Mineola opens with 31-14 loss to Wills Point

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Yellowjacket fans need not be alarmed by the initial season loss against a talented 4A Wills Point Tiger team, 31-14, in the season opener last Friday. The game revealed plenty to be excited about for the 2019 edition of the Mineola Yellowjackets.

What we know is this: Trevion Sneed is back! The first two Yellowjacket offensive plays were off-tackle hand-offs to Sneed. He carried for 11 yards on his first run and eight on his second. The manner in which Sneed runs the ball is truly unique. He uses every possible technique to out-muscle and out-maneuver a defense. Those first two runs featured speed and power, a spin, a fake and a hurdle. He repeated the feat in the first two plays of the second half, gaining nine yards off left tackle and seven yards off right tackle. Finishing with 69 yards on 12 carries, Sneed will undoubtedly be the primary offensive weapon once district play begins.

Thomas Hooten is at home playing quarterback. The new QB is not trying to fit in to the offensive system; he is already making the system his own. Hooten was in his element on Friday making throws on the move, avoiding blitzers and using surprising quickness to pick up yardage. He didn’t just play quarterback on Friday, he led the team.

Mineola plays Mineola football. The team never quits. The effort does not lapse. The mental and physical toughness is there on the last play of the game. It was obvious as the game went into the fourth quarter. One could almost see the Wills Point team look at the Yellowjackets players and question, “Why don’t ya’ll give up…we are up 24-7?!” The Tigers looked exasperated at the continuing effort of the visiting Yellowjackets.

If Coach Blackwell was looking for a good test of his team’s resolve, the Wills Point Tigers were a great opponent. The Tigers feature a handful of backs, any one of which could be the primary feature back at any school in East Texas. They have built a cohesive offensive line and are skilled at a variety of blocking schemes. Defensively, Wills Point closes down gaps as well as anyone. The teams probed the opposing defenses in the first series. Each team picked up a first down before punting.

The Tigers struck first. On the opening play of their second possession, the Tigers faked a lead play to the right and the quarterback pulled the ball back. Sensing the defensive pursuit, the quarterback stepped back against the flow of the play, dodged one oncoming defender from the backside, and sprinted directly through the middle of the Yellowjacket defense. After an 87 yard sprint, the Tigers were up 6-0.

The Yellowjackets picked up a first down in the ensuing series. On a fourth-and-2 the Tigers crashed their defensive ends and trapped Sneed short of the marker. Mineola turned the ball over on downs.

The Tigers had the momentum and rolled to a 14-0 lead. The 47-yard scoring drive featured a 27-yard pass completion across the middle and a strong power running game.

As the quarter ended, Mineola was in the middle of a 10-play drive. Mixing wide receiver screens with designed quarterback runs and jet sweeps, the Yellowjackets marched down to the Tigers’ 34 yard line. They faced a fourth-and-4. Hooten rolled right and had a receiver on a short out route, but the quarterback had to jump to clear a defender at his feet and the ball sailed just inches over the target. Wills Point took over on downs.

The Tigers sensed that they could break the game open, and the Yellowjackets were determined to stop them. The next series was some of the best football one could wish to see. The home side picked up two quick first downs. On a second down from the Mineola 37 yard line, the Tigers threw a short swing pass in the flat. Senior Yellowjacket Wiley Franks read the play and crushed the back just as he made the catch, pushing Wills Point back to midfield.

On a fourth-and-11, Wills Point called a reverse which went for 23 yards down to the 13 yard line. Yellowjacket defender Kobe Kendrick threw the quarterback for a loss on the next play, and the Jackets kept the Tigers out of the end zone. A 25-yard field goal made the score 17-0.

Mineola needed a score before half. Hooten took to the air and rallied the team for a six-play 60-yard scoring drive. The first touchdown of the 2019 season came on a 30-yard toss from Hooten to freshman Dawson Pendergrass on a go route.

Wills Point pressed hard to score in the final moments of the half, but the Yellowjackets defense ripped the ball from a Tiger receiver and ended the threat. At the half the score stood 17-7.

The Yellowjackets came out for the second half firing on all cylinders. Cole Castleberry returned the kick-off to the 36 yard line. The Jackets picked up a quick first down thanks to the hard running of Sneed. On a second down from midfield, Mineola took a deep shot. Wide out Dalton Rogers was open on a post route, but the pass just missed him on what was likely a scoring play. Mineola turned the ball over on downs.

The Yellowjacket defense stiffened and forced a Tigers punt. Mineola took over on its 20 yard line. The drive stalled after moving the ball to mid-field. Mineola lined up to punt. Punter Gustavo Sanchez lost the handle on the ball as he went to kick it, and the Tigers took over at the Yellowjacket 37 yard line.

A nicely-executed draw play took the ball down to the 20. The quarterback optioned around left end from 18 yards out. Despite coming out of the locker room on the front foot, Mineola was down 24-7.

Mineola coughed the ball up on the next offensive play, but the Tigers turned the ball over on downs. Mineola’s Kendrick made another excellent defensive play for a loss in that possession.

The Yellowjackets embarked on their best offensive drive of the night. Going 55 yards in 11 plays, Mineola mixed the short passing game with their power running game to produce a glimpse of what to expect in district play. Sneed had a signature eight-yard run to take the ball down to the 3 yard line. On a fourth down from the 3, Hooten launched a looping pass to the very back of the end zone where Pendergrass speared the ball and tapped his feet for a score. The score tightened to 24-14.

Wills Point rallied to keep their winning margin. A 60-yard scoring drive chewed up most of the remaining clock, and registered the final score 31-14.

As with most football games, a play here or there, and the balance could have been tipped in Mineola’s favor. However, Wills Point took the game, and Mineola earned some respect and gained a lot of insight into the team they would become.

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