Waskom Downs West Rusk For Class 3A Division II, Region II Championship
LONGVIEW -- Per usual, Waskom running back Chan Amie spearheaded his team's winning effort in the Class 3A Division II, Region II championship game Friday at Longview's Lobo Stadium. He had 124 yards and two touchdowns on his first three carries and finished with 201 rushing yards on just 11 attempts.
But Wildcats fans got to learn a lot more about their team in its 57-28 win against district foe West Rusk ahead of a state semifinals appearance versus Idalou, a Lubbock area team, next week in Mineral Wells.
West Rusk once led 22-8 in the first quarter.
"The resiliency of our kids, we're so proud of them," Wildcats head coach Whitney Keeling said. "We got down early fumbling the football and things weren't going our way. They just go through adversity so well. For them to come back and score 49 unanswered points, that just tells you how good our kids are and how good our football team really is."
From trailing 22-8, Waskom (14-0) held West Rusk (12-2) scoreless in the middle periods. The Raiders did not get on the board again until the 3:28 mark of the fourth quarter.
Several less heralded players got to shine in the playoff meeting for the winning side. Amie went down with an upper body injury in the third quarter and didn't return.
No one knows how significant Amie's injury is ahead of a trip to the doctor today. However, the two-way star spent the rest of the game on the bench and seemed to be happy during the trophy presentation.
Waskom transformed itself from a juggernaut running between the tackles to an offense capable of similar big gains on misdirection plays with its slot backs. Defensive lineman Keileon Johnson performed well in Amie's spot with five carries for 25 yards and a score.
The passing game took off in the transition, too. Harkrider completed 6 of 6 passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns while also making a two-point conversion throw.
Harkrider ran well late in the victory as well. He finished with 43 yards on nine carries, including a 2-yard touchdown.
"Chan is definitely a dominating player," Harkrider said. "He is tough to lose. We know that. But this offense, we may not be as explosive, but we can still get it done without him."
Friday's game was a rematch of Waskom's 40-0 win against West Rusk in District 8-3A Division II play on Oct. 23.
The Raiders obviously took the game film to heart. They dominated time of possession through the first half with running backs Nick Ballard and Denvonta Medford out of a Power-I formation it didn't use in the previous meeting. The backs' positive yardage opened things up for quarterback Dee Starling in the passing game.
Starling finished an eight-play, 59-yard opening drive with a 14-yard strike to D.J. Hicks. It took more than four minutes off the clock.
Yet Amie answered 15 seconds later with a 63-yard touchdown and then ran in a two-point conversion for an 8-7 lead.
So, West Rusk drove 50 yards in six minutes before Medford broke free for a 17-yard score and a 15-8 Raiders lead following Medford's two-point run.
Amie fumbled the next Waskom snap at his 34-yard line, linebacker Jacob Walker returned it 33 yards and Ballard punched it in the next play for a 22-8 advantage.
The Wildcats' next offensive play, Amie ran 61 yards to make it a 22-14 deficit.
Waskom's defense, which entered the 15th week of the season leading East Texas in total plays for negative yardage, took over from there.
"They jumped out on us," Mike Reason, an all-state linebacker, just like Amie, said. "We had to make a couple of adjustments defensively before we actually settled in. Their one last touchdown, at the end of the game, we had a breakdown in the secondary. Other than that, we stepped up. We had been down earlier in the year against Hughes Springs and Gunter was able to tie it up, but I know my team and we always seem to overcome adversity. I knew we could come back."
West Rusk never found the red zone again. It got the final touchdown of its season, down 57-22 at the time, with Starling's 46-yard bomb to Breyon Thurman on second-and-32.
Amie tied the game, 22-22, at the 9:04 mark of the second quarter with a 35-yard run off a pitch from Harkrider and Harkrider's subsequent rollout two-point conversion.
Johnson gave Waskom the permanent lead eight minutes -- and a stalled West Rusk possession -- later on a 40-yard off-tackle run. Harkrider then found Kaleb Haynes for a 22-yard passing touchdown just before the half, a 35-22 lead.
The Raiders attempted an onside kick to begin the second half and failed to recover it. Keylon Johnson fell on the ball at West Rusk's 49-yard line.
Waskom did not capitalize on that specific break, but the recovery helped hold the Raiders to five offensive plays and zero points in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Harkrider ran in his score, threw a two-point converion and the Wildcats got the ball right back by way of West Rusk's unfielded kickoff return. Harkrider connected with Lucas Norton for a one-play, 26-yard possession and a commanding 50-22 lead ahead of the final 12 minutes.
West Rusk finished its season with two losses to the same opponent and a nine-win improvement over last year's 3-7 record. The 2015 team tied the 2010 team for the best playoff performance in school history.
Waller will be the Raiders' headliner next season. Most of its key players graduate in May.
Waskom moved to within two wins of defending its 2014 Class 3A Division II state championship.
"I don't know anything about Idalou," Keeling said. "That's not a story. I've never seen them before. I do know they won state in 2010. That's about all I know about them right now. We'll play them at Mineral Wells on Friday at 7:30 p.m."
Waskom 57, West Rusk 28
Class 3A Division II State Quarterfinal Playoff Game
Lobo Stadium, Longview
Waskom 14 21 15 7 -- 57
West Rusk 22 0 0 6 -- 28
WR--D.J. Hicks 14 pass from Dee Starling (Jose Cerda kick), 7:56
WAS--Chan Amie 63 run (Amie run), 7:41
WR--Devonta Medford 17 run (Medford run), :53
WR--Nick Ballard 1 run (Cerda kick), :37
WAS--Amie 61 run (run failed), :23
WAS--Amie 15 run (Dylan Harkrider run), 9:04
WAS--Kaleb Haynes 40 run (Victor Tapia kick), 1:59
WAS--Haynes 22 pass from Harkrider (kick failed), :23
WAS--Harkrider 2 run (Keileon Johnson pass from Harkrider), 2:08
WAS--Lucas Norton 26 pass from Harkrider (Tapia kick), 1:56
WAS--Johnson run (Tapia kick), 7:06
WR--Breyon Thurman 46 pass from Starling (pass failed), 3:28
First Downs 22 18
Total Yards 482 283
Rushes-Yards 44-401 36-120
Passing Yards 81 163
Comp.-Att.-Int. 6-6-0 9-21-0
Punts-Avg. 0-0 3-36.0
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 3-0
Penalties-Yards 11-77 4-50
RUSHING--Waskom, Chan Amie 11-201, Kaleb Haynes 7-68, Lucas Norton 9-55, Dylan Harkrider 9-43, Keileon Johnson 5-25, UNLISTED PLAYER 2-6, Logan Hughes 1-3. West Rusk, Nick Ballard 23-67, Devonta Medford 10-54, Dee Starling 2-0, Lajavius Harper 1-(-1).
PASSING--Waskom, Harkrider 6-6-0--81. West Rusk, Starling 9-21-0--163.
RECEIVING--Waskom, Eric Stephens III 2-26, Haynes 1-22, Mike Reason 1-17, Amie 1-15, Norton 1-1. West Rusk, Breyon Thurman 3-68, D.J. Hicks 5-63, Kevin Jones 1-32.