West Rusk edges Yellowjackets at the wire

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There is something about class 3A Texas football.  The schools are large enough to field able and talented teams, but small enough to feature plenty of athletes competing on both sides of the ball. Emotion and momentum remain huge factors, as does discipline and teamwork.

The Mineola vs West Rusk game last Friday is a stellar example of just why this level of football competition remains so exhilarating.

West Rusk defeated Mineola 26-21 in an as evenly-matched and well-played game as one could wish for.

Yellowjacket speedster Dalton Rogers returned the opening kick-off straight up the right hash mark for the early declaration that this was a special night. Dependable Gustavo Sanchez booted the PAT to give the home side a quick 7-0 start.  

With the Raiders driving in Yellowjacket territory, Nate Griffin busted through the line and caused a Raider fumble. Dawson Pendergrass scooped the ball and raced 50 yards for an apparent score. A penalty nullified the touchdown, but the Jackets were in business. 

Three plays later and from an unbalanced line, Pendergrass took the handoff through a huge hole on the right side and scored from 23 yards out.  Four minutes into the game the Yellowjackets were up 14-0.

After an exchange of punts, the Raiders struck. On a third down from their own 31-yard line, the Raider quarterback rolled right. The Mineola secondary anticipated the short throw, allowing the Raider wide-out to get behind them. West Rusk scored with a 69-yard catch and run.  As the quarter expired the score stood Mineola 14 West Rusk 7.

A Mineola interception turnover, a West Rusk turnover on downs and a Mineola punt followed in the next three possessions. The defenses of each team were at the top of their games most of the night. The Raiders are known for their quick-strike capability, and they demonstrated why. A standard hand-off through the left side broke into a 66-yard scoring run down the left sideline. The score was tied at 14 as the teams went in for the halftime break.

Unlike most close high school football games, no one broke the game open in the second half. Each defense made correct adjustments, and a true defensive struggle ensued. A look at the Yellowjackets’ first half tackling stats tells the story of the night for both teams.  Ten Yellowjacket defenders registered solo tackles in the first half, with Wiley Franks and Hunter Wright leading the tally. 

The Raiders struck next on a fourth-and-4 from midfield. On their second fake punt of the night (the first one went for a first down on a throw from the punter to the flat in the first half), the punt snap went to the up-back, who threw a bullet on an in route to the left side. Three Jacket tacklers had a shot at the receiver, but could not wrap him up. The play went for a touchdown and gave West Rusk a 20-14 lead. A fumbled extra point snap negated the PAT.

The Raiders began to move the ball consistently as the half drew on. Meanwhile, the Jackets were being shut-down. When Mineola took over on their own 31-yard line with 6:00 to play, the drive would likely determine the outcome. 

Behind the tough running of Pendergrass, Mineola began to move. A 12-yard carry gave the Jackets a first down at midfield. On a fourth-and-1, Pendergrass rambled over the right side down to the Raider 8-yard line. Quarterback Thomas Hooten made an excellent cut-back on a keeper off the left side and sliced into the end zone, tying the game. Sanchez booted the point through and the home side was up by one with 3:47 to play.

The Mineola defense stood up. The first down run was stopped for a short gain. Kaleb Griffin made an outstanding tackle for loss to force a third-and-9. The ensuing pass attempt went incomplete. Mineola could sense victory. The fourth-and-9 play pass play which went for a 53-yard touchdown was debilitating to those watching. The ball seemed to be a deep in route on the right side, but at the last moment a second Raider receiver flashed in front of the ball. An excellent spin move shed the tacklers and West Rusk scored.   

The Yellowjackets never quit. With time running out they quickly moved 30 yards into Raider territory, but a long fourth down pass attempt was intercepted near the end zone. The game ended 26-21, West Rusk.

The Yellowjackets have a bye week before traveling to Gladewater to face the Bears on Oct. 11.

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