TYLER -- Following a six-year run at the state's second-highest classification, John Tyler returned to the top of the food chain in Class 6A prior to this season.

Thrown into a district with schools from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex suburbs, many wondered if the Lions could sustain the success they had at the 5A level. While the ultimately prize of a state championship remains off in the distance, John Tyler proved it belonged at the very least.

The Lions scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to pull away from crosstown rival Tyler Lee, 49-28, Friday night in a regular-season finale that clinched the District 11-6A title for John Tyler.

“It proves a lot to everybody besides ourselves," said Lions coach Ricklan Holmes. "We knew we were ready for 6A football. I don’t think 6A football thought we were ready for them.”

By clinching the league's No. 1 seed for the Division II playoffs, John Tyler (9-1, 6-1) won the right to host its bi-district playoff game, which comes against Lufkin (7-3) next Friday night at 7:30 p.m.

A Lee (2-8, 0-7) win would've forced John Tyler on the road to face Beaumont West Brook.

“The win’s pretty big for us, we’ve been stressing about it all week," said John Tyler quarterback Bryson Smith. "We weren’t trying to (finish the regular season) with a loss and travel four hours to Beaumont. We just tried to come in, focus and execute.”

Smith, who beat Lee for the first time in his three-year varsity career, ran for 205 yards and three touchdowns and added 155 yards and a touchdown through the air.

“He’s going to get it done some way, somehow; that’s just what kind of guy he is," Holmes said of Smith. "That’s why we call him the general.”

The 61st installment of Tyler's oldest rivalry was played before a capacity crowd as John Tyler and Lee clashed as district foes for the first time since 2009.

“It’s back to being the Rose City Rivalry; that’s what it is," Holmes said. "Being in district together when it really means something. It’s not just about winning a football game, it’s about making a statement in your district, moving onto the playoffs, making sure that we have homefield advantage. That was huge for us.”

The spirited atmosphere was not lost on the players involved, either.

“It seemed like there was more people," Smith said. "There was a lot of hype around the game even though (Lee) wasn’t doing so good in district. There was a lot of hype around it as if they were competing for a district championship as well.”

Lee began the game as if it was unaware its season would end at the game's conclusion, regardless of the outcome. The Red Raiders never trailed through the first 24 minutes, and went into halftime tied with the heavily-favored Lions, 21-21.

Red Raiders sophomore running back Ladarius Wickware gave the normally stingy John Tyler run defense problems all night long. He finished with a game-high 219 rushing yards, including first-half touchdown runs of 61 and 50 yards. Wickware was also a factor in the passing game, pulling in a team-best six receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown.

Lee had 318 yards of offense by halftime, but scored only a touchdown with 179 yards in the second half.

“We were where we were supposed to be, we just weren’t making plays and finishing them," Holmes said of his defense during the first half. "And that’s something that personally they had to take on, and make those corrections."

John Tyler did not take its first lead until the early stages of the third quarter when the Lions moved 64 yards in just 92 seconds and scored on Cameron Grant's 4-yard run, putting JT in front 28-21.

Lee responded with an impressive 12-play, 94-yard drive that spanned more than five minutes. Jordan Printers' 1-yard touchdown tied the game at 28-28 with five minutes to play in the third.

Then, a pair of Lee penalties drastically changed the complexion of the game.

Smith was stopped two yards short of a first down, which would have brought up a fourth down, but an unsportsmanlike penalty on the Red Raiders gave John Tyler a first-and-goal. Smith's 3-yard touchdown run two plays later regained the lead for JT, 35-28, with 2:17 remaining in the third.

On the ensuing series, a long run by Wickware deep into John Tyler territory was negated by a Lee holding penalty, which pushed Lee back to a third-and-12 from its own 38 as the game entered the fourth quarter.

Lions senior cornerback Javontavius Mosley intercepted Lee quarterback Chance Amie on the first snap of the period, and John Tyler took its first two-score lead of the night moments later.

Smith connected with receiver and Texas commit Damion Miller, who did not play in the first half due to a "coach's decision," for a 24-yard gain to the Lee 1. Grant ran it in on the next play for a 42-28 John Tyler lead with 9:49 remaining.

Amie was sacked on third down on Lee's next possession, and after just a 12-yard punt, Smith put the game away on first down with a 43-yard sprint to the end zone.

“There was a lot of energy going through my body," Smith said of the final touchdown. "I was just trying to get into the end zone, and go to the sideline to celebrate with my teammates.”

Grant matched Smith with three rushing touchdowns on the night, and finished with 126 yards on 22 carries. Sophomore receiver Ke'Andre Street caught two passes for 70 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown in the first half.

“We were just making plays," Smith said. "The line, all credit to them. They opened the holes, and if the hole wasn’t there, we just bounced it outside. Everything we did was because of them.”

Lee had possession for almost seven minutes on the game's first drive of the night, but came up empty when Amie's fourth-and-21 pass was broken up by Mosley at the goal line.

The Red Raiders went three-and-out on their next series, but David Antunez pounced on a Grant fumble, and Lee took over at its own 39. Wickware ran up the middle untouched 61 yards to the end zone on first down, giving Lee a 7-0 lead with 30 seconds to play in the first quarter.

It took John Tyler's offense four plays to counter. A 51-yard run by Smith and an 18-yarder by Grant preceded the latter's 6-yard touchdown run to even the game at 7-7.

Lee went back to work, driving 75 yards to re-take the lead. On third-and-12, the Red Raiders executed a double pass from Amie to receiver Isaiah Davision, who hit a wide-open Wickware for a 26-yard touchdown.

JT tied the game at 14-14 a little more than one minute later on Smith's 39-yard scoring strike to Street, who juked a Lee defensive back along the sideline before crossing the goal line.

Lee was back in the lead two possessions later when Wickware broke free again for a 50-yard touchdown run with 2:57 showing on the second-quarter clock.

Michael Givens-Washington returned the ensuing kickoff 30 yards to the Lee 49, allowing the Lions to find the tying score right before the half, as Smith ran in a 2-yard touchdown with 25 seconds until intermission.

“I told them to fix it, and they responded," Holmes said of his message at halftime. "It’s that simple. These kids are doing an amazing job, and this coaching staff is doing an amazing job getting these kids prepared enough to do things the right way and play John Tyler football.”

John Tyler gets a familiar foe with Lufkin in the first round of the playoffs next week. The longtime East Texas rivals were district mates the previous four seasons.

“They’re very athletic, offense and defense," Smith said of Lufkin. "We’ve seen them before in the previous years, so we shouldn’t have too much trouble with them if we just do us.”


John Tyler 49, Tyler Lee 28

At CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium, Tyler

John Tyler               0    21    14    14    --    49
Tyler Lee                 7    14      7      0    --    28

First Quarter
LEE--Ladarius Wickware 61 run (Leonel Coreas kick), :30.
Second Quarter
JT--Cameron Grant 6 run (Devan Salazar kick), 11:56.
LEE--Wickware 26 pass from Isaiah Davison (Coreas kick), 8:11.
JT--Ke'Andre Street 39 pass from Bryson Smith (Salazar kick), 7:01.
LEE--Wickware 50 run (Coreas kick), 2:57.
JT--Smith 2 run (Salazar kick), :25.
Third Quarter
JT--Grant 4 run (Salazar kick), 10:28.
LEE--Jordan Printers 1 run (Coreas kick), 5:00.
JT--Smith 3 run (Salazar kick), 2:17.
Fourth Quarter
JT--Grant 1 run (Salazar kick), 9:49.
JT--Smith 43 run (Salazar kick), 5:54.

                                         JT                 LEE
First Downs                        21                   23
Total Yards                        486                 497
Rushes-Yards              40-331           54-333
Passing Yards                   155                164
Comp.-Att.-Int.            9-15-0           14-18-1
Punts-Avg.                   1-36.0             2-22.5
Fumbles-Lost                    1-1                  1-1
Penalties-Yards                6-43               6-51

RUSHING--John Tyler, Bryson Smith 15-205, Cameron Grant 22-126, Devlen Woods 1-4, Team 2-(-4). Lee, Ladarius Wickware 26-219, Chance Amie 20-82, Jordan Printers 6-34, Donerick McCray 2-(-2).
PASSING--John Tyler, Smith 9-15-0--155. Lee, Amie 11-15-1--91, Isaiah Davison 3-3-0--73.
RECEIVING--John Tyler, Damion Miller 3-40, Michael Givens-Washington 3-22, Ke'Andre Street 2-70, Javontavius Mosley 1-23. Lee, Wickware 6-58, Davison 4-49, Makyle Sanders 2-36, Beaux Limmer 2-21.