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Jacolby Whitaker, Zac Sturns Lead Alto to 35-28 Second-Round Win Over Hull-Daisetta

Alto’s Zac Sturns. (Ronnie Sartors, ETSN.fm file photo)

LUFKIN — The Alto Yellowjackets rode the legs of Jacolby Whitaker and Zac Sturns on offense and Joe Cruz’ fourth-quarter interception to hold off the Hull-Daisetta Bobcats 35-28 in a Class A Division I area playoff at Abe Martin Stadium on Friday.

Alto (10-2) awaits the winner of Joaquin and Bosqueville in a 1A Division I Region III semifinal next week.

Whitaker and Sturns combined for 403 rushing yards and accounted for all five Alto touchdowns. Whitaker had 214 yards and three scores, while Sturns added 184 yards and two touchdowns.

Sturns hit Johnathon Pope for a 21-yard catch and crucial third-down conversion and Whitaker scored on a four-yard touchdown run with 5:23 left in the contest to break a 28-28 tie. Cruz’ aforementioned interception of Hull-Daisetta quarterback Austin Edmondson on the Bobcats’ next and final drive clinched the victory.

“It was a hard-fought battle,” said Alto coach Keith Gardner. “(Hull-Daisetta) has a good football team. I was pleased with how we fought back after facing some adversity. Our kids never quit, and our defense got a big stop at the end when we needed it. I can’t say enough good things about our seniors and their attitude at the end. It’s great to be a ‘Jacket.”

Alto came out the aggressor, scoring the first 21 points of the game, all in the first quarter. That’s when Hull-Daisetta coach Josh Finney told his team, “We can get beat 84-0, or we can make this a ballgame.”

Did they ever.

Hull-Daisetta (7-4) responded with 14 second-quarter points, highlighted by junior running back Chris Vernon’s two touchdown runs. He scored on a five-yard jaunt at the 9:11 mark, completing an eight-play, 80-yard drive, making it 21-7. Then he scored on a one-yard run with 2:32 remaining in the half, narrowing the margin to 21-14. Vernon tallied 128 yards and three scores on 21 carries.

Hull-Daisetta used the Wing-T formation to precision, gashing the Alto defense inside most of the night. This was most prevalent on the opening drive of the second half, when Hull-Daisetta mixed in equal doses of the bruiser Vernon and the speed of Darrell Lavalais. Vernon punched it in from eight yards out at the 8:31 mark of the third to tie the game at 21. Lavalais finished with 115 yards on 10 carries.

Alto responded on its next series, covering 94 yards on 14 plays, when Sturns rushed for an 18-yard touchdown and gave the lead back to the Yellowjackets, 28-21.

When asked about the performance of Whitaker and Sturns, Gardner said, “It all starts up front. Both of those guys will be the first ones to tell you that. I’m just glad they are on our team.”

Hull-Dasietta fought back once again. Edmondson led a 13-play drive, culminating in his four-yard touchdown keeper with 9:27 left in the game, knotting the score 28-28.

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