Salado senior tailback Reid Vincent rushed for a team-high 87 yards on 12 carries in the Eagles' 21-7 home loss Friday night to the second-ranked Grandview Zebras, the two-time defending Class 3A Division I state champions. He has 243 rushing yards through two games for Salado (1-1). (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
SALADO – In a challenging matchup against a top-flight opponent, Salado probably needed the football to bounce its way two or three times on a rainy Friday night to have a shot to defeat second-ranked Grandview, the two-time defending Class 3A Division I state champion.
However, that ball certainly did not bounce in Salado's favor, and the battle-tested Zebras took advantage of their good fortune to escape with a hard-earned 21-7 victory at soggy Eagle Stadium, where the opening kickoff was delayed 50-plus minutes by inclement weather that included lightning in the area.
On the final play of the first half and with Salado trailing 6-0, Eagles head coach Alan Haire decided to have his offense attempt a running play from its 35-yard line with 3 seconds remaining instead of opting to take a knee and jog to the locker room.
Disaster ensued for Salado, as junior quarterback Hutton Haire and senior fullback Noah Mescher fumbled the handoff before Grandview linebacker Matt Lehnhardt swiftly grabbed the loose ball and sprinted 33 yards as time expired for a crucial touchdown and a 14-0 halftime lead after Dane Jentsch's 2-point conversion run.
Mescher's 41-yard touchdown dash on the first play of the fourth quarter sliced the Eagles' deficit in half at 14-7, then a Salado defender stripped the ball away from Jentsch at the 2-yard line as the all-state senior quarterback charged forward for a would-be touchdown.
The ball squirted into the end zone and a Salado player appeared to briefly pounce on it for what would have been a momentum-shifting touchback, but the ball became dislodged again on the slippery artificial turf. When the scrum finally ended, scrambling Grandview junior receiver Jayden Mangrum had secured the ball near the back of the end zone for a touchdown and a 21-7 advantage with 8 minutes left.
It was a back-breaking sequence of events for the Eagles.
“That's 14 points right there,” Alan Haire said somberly afterward. “That's my fault. You know, I could have just taken a knee. We ran a basic little old trap (play). We do it a million times a day. We just messed up the exchange, and I've got to do a better job coaching that. That just turned the tide on us.
“(Grandview) put the ball on the ground four or five times in the first half and we can't get any of them, or we didn't get any of them. Then in the second half we're within a touchdown, and that ball comes out and bounces around and one of our guys thought that we had it. They came up with it and congratulations to them on making that play.”
A week after opening its season with a thorough 46-27 win over area rival Troy at Mary Hardin-Baylor, 4A Division II Salado (1-1) never could get the upper hand against a powerful Grandview program that defeated Troy in last season's 3A Division I Region III final en route to the Zebras' second consecutive state championship.
“We just didn't come in prepared. We should have been getting after it this week in practice, but I think the rain just got us out of whack and then we just made a lot of little mistakes that killed drives,” said Salado senior tailback Reid Vincent, who followed his 156-yard game against Troy with a team-high 87 yards on 12 carries against Grandview (2-0).
After battering Troy's defense for 173 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Mescher had 80 yards on nine carries against Grandview. However, the Zebras smothered the rest of Salado's ball carriers and limited the Eagles to 144 rushing yards on 34 attempts, including Hutton Haire's minus-17 yards and an errant snap that produced a 19-yard loss.
Zebras junior running back Gavin Leftwich was outstanding, accumulating 154 yards with a 4-yard touchdown on 28 carries thanks in large part to an imposing offensive front that featured 6-foot-3, 285-pound senior left tackle Jacob Bayer and 6-8, 250-pound senior tight end Dametrious Crownover, one of the nation's top recruits.
The offensive and defensive MVP of both of Grandview's state title game triumphs, the highly decorated Jentsch was more efficient than spectacular against Salado as his Zebras never punted. The versatile Jentsch, who's started since late in his freshman season and now has 35 career wins, was 13-of-23 passing for 123 yards and rushed 15 times for 75 yards.
That helped the Zebras' spread attack compile 382 total yards on 72 snaps. By comparison, the Eagles' Slot-T offense had only 14 plays for 35 yards in the first half and 38 snaps for 147 yards overall.
“I thought they fought real well,” Alan Haire said of Salado's defense. “I just felt like we never could get the break we needed. We played super hard. We didn't get a break, and sometimes that happens.”
Grandview second-year head coach Ryan Ebner commended Salado's defense for testing the Zebras.
“I think Salado did a great job. I don't remember how many times we got into the red zone, but we got down there a few times and they did a great job of bowing their neck and making it difficult on us,” said Ebner, who went 15-1 last year in his head coaching debut. “Defensively we did a good job of reading our keys and flying to the ball. We made some big stops when they could've busted some long runs but we were able to get them to the ground. We worked hard on that all week long.”
With steady rain falling at kickoff at approximately 8:25 p.m., Grandview got the ball first and drove to Salado's 18 before Eagles senior cornerback LaTrell Jenkins chopped down Leftwich near the sideline on fourth-and-4 for an early turnover on downs.
Salado senior Wrook Brown's ensuing 59-yard punt pinned the Zebras at their 1, but Jentsch's passing and Leftwich's rushing ignited a 16-play, 99-yard drive that was punctuated by Leftwich's 4-yard touchdown run for a 6-0 Grandview lead 2 minutes into the second quarter.
Salado's defense turned away two more second-quarter drives for turnovers on downs, and with 3 seconds left until halftime the Eagles got possession at their 35. Hutton Haire's close-quarters handoff never made it safety into Mescher's hands, and Lehnhardt was in the perfect position to snare the ball and race 33 yards for the improbable Zebras touchdown. Jentsch then crashed in off right tackle for the 2-point run and 14-0 lead at intermission.
Grandview drove to the Salado 9 late in the third quarter, but the Eagles' defense stiffened and Luke Ferguson missed a 26-yard field goal attempt. Vincent and Mescher then got Salado's ground game going before Mescher broke through the middle and scored a 41-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, followed by Brown's extra point to cut the Zebras' lead to 14-7.
“Our offense really came together on those drives,” Vincent said. “We got our blocks, got our runs in and we were getting after it. We just didn't finish it out.”
Grandview came right back with a steady dose of big runs by Leftwich to reach the Salado 10 with 8 minutes left. But when Jentsch fumbled at the 2 while charging toward the end zone, the Eagles couldn't come up with the recovery they desperately needed. Mangrum's opportunistic recovery of the slippery ball for a touchdown extended the Zebras' lead to 21-7, taking the wind out of Salado's proverbial sails.
“This will definitely prepare us for elite competition,” said Alan Haire, whose Eagles will host Stephenville (1-1) – which lost 41-0 to Lampasas – next Friday in their third of five non-district games. “When you play a team like (Grandview) that played 32 games the last two years, I think you've got to let it make you better."
No. 2 GRANDVIEW 21, SALADO 7
Grandview 0 14 0 7 – 21
Salado 0 0 0 7 – 7
Grandview – Gavin Leftwich 4 run (pass failed), 10:06.
Grandview – Matt Lehnhardt 33 fumble return (Dane Jentsch run), 0:00.
Salado – Noah Mescher 41 run (Wrook Brown kick), 11:50.
Grandview – Jayden Mangrum fumble recovery in end zone (Luke Ferguson kick), 7:48.
First downs: Grandview 21; Salado 8.
Rushes-yards: Grandview 49-259; Salado 34-144.
Passing yards: Grandview 123; Salado 3.
Completions-attempts-interceptions: Grandview 13-23-0; Salado 1-4-0.
Punts-average: Grandview 0; Salado 4-46.3.
Fumbles-lost: Grandview 3-1; Salado 3-1.
Penalties-yards: Grandview 5-30; Salado 2-20.
Rushing – Grandview: Leftwich 28-154, Jentsch 15-75, Kason English 1-16, Brycen Davis 5-14; Salado: Reid Vincent 12-87, Mescher 9-80, Caden Strickland 7-15, Hutton Haire 4-(-17), team 2-(-21).
Passing – Grandview: Jentsch 13-23-0-123; Salado: Haire 1-4-0-3.
Receiving – Grandview: Ferguson 4-51, Mangrum 2-27, Luke Kirkpatrick 3-18, English 2-15, Dametrious Crownover 1-10, Clayton Hale 1-4; Salado: Strickland 1-3.