rust at the end of the game from all the holding penalties (five in the second half). That comes from not playing a game for a while and wearing down a bit.”
Wilson said Smallwood could end up at Oregon State next year, joining Rodgers and his older brother, James Rodgers. Smallwood completed five of nine passes for 133 yards and a touchdown Friday.
“He’s a Division I quarterback,” Wilson said. “He threw some better balls tonight than he threw in the first couple games.”
The Rebels could be seeing Smallwood and the Mustangs again, deep into the Region III playoffs. If that happens, they’ll know what they’re up against.Email | Print