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October 24, 2021

DO-OR-DIE TIME

in Football

Despite disappointing loss at Cross Plains, Meridian Yellowjackets still alive in District 8-2A, DII battle for postseason berths

MERIDIAN – Getting an open week in the 2021 Texas high school football schedule could not have come at a better time for the Meridian Yellowjackets as they get ready for the stretch run in the District 8-2A, Division race.

Coming off the high of claiming their first win of the season with a convincing 47-19 victory over the Waco Texas Wind on Homecoming Night at Jacket Stadium Oct. 1, Meridian suffered its worst lost in recent memory at the hands of Class 2A, DII’s fourth-ranked and undefeated defending district champion Albany Lions, 84-7, to open district competition.

With that one out of the way, the Jackets used the open week to heal some nagging injuries and focus on what needs to be done to claim Meridian’s first postseason berth since 2017.

“The bye week allowed for us to get healthy with some players that were injured,” Meridian head coach Wade Morton. “And now, they will be able to come back to help us compete.”

Despite suffering a disappointing loss coming out of their open week, the Jackets still have plenty to play for during the final two weeks of the 2021 Texas high school football season. Hoping to quickly put their decisive 60-12 loss to the Cross Plains Buffaloes in District 8-2A, Division II action last Friday night behind them, the Jackets (0-2 in district, 1-7 overall) turn their attention to this week’s crucial showdown against the Hico Tigers at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Jacket Stadium.

After posting a surprising 14-6 victory over Cross Plains, Hico (1-2, 4-5) comes into this week’s clash on the heels of back-to-back losses to the Class 2A, DII’s fourth-ranked and undefeated Albany Lions (2-0, 8-0), 57-0, and the second place Santo Wildcats (2-0, 8-0), 34-14.

“Hico is senior heavy and have seasoned players on their team,” Meridian head coach Wade Morton said.  “With very few seniors the last three years, we have young, seasoned players, and we’re looking for them to step up this week.”

Coming into last week’s game, the Jackets felt good about their chances against Cross Plains (1-2, 5-3). But it turned out to be a tough night for the Meridian against one of the district’s pre-season favorite to return to the playoffs.

“We played well,” Morton said. “Cross Plains is good and a lot like us four years ago. Coach Purvis and his staff do a good job and have been given time to build the program.”

Offensively, the Jackets threw the ball more against Cross Plains than any other game this season. Quarterback Matthew Jones completed 13 of 22 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown, connecting with Brayden Wehmeyer for the score, while Brady Taylor led the Jackets with seven receptions for 90 yards. John Bernal made up most of the Meridian ground game, gaining 84 yards on eight carries with a touchdown.

“We have a young quarterback, so it all comes down to what he can handle and absorb,” Morton said.  “We’ve been able to open it up with his confidence getting stronger.” 

But with the Buffaloes putting 60 points on the scoreboard, the deficit proved to be more than the Jackets could overcome. Bernal led Meridian with eight tackles, followed by Jose Martinez with seven as well as Dustan Bowers, Alejandro Rodriguez and CJ Gentry with four each.

“Defensively, we’re there to make plays,” Morton said. “Defense, along with tackling, is a want too. And we’re getting better, but need more.”

Going into the final two games of the regular season, Bernal leads the Jackets in rushing with 708 yards on 104 carries and five touchdowns and in receiving with 14 catches for 77 yards. But before getting injuries in the third game of the season, Brady Taylor averaged 136.3 yards rushing per game with five touchdowns. Wehmeyer has rushed for 439 yards and four touchdowns while completing 11 of 19 passes for 56 yards, while Jones has completed 14 of 33 passes for 140 yards.

Defensively, Alejandro Rodriguez leads Meridian with 40 tackles and an interception, followed by Wehmeyer with 23 takedowns, and Bernal with three interceptions.

Despite the dominating, imposing and undefeated teams fielded by Albany and the Santo Wildcats, at the top of the district, the rest of the pack does not appear as formidable. With a real chance to challenge for a playoff berth, the Jackets must win against Hico to stay in contention before closing out the regular season at Santo Nov. 5.

“Our district is formidable enough,” Morton said. “And the fact that Cross Plains had lost back to back games before playing us just gave them even more motivation to take care of business at home.With us being the closest to full strength as possible since week two, it should be ready to compete. We can only focus on getting in the win column at the end of the night Friday. There is no looking ahead.”

Photos by WENDY OROZCO

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