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With both high school football programs headed in the right direction, Hico surprises Meridian for key District 8-2A, DII win

HICO — After enduring the toughest of times, two Texas high school football programs headed in the right direction crossed paths last Thursday night.

With the Meridian Yellowjackets looking to clinch a Class 2A, Division II playoff berth, the Hico Tigers shocked the Jackets by methodically marching to a 17-0 victory at Tiger Stadium, snapping a seven-game losing streak and moving into District 8-2A, DII postseason contention.

The Tigers (1-3, 2-7) used a ball-control, time-consuming ground game to drive for two touchdowns and a field goal while their attacking defense kept the Meridian (1-2, 3-4) offensive unit off schedule the entire game to earn their first district win since 2018.

“I am extremely proud of our team and beyond excited for them,” Hico football head coach Randy Thornton said. “We have struggled at times this year—growing pains—but I thought it all came together for us against Meridian.

“All successful programs, championship teams, have a pivotal moment or game that they look back on and say that it is the game that defines us or changed our course. Quite possibly, that was our moment.  Time will tell, but we came out of that game with a lot of confidence.”

Coming into the game after losing 19 of their last 20 games, Hico moved down from Class 2A, DI this season after going 0-10 in 2019. The Tigers snapped a 12-game skid by knocking off Texas Wind, 33-6, in the season opener before dropping the next seven straight by a combined score of 274-35.

But following a scoreless first quarter, the Tigers scored on back-to-back possessions to take control of the defensive struggle. Hico managed three sustained drives eating huge chunks of time off the clock and limiting Meridian’s possessions. In fact, after building a 14-0 lead in the first half, the Tigers consumed most of the third quarter with a drive that resulted in a field goal, which basically sealed Meridian’s fate.

“We knew coming into the game that Hico was going to come out fired up to play the Jackets,” Meridian football second-year head coach Wade Morton said. “You can throw all the records out the window when playing a team so close to you. We knew we would have to play well to have a chance to win.  Give Hico credit, they were well-prepared and took full advantage of what they were given.”

Staying almost exclusively on the ground, the Tigers grinded their way to 238 rushing yards on 48 carries while throwing the ball only three times. In the second quarter, Hico fought for yardage to work the ball down the field before junior quarterback Angel Gonzalez turned the right corner and raced 33 yards for the game’s first score.

After the Tiger defense shut down Meridian on its next possession, Hico went back to work. Pounding the ball up the middle and stretching the edge, the Tigers used the running game effectively before Gonzalez connected with junior wide receiver Reese Polk for a 29-yard gain to the Meridian two-yard line. On the next play, freshman fullback Cooper Roach powered into the end zone, giving Hico a 14-0 advantage with 1:31 left in the half.

Then on their first possession in the third quarter, the Tigers picked up where they left off, methodically marching into the red zone before the drive stalled. But senior placekicker Isaac Nova drilled a 28-yard field goal with plenty to spare to give Hico a commanding three-possession lead with only 2:21 remaining in the quarter.

As the Tigers dominated the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball, Hico kept the Meridian offensive attack off schedule most of the game. The Tigers limited Meridian to only 80 yards of total offense, shutting down the running game for only 11 yards on 27 carries.

With Hico deploying an aggressive, attacking defense, the Jackets struggled to get anything going offensively until late as the game ended with Meridian on the Tiger one-yard line. Polk led Hico with 11 tackles, followed by senior Javier Zuniga with nine, along with Gonzalez and Roach with eight each.

“We played our best football at the most crucial time,” Thornton said. “I can’t say enough about the guys on the offensive and defensive lines. I thought they played absolutely lights out all night long. The chance to play additional games and have additional practices is critical as we move forward and try to develop a young team.”

Riding high from their first road win since Oct. 13, 2017, the Jackets appeared ready to put their 0-10 season in 2019 behind them for good by advancing to the postseason. By posting their most lopsided victory since 2007 in a 62-0 district victory over Ranger, Meridian moved into the driver’s seat to clinch a playoff spot.

But then, the Jackets ran into road block when Covid-19 precautions led to the postponement of their next game against Santo. Finally cleared to practice last Tuesday, the Jackets only had two days to get ready for Hico, and the lack of preparation showed in the most important game of the season.

Regardless, the Jackets played well enough defensively to win, led by senior Anthony Gonzalez with 18 tackles, followed by senior Teagan Smith with 16, sophomore Michael Crawford with 15 and junior Jose Martinez with 10.

“Hico did a great job mixing up their defensive fronts and giving our boys a lot to process,” Morton said. “We felt the difference in the game was on the offensive and defensive line. Hico controlled the line of scrimmage the majority of the game. We have to be better, and we expect a better outing both from the players and coaches.”


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