MIDLOTHIAN — If last season’s 17-point victory over Crandall High School was one in a series of small steps in the Jaguars’ evolution, then Friday night’s 40-21 finish at MISD Multi-Purpose Stadium was a leap.
“We had some mental busts at the beginning of the year that caused us to play at a level we don’t want to play at. This game really showed we could really grow up when we needed to,” junior quarterback Landon Ledbetter said about the difference in his team in year one of varsity play versus year two.
In 2016, Midlothian Heritage High School (4-0) took four full quarters to beat Crandall in a 48-31 shootout on the road. A year later, the Associated Press UIL 4A No. 8 Jaguars took only a half. In the first matchup, Ledbetter threw 21 passes, completing 13 for 183 yards and a touchdown.
Friday night, he needed only 15 passes to better that feat.
“Offensively, we started the season with some new guys and challenged some young ones to step up,” Ledbetter continued. “Coming into the week, we had the mindset that Crandall would be the most physical team we’ll play all year. We knew we had to be as physical as them, if not more.”
Ledbetter finished the game 11 for 15 for 173 yards and three touchdowns — including a 54-yard strike to Kerrion Fields. Ledbetter also found six different receivers during the game and ran for 56 yards and a score. Fields, a senior wideout, caught five passes for 68 yards, finding the back of the end zone twice.
As evidence of their growth and subsequent efficiency, the Jaguars used only seven drives — not including the final drive that seeped time from a running clock — to score six times. Four of those possessions were five or fewer plays and only two reached 12.
The drive capped by a 44-yard throw to Langston Anderson needed only four plays, a string of consecutive completions by Midlothian Heritage’s sandy-haired gunslinger.
One, a 75-yard quarterback option by Dre Washington that gave Midlothian Heritage a 19-7 lead with 3:32 left in the second quarter, took a single play.
“I was just trying to get to the sideline. I honestly didn’t think I’d make it that far,” Washington said about the run, adding a light chuckle to cap the statement. “Once I hit the sideline and saw the alley, the only thing going through my mind was to run as hard as I can. It was definitely one of the longest runs of my career if we’re not including the 91-yard pick-6 I had last year.”
Washington and the Jaguars, too, were stout at the point of attack and in a turnover-hungry defensive backfield.
Crandall opened the game with a seven-minute drive capped by a Josh Redding 21-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Pruitt on fourth down and 10, but wouldn’t see the end zone or the other side of the 50-yard line until Tyson Gatewood broke away for a 29-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. The Jaguars and their defense time after time found ways to stall drives, force inaccurate throws from Redding and Steven Dearman and limit one of the classifications most dangerous backs.
“They are an incredibly physical, smashmouth football team, one of those you better be able to play well against. We certainly didn’t expect to shut a team like that out. I’m proud of the guys on how they responded after [Crandall’s] first drive,” Head Coach Lee Wiginton said. “Even during that first drive, we got them into situations on third and long where we just couldn’t get off the field. That’s going to happen against good teams. They are going to score”
Gatewood led all running backs with 28 carries for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Redding added 18 yards on the ground but was stifled through the air, finishing 3 for 11 for 70 yards. He found pay dirt once. The duo combined for 202 yards and five touchdowns a week earlier against Ferris High School.
That, Wiginton said, may have been the most poignant lesson of the game going into both next Friday’s matchup with Sanger High School and the 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12 District 6-4A-1 opener against Dallas Pinkston High School and against other district teams loaded with talented ball carriers.
“In our district, everybody’s going to have one of those studs. There’s back after back and no telling where or when they end,” he declared. “You go from Alvarado to Carter to Ranchview and there’s so many you lose count. We’ve seen some backs — like ones in Benbrook and Eaton — that have helped us continue to get better tackling in the open field. That’s what matters to us: If we can tackle them when district begins and the games really matter.”
Marcus Matthews-Marion is the managing editor of Texas HS Football. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or across social media platforms @MarcusSMarion.
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