Jackets keep playoff hopes alive

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When a lone trombonist plays the National Anthem in Mineola, it is going to be a special night. The hauntingly elegant solo by Mineola band member Megan Holt (a moving tribute to the nation) preceded a special night for the Yellowjackets as they blanked the Tatum Eagles 34-0. 

Call it validation. Following last week’s loss at Sabine, the Jackets desperately needed the validation that a resounding win over a competitive opponent could give them. They earned that validation Friday night. 

In the most dominant performance of the season across all units, Coach Luke Blackwell’s team excelled. Offensively, the Jackets were in lock-step. They executed smartly and made solid decisions. Quarterback Thomas Hooten calmly ran the offense, and when he threw the ball, he threw it with authority. Trevion Sneed looked like his old self, hammering out yardage after contact and delivering blows to the defense. Dawson Pendergrass, Cole Castleberry, Dalton Rogers, T.J. Moreland had their moments. Most importantly, the offensive line must have been challenged, for they put together an excellent game.     

Defensively, the Yellowjackets overwhelmed a young Tatum squad by the defensive scheme and with physicality. Mineola won the physical game about halfway through the first quarter. The defense forced three turnovers and one score on the night.

The special teams continue to evolve. Again they opened up the game with a big kickoff return, while the kickoff team created a turnover late in the game. Gustavo Sanchez continued his PAT proficiency, hitting four of five attempts. 

After Rogers’ big return up the right side on the opening kickoff, the Yellowjackets repeatedly fed the ball off tackle. Sneed carried twice for a first down. As Tatum continued to struggle to contain Sneed, they inched closer to the line of scrimmage. On a beautiful play fake Hooten dropped back and hit a wide-open Rogers on a go route for a score. 

Mineola gave away their only turnover of the night after forcing a Tatum punt and taking over deep in their own territory. Tatum took possession at the Mineola 42-yard line. They were stuffed again, but on a fourth and long, the Eagles had a wide receiver streaking down the north sideline. At the last possible second, Moreland closed on the receiver and by a fingertip, knocked the ball away at the goal line. 

After taking over on downs, Mineola repeated the opening sequence, this time hitting Pendergrass on a go route from the slot. The 48-yard strike was nicely executed. Mineola led 14-0 as the initial quarter closed.

Following a beautiful Moreland interception of a deep out route, Mineola struck quickly. A long, arcing pass from Hooten to Castleberry went for big yardage. Three consecutive carries by Sneed made the score 20-0. Sanchez converted to tally the PAT.

Tatum could not generate any offense on the ground, so they resorted to wide receiver screens and short passes. On Tatum’s next possession, Pendergrass anticipated one of those wide receiver screens and nabbed it away from the receiver at midfield, racing untouched for a score. 

Pendergrass appeared to be everywhere on the night. Carrying the ball out of the backfield, closing down the corner, recovering a fumble on special teams, scoring a defensive touchdown, a receiving touchdown and a rushing touchdown. It was a spectacular performance.     

 The Jackets ended the first half with a goal line stand, stymieing the Eagles, who had a first-and-goal from the 3-yard line. 

At the half the score stood 27-0. 

Mineola bled the clock throughout the third quarter, with each team having only one third quarter possession. Fourth quarter play got a little cheap, as penalties mounted.

Pendergrass scored on an 11-yard carry up the middle late in the fourth. Sanchez added the extra point which finished the scoring.

The win sets up a potentially season-defining game Friday at Winnsboro. With Gladewater and Sabine holding 4-1 records, two of the playoff spots are already filled. That leaves four teams: Mineola (3-2), Tatum (2-3), West Rusk (3-3) and Winnsboro (2-3) contending for the final two positions. 

With a win against Winnsboro Friday, the Yellowjackets are in the playoffs.  However, a loss in Winnsboro would put the Jackets at 3-3, and both Winnsboro and West Rusk would own the head-to-head record against Mineola. 

It is all on the table Friday, and it promises to be a whale of a game.

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