FRISCO, Texas — By the time the smoke cleared from Friday night’s 40-plus-point shootout win against Midlothian Heritage High School at The Star, Kennedale had crossed two goals off its season to-do list.
“I’m far less worried about No. 200. I’m much happier about getting No. 12,” Wildcat Head Coach Richard Barret said to his players after the game.
Earning Barret’s 200th career victory and the Wildcats’ 12th of the year required more than their “best game of the season.” It required a single game, season-high in touchdowns from its starting running back, a desperation flea flicker from DJ Kirven to Jaden Smith and a 40-yard, dead eye-caliber leg shot from Tiero.
“I love that dude,” Smith said of Tiero. “He’s a great kicker. I swear I’ve seen him hit kicks from like 60 yards away. He’s great. That’s what he does — win.”
It took five touchdowns from senior running back DJ Kirven for Kennedale High School to seal its comeback rally and defeat Midlothian Heritage 45-43 during the Class 4A Regional Semifinal.
It also took more than 390 yards of total offense — 141 from the powerful lower body of Kirven — to negate Landon Ledbetter nearly peerless passing and to eliminate Lee Wigington and his undefeated Jaguars from the postseason for the second consecutive year.
Ledbetter closed his junior season with one of the most accurate games of his varsity career, throwing for 497 yards and five touchdowns on 30-for-40 passing (75 percent). One-hundred-sixty of those yards and one touchdown came via 10 receptions by junior receiver Kerrion Fields.
A touchdown run by Nathan Gascamp helped Midlothian seize their first points of the game while a touchdown reception by Noah Parker helped whittle the deficit and keep the Jaguars in earshot of a first-ever possible regional final berth.
Ninety-seven of Ledbetter’s yards came via sure-handed sophomore Jay Wilkerson on six receptions. The final touchdown in his count went to senior Dre Washington on a 55-yard catch and sprint down the right sideline — which tied the game at 21 with 9:29 left in the third quarter.
Back-to-back second-half scoring throws to Wilkerson and Langston Anderson from 43 and 14 yards out tied the game and threatened to pull the rug from beneath the Wildcats’ momentum. A Fields’ touchdown and 2-point conversion to Anderson with little more than 30 seconds on the clock threaten to end their season.
And still, Kennedale rose.
They pounded the ball down the field with Kirven, Evan Jowers (3 rush, 53 yards), Jaden Knowles (11 rush, 70 yards), and David Roper, Jr. (4 rush 68 yards) in the second half. And when the time was ripe, they unleashed the flea-flicker that would bring them within three victories of a state title.
“We told ourselves we had 33 seconds left and to keep pounding,” Kirven said. “We didn’t give up. We went down there and scored. It all comes from not wanting to lose again. After that loss to West Orange-Stark [the Wildcats’ only of the season], we said we weren’t going to lose again.”
Rallying from Midlothian Heritage’s furious rush took comeback after comeback after comeback and the type of resiliency that winners possess, Barret said to the Wildcats in the post-game huddle. The type of resiliency that would call a head coach to draw up a flea flicker to an under-the-radar receiver to put his team in position for an NFL-distance kick.
“I knew we needed a big play,” Smith said about his stage-setting catch over a pair of Jaguar defenders. “Once the ball was in the air, I knew it had to be mine. You have to make plays in the fourth quarter of playoff games. That’s what I did.”
In the end, a “Coach, I got this” was all Barret needed to hear from senior kicker Kevin Tiero to know that his Wildcats were headed to their second consecutive 4A Regional Final and a date with Kaufman High School.
“Kevin’s a tremendous kicker. He lives for those moments,” Barret said. “We practice that every day. We put pressure on him. We ran him out there with little time on the clock and hit the game-winner. He did it like a champ. He told me after [we used] the third timeout — like I tell him — that ‘it’s going right down main street.'”
Tiero’s game-winning kick set up a 7:30 p.m. matchup with star quarterback Trey Collier and Kaufman High School next Friday night at The Star. To reach the UIL Regional Final, the (12-1) Lions defeated 11 consecutive opponents — including AP No. No. 11 Van on Nov. 3 and unranked Texarkana Liberty Eylau in the Regional Semifinal on Friday.
For Barret and Kennedale, the time celebration will be short because the road to state calls at 7:30 a.m.
“We’re getting back at it in the morning. We have to,” he said. “Kaufman’s got an unbelievable quarterback, great schemes, and really good players. They’ll give us all we want and we’ll have to play our best game to win — for the second week in a row, no if’s, and’s, or but’s. Its the fourth round and there are no bad teams in the fourth round.”
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