KNOCKOUT PUNCH

in Football

Hico Tigers capitalize on turnovers to clinch postseason berth & third place in District 8-2A, DII by eliminating the Meridian Yellowjackets

MERIDIAN – In a battle with significant postseason implications for both teams, the Meridian Yellowjackets slugged it out with the Hico Tigers for the better part of the first half at Jacket Stadium last Friday night. But one punch to the gut changed everything.

Capitalizing on three Meridian turnovers, Hico broke a scoreless tie late in the second quarter before the Tigers pounced on the Jackets in the second half for a convincing 42-0 victory to clinch third place in District 8-2A, Division II and a postseason berth.

“We have to do better with dealing with adversity,” Meridian head coach Wade Morton said. “Offensively, Hico did a great job at the point of attack.”

After trading blow-for-blow for most of the first half, a Meridian turnover swung momentum in Hico’s direction, and things snowballed from there. In fact, it looked like the Jackets were on the verge of taking the lead when they got the ball in good field position after the defense held Hico deep in its own territory.

But then, Hico senior outside linebacker Reese Polk picked up a fumbled snap bouncing around in the backfield and raced 64 yards for a touchdown with 4:59 remaining in the half to break the scoreless deadlock.

“One turnover shouldn’t ever be the turning point in a ball game, but it certainly was Thursday night,” Morton said. “We didn’t react the way we expected too, and it proved to be critical against Hico.”

Two plays later, the Jackets fumbled another snap as Tiger junior defensive lineman Ty Crawford recovered and Hico (2-2 in district, 5-5 overall) quickly capitalized to take a 14-0 lead into the locker room at intermission.

In the first half, the Jackets (0-3, 1-8) did a good job of slowing Hico down and keeping them out of the end zone. The second half was a different story as Hico recovered a Jacket onside kickoff attempt to open the third quarter. The Tigers promptly mounted four-play scoring drive with Polk scoring on a keeper up the middle to give Hico a commanding 21-0 lead with 10:36 left in the third quarter.

After the Tigers scored again to take a 28-0 lead, the knockout blow came late in the third quarter when Price Mullin picked off a Jacket pass and Hico cashed in for the touchdown three plays later. With the Tiger defense keeping the Meridian offense in check the entire game, the three turnovers proved to be the back breakers.

While the Jackets produced only 101 total yards of offense, Brady Taylor led Meridian with 34 yards rushing on five carries and four receptions for 29 yards, while quarterback Matthew Jones completed eight of 13 passes for 46 yards.

Defensively, John Bernal led the Jackets with eight tackles and three sacks, followed by Dustan Bowers with seven takedowns, Noah Alvizo with six and Alejandro Rodriguez with five.

Closing out the regular season this week, the Jackets will hit the road to take on the Santo Tigers (2-1, 8-1), coming off a 33-6 loss to two-time district champion and fourth-ranked Albany (3-0, 8-0). Despite the loss, Santo clinched second place in district and a postseason berth by virtue of its 34-14 victory over third place Hico Oct. 22.

“Santo is another good team and have a lot of size,” Morton said. “We will have to put our best foot forward to compete.”

Photos by WENDY OROZCO

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