Photo: Gordon Deloach/Texas HS Football

DESOTO, Texas — When it comes to the Battle of the Beltline, records, Associated Press standings, District 7-6A championship implications, or the appearance of guest coin flipper LaDainian Tomlinson, nothing is quite as important as the annual showdown between Cedar Hill and DeSoto High Schools.

Not even the presence of a legendary NFL Hall of Famer could overshadow one of the biggest rivalries in North Texas or DeSoto’s 21-7 victory Friday night at Eagle Stadium.

“Man, I can tell you one thing. It’s a real blessing to come out here with my brothers and take home a victory against our rival,” senior running back Kelan Walker said about claiming the first-ever Peanut Bowl Trophy, flashing a seemingly deceptive grin while adjusting the Battle of the Beltline title. “A lot of it was Courtney (Douglas). He did great with the pressure and finding time for the receivers to get open for him.”

Despite the game’s deceptively large margin, Associated Press No. 4 DeSoto High School (5-0, 1-0 in district) found ground — and a victory — hard to come by against what Head Coach Todd Peterman called “one of the best defenses they’ve faced all season.”

Outside of Walker’s 121 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 13 carries (9.7 YPC), the Eagle’s four other backs accounted for only 65 yards on the ground on 30 carries (2.2 YPC).

Senior running back Kelan Walker runs for a 52-yard touchdown during the Sept. 30 matchup between Cedar Hill and DeSoto High Schools. Gordon Deloach/Texas HS Football

“This is the first time he’s carried the ball since week one. He’s had one carry all year. I didn’t even plan on playing him tonight,” Peterman said. “He’s had one practice in the last month. I didn’t want to run him without at least two practices under his belt, but he came to me and said, ‘Coach, I’m ready to run,’ so I gave him the ball.”

The Longhorn defense, though, nearly played a bigger role than the Eagles’ 6-foot, 205-pound bruiser.

Not only did they harass, harry, hurry and flush starting quarterback Douglas out of the pocket, they dragged him to the ground thrice in the first half and again in the final two quarters.

Douglas, who entered the game with a passing percentage of 61 percent through three games against Dallas Jesuit, Denton Guyer and Midland High Schools, finished at 56 percent against Cedar Hill. He went 10-18 for 157 yards and one touchdown — a first quarter, 7-yard pass to LaVonte Shenault.

They nearly tagged him with a second sack in the fourth quarter.

Consistent Longhorn pressure, characteristic of first-year Head Coach Carlos Lynn, score nil-nil through 12 minutes and 14-7 after 36 minutes had ticked off the clock.

DeSoto Head Coach Todd Peterman called Cedar Hill’s defense “the best his team’s seen all season” after they sacked starting quarterback Courtney Douglas four times — three in the first half. Gordon Deloach/Texas HS Football

It also helped them steady the ship after throwing a costly red zone interception to Ge’Mon Green, allowing Walker’s first touchdown after committing 55 yards of penalties on a single drive and watching two players receive ejections — one due to targeting.

Despite high-powered speed back Cameron Fleming (8 rush, 93 yds) being limited to two 30-yard-plus runs — a 50-yard scamper and little more than 10 yards per carry in between — defense set the stage for Quin Bright (9 rush, 38 yds, TD) to pull the Longhorns within seven points with 1:33 left in the third quarter.

With Cedar Hill in earshot of rankings-shifting scale upset, DeSoto calmed itself and followed a simple but powerful architectural schematic.

“We came in with the game plan our coach told us: Line up and play football. A lot of times we don’t come in nervous. We’re not going to bounce around. We just come in with the mindset we’re going to take it play by play. If you don’t do that, everything gets out of whack and out of place,” said Byron Hanspard, Jr., a senior defensive back and brother of Bryon Hanspard. “When we get everything in the right perspective, we can flow how we want to flow.”

That game plan incorporated bottling up Douglas and Fleming, a lightning-quick backfield weapon.

“I’ve known Cam for a long time and he’s done nothing but matriculate into a wonderful athlete. It’s definitely always a great feeling playing on the same field with him,” Hanspard, Jr. added. “When we study film, we always look and see who are the dogs — players that can make an instant impact on the outcome of the game. Cam’s one of them.”

In the end, though, it was DeSoto’s defense — more than Douglas, Walker and the offense — that made stops when the Eagles needed them most. Trailing by a touchdown and reeling from a stunted four-play drive that included two Douglas overthrown passes, Cedar Hill marched methodically down the field using Fleming’s 50-yard run to reach the DeSoto 27-yard line and came within three first downs up pulling what would have been arguably the biggest upset in high school football this season.

And as if a lightning bolt had hit each of the Eagles’ defenders sequentially, DeSoto awoke.

On Cedar Hill’s next two drives, Hanspard and the Eagle defense turned up the in-pocket stress on Longhorn quarterback Yizalle Whitfield. They batted away a sideline streak that threatened to put the Longhorns into a crucial red-zone situation. They stuffed Bright for a 2-yard loss on 3rd and 10. They forced an errant throw that forced a turnover on downs and led Walker’s second touchdown.

Peterman led DeSoto High School to a 6A state title in 2016. A year later, the Eagles are undefeated and at No. 4 in the Associated Press’ Texas high school polls. Gordon Deloach/Texas HS Football

Most importantly they sacked Whitfield on the DeSoto 37-yard line and then wore down Cedar Hill’s unrelenting pass rush with a young and untested offensive front, effectively removing the most important element of a comeback from the equation — time.

“If you look at it, we left 21 points on the board against what I think is a really talented and well-coached defense and the best one we’ve seen this year, by far. It’s not even close,” Peterman said of his offensive production, noting areas of concern going into their 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6 matchup with Grand Prairie High School. “We’ll get better and better as the season goes on and we’ll go through some growing pains, but this is only the second time these linemen have played in the same spot. We’re young. At one point, we had four sophomores on the field offensively.”

The AP’s Class 6A top five remained intact after Allen, Austin Westlake, Converse Judson, and Katy High Schools either escaped a fall because of a bye week or emerged with wins and untarnished overall and district records. DeSoto’s survival of and victory in the rivalry war, though, may show a team more playoff ready than the rest.

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Marcus Matthews-Marion is the managing editor of TexasHSFootball, covering prep football throughout the Lone Star State. Follow him on Twitter, @TheMJMatthews, and read more of his content here.

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