In their first six games, the Glen Rose Tigers won more convincingly than the score indicated.
In their Friday night loss at No. 3 Stephenville, the Tigers (6-1, 0-1) played the Yellow Jackets closer than the 48-30 score. Glen Rose got within three yards of taking the lead with seven minutes to go, and then Stephenville was able to make all of the contest’s remaining key plays to gain some separation.
“I think it was more like a five-point game (than 18),” said coach Tommy Dunn. “We had an opportunity with second-and-goal from the (Stephenville) 3 and then we (hurt) ourselves. (The Yellow Jackets) got a cheap (fumble recovery) touchdown there at the end; that was a bad call by me at the wrong time.
“Stephenville made plays; I give them a lot of credit. You have to work hard for everything you get against them.”
Dunn wasn’t surprised his Tigers nearly took a fourth-quarter lead.
“We played right there with them,” he said. “They deserved to be ranked where they are, but our kids deserve everything they’ve gotten, too. There were two good football teams on the field (Friday).”
As defensive coordinator Todd Swearengin pointed out after the game, the Tigers didn’t give up any gigantic plays to the explosive Yellow Jacket attack. Stephenville had no rushes of 20 yards and just two 30-yard passes (both exactly 30 yards).
“I thought our secondary played well,” Swearengin said. “We need to get better, but (receivers) weren’t running wide open.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers had two rushes of at least 20 yards and three passes of at least 30 yards.
“We didn’t give up any huge plays, and I was proud of how we challenged them more after halftime,” Swearengin said. “Austin (Gibson) stepped up (at cornerback) coming back from an injury, broke up a few passes and made plays. Our guys fought their tails off; we need to grow from this and get better.”
Taking into account that Glen Rose recovered an onside kick, each team turned the ball over twice. Stephenville definitely got flustered at times, considering it committed nine penalties for 88 yards compared to six (47 yards) for Glen Rose.
The challenge of facing the Stephenville defense was evident in Glen Rose averaging 3.9 yards per carry (122 yards) and completing 47 percent of its passes.
“They were very tough to run against and everything we got on the ground was very well-earned,” Dunn said. “They were very cognizant of where Cody (Burtscher) was at all times and they tried to take him out of the game.”
Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets gained 5.8 yards per tote with a completion percentage of 75.
“We’re not going to see another offensive team any better,” Swearengin said.
Justin Weatherley was tremendous for the Tigers with seven catches for 117 yards and a touchdown, in addition to a 49-yard punt return touchdown. Several of his receptions were of the highlight variety.
“Weatherley made some incredible catches,” Dunn said. “He has been a clutch guy all year, and he came through in a big game. That was a great job (on the return score) and it’s our third punt return touchdown in the last three games.”
With Stephenville throwing everything but the kitchen sink at him defensively, Cody Burtscher ran for 102 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries to go with four catches for 40 yards and a second touchdown. He lost a fumble on a fourth-down play.
Colton Bretton completed 19 of 40 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns to go with seven carries for 22 yards. He lost a fumble in the end zone for the aforementioned Stephenville defensive touchdown with 5:16 remaining.
“Colton played outstanding under pretty (intense) pressure; he made some good reads,” Dunn said. “I thought the offensive line did a good job all night with (Stephenville) trying to put a lot of pressure on us.”
Jared Thames was the top offensive player of the first half with four catches for 71 yards.
“Jared gave us an extra dimension the way he caught the ball out of the backfield,” Dunn said. “We always take what (defenses) give us.”
Martin De Los Santos made a 27-yard field goal to end the first half (17-28) and came up just short on a 32-yarder on the drive where the Tigers got within three yards of taking the lead in the fourth. A penalty and a sack forced Glen Rose to try the field goal.
“In a game like this, every little thing matters,” Swearengin said.
Ryan Lamb recovered an onside kick to open the second half and made a tackle for loss.
“Lamb is explosive off the ball and he can really rush the passer,” Swearengin said. “He makes plays with his feet.”
Hayden Holder forced a fumble in the third quarter and Kevin Uehlein made the recovery.
“We talked at halftime that we thought we could force some fumbles with the way they were carrying the ball; it happened,” Swearengin said. “Holder continues to grow as a (young) player.”
The Tigers stopped a conversion run attempt in the fourth quarter with a gang tackle.
“The guys knew (Stephenville) would try to run the ball there and they made the play,” Swearengin said.
Stephenville compiled 508 yards and 30 of the game’s 53 first downs. Quarterback Tyler Jones completed 22 of 29 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns, plus he ran 12 times for 75 yards and two more scores.
“(Jones) is good,” Swearengin said. “He’s one of the best in the state at this level, if not the best, and those receivers are good, too.”
Witt Westbrook ran 22 times for 127 yards and a touchdown to go with five catches for 38 yards and a second score. The top Yellow Jacket receivers were Brice Gunter (5-70, 1 TD), Alex Sanchez (5-64) and Jarrett Stidham (4-64).
The Tigers were definitely ready to play, as they opened the game with a nine-play, 79-yard drive. Weatherley made a 32-yard leaping catch in tight coverage on the game’s first offensive play. A 26-yard Thames catch-and-run brought Glen Rose into the red zone and then Bretton hit Weatherley in the front corner of the end zone on a two-yard score (7-0, De Los Santos kick).
Unfazed, Stephenville struck right back with its own nine-play drive for 71 yards. The touchdown came on an eight-yard Jones keeper (7-7, Luis Garcia kick).
The Tigers then used a 12-play, 86-yard drive to regain the lead. A Bretton 22-yard run and a 32-yard Thames reception were the prime plays to set up a stellar 15-yard, one-handed Burtscher touchdown catch (14-7, De Los Santos kick).
Stephenville continued to have an answer, as it used seven plays to march 68 yards. The touchdown came on a 30-yard Gunter reception (14-14, Garcia kick).
While only 59 of Stephenville’s 212 rushing yards came in the first half, Jones had just three incompletions during that time.
“We wanted to make them run the ball to beat us,” Swearengin said. “Early on, I think we tried to play the run a little too much.”
Facing a fourth-and-five at the Stephenville 43, Burtscher lost a fumble on a five-yard run. The Yellow Jackets needed six plays to go 62 yards and take their first lead, as the touchdown came on a 17-yard Jones pass to Westbrook (14-21, Garcia kick).
“All turnovers are bad, especially against an offense that good,” Dunn said. “You have to score every time you have the ball.”
When the Tigers were forced to punt on their next possession, Stephenville struck again with a six-play, 43-yard drive. The touchdown was a six-yard Westbrook run (14-28, Garcia kick).
Glen Rose used the remainder of the half to go on a 13-play drive after a Jensen Nash kick return to the Tiger 43. A Burtscher run converted a fourth down and then De Los Santos booted the 27-yard field goal as time expired (17-28).
The first play of the second half saw Lamb pounce on a De Los Santos onside kick at the 50.
“As a coaching staff, we thought they were susceptible to that right off the bat (out of halftime),” Swearengin said. “Martin did a phenomenal job kicking it and it gave us a little life.”
Unfortunately, the Tigers were forced to punt after a deep Hayden Holder receiver pass to Weatherley was nullified by a holding call. Beginning at their own 16, the Yellow Jackets were forced to punt for the only time on the night. Weatherley fielded the punt at the Stephenville 49 and exploded down the sideline, benefitted from a Blake Eschbach block at the end to hit paydirt (24-28, De Los Santos kick).
“When we got the onside kick and then that penalty on the big play backed us up, it hurt, but the defensive stand and the punt return helped us get back in it,” Dunn said.
Credit Stephenville for answering, as it drove 84 yards in eight plays. The touchdown was a 25-yard Jones pass to Chase Varnado (24-35, Garcia kick).
Glen Rose got right back to work with a nine-play, 81-yard scoring drive. The big play was a 26-yard Burtscher run and he eventually scored on a one-yard run (30-35, Bretton conversion pass failed).
On Stephenville’s last possession of the third, Lamb made his tackle for loss and five plays later Sanchez lost a fumble on an end around when Holder stripped it and Uehlein pounced on the pigskin at the Tiger 37.
The Tigers staged a nine-play drive highlighted by a 42-yard Weatherley catch-and-run where he was dragging Jackets at the end, and then a Burtscher run brought Glen Rose to the Yellow Jacket 3. With the lead just nine feet away, a false start, a sack of Bretton and a pass breakup in the end zone brought about the De Los Santos 32-yard try that was just short.
Sensing a momentum shift, Stephenville drove 80 yards in 11 plays and scored on a one-yard Jones keeper. The ensuing Jones conversion run failed (30-41).
Nash recovered his own fumble on the kick return and made it to the Tiger 7. On the next play, a botched handoff resulted in a Bretton fumble in the end zone. Kobe Beavers jumped on the loose ball for the game’s final touchdown (30-48, Garcia kick) to seal the deal.
Glen Rose will now go into its bye and then host Alvarado on Oct. 26. Alvarado is coming off a 63-7 win over Hillsboro, and it will now face Stephenville.
“We’re disappointed that we didn’t win,” Dunn said. “We have to find a way to do a better job in the red zone, and that’s my fault. If we’re perfect in the red zone (Friday), we have an opportunity to win this football game. The guys played like I expected them to play; we didn’t play above our heads.”