For the second straight year and third time in school history, Walnut Springs is a regional football champion.
The Hornets (12-0) outlasted Sidney (12-1) 64-56 in a battle of previously unbeatens for the Six-Man Division II Region IV championship in Hico last Friday.
“We’d get 10-12 points ahead and they would score to make it a 4-6 point game,” Walnut Springs head coach Tim Trotter said. “They got ahead of us at one point, but we stepped up when we needed to.”
Walnut Springs advances to the state semifinals where they meet Region III champ Roscoe Highland, a 72-43 winner over Woodson last week. The Hornets and Highland are set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Early.
“One of our big goals was to get back where we were last year,” said Trotter, whose 2008 club fell to Woodson in the semifinals. “Now that we’re back we want to see what we can do.”
Sidney jumped on top 36-34 on a three-yard touchdown run and two-point kick with 2:10 remaining in the first half, but it would prove to be the Eagles’ only lead of the night.
Eddie Whitt fired the third of his five TD passes to Andrew Herring from 10 yards out to put the Hornets back on top 40-36 at halftime, and the Hornets never trailed again.
Johnathan Stack hauled in three scoring passes from Whitt, who also hooked up with Kody Stack and Herring for TD’s. The trigger puller finished 20-25 passing for 344 yards. Stack was the leading receiver with 162 yards on six grabs. He also rushed for a TD, giving him four scores covering 25, 45, 50 and 72 yards. Stack also had one kickoff return and finished with 231 all-purpose yards and 15 touches.
Kody Stack did what he does best - everything. The junior rushed for a 15-yard TD in the first, returned a kickoff 87 yards to the house in the second and scored on a 13-yard reception in the fourth. The junior sensation had 17 touches for 270 all-purpose yards - 147 on kickoff returns, 79 on receptions, 42 on carries and two on his lone punt return - and also made a team-leading 19 tackles.
Whitt added 110 rushing yards - including 40 on a TD sprint - to his big passing night, giving him a hand in 454 of the Hornets’ 566 yards of total offense.
Joining Kody Stack with a big defensive night was Ryan Engelhardt with 17 tackles and Mario Ballesteros with an interception that he returned 25 yards.
The Hornets now find themselves in strange - but elite - company.
“All the other (semifinalists) have won the (championship game) or been to it before. We’re the only team left that hasn’t,” Trotter said. “It’s all new territory for us, and we like it.”
The success of the Hornets is certainly no secret around the tiny community - they are the talk of the town.
“Everybody’s all in a frenzy. They can’t wait for the next game,” Trotter said. “Every time I see somebody they want to know who and where we play and what our chances are.”
And what are the Hornets’ chances against Highland?
“We think we can win. We just have to cut down on the mistakes and penalties we had against Sidney,” Trotter said. “We had about 100 yards in penalties and that helped keep the game close.”
Based on film, Trotter believes Highland may be the strongest team his club has prepared for this season.
“They are super quick and aggressive. They gang tackle on defense and have a lot of speed,” Trotter said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Sidney, because they were pretty good, but I think Highland is the best team we’ve seen.”
The bottom line is, Trotter believes everyone headed to Early for the game should be treated to a thriller.
“Every game takes on its own personality,” he said. “I think this will be a very hard fought game that comes down to the last quarter.”