SWARMED: McWilliams explodes for four highlight-reel TDs as Academy rips Groesbeck 45-0, goes to 3-0
OH, WHAT A NIGHT: Academy senior Jaylin McWilliams scored four touchdowns to spearhead a 45-0 win over previously unbeaten Groesbeck in the Bumblebees' home opener Friday night at John Glover Stadium. On offense, the wide receiver recovered a fumble by quarterback Jerry Cephus before racing 61 yards for a touchdown and also caught an 8-yard scoring pass from Cephus. On defense, the cornerback returned second-half interceptions for touchdowns of 27 and 82 yards as Academy improved its record to 3-0. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY – As a three-year starter in football and the district MVP in basketball as a junior, Academy senior Jaylin McWilliams is accustomed to delivering impressive performances.
Still, the athletic wide receiver and cornerback realized that he probably hadn't ever produced as many highlight-reel plays – especially on both sides of the football – as he did in the Bumblebees' thorough 45-0 demolition of fellow unbeaten Groesbeck in Academy's home opener Friday night at John Glover Stadium.
With the Bees leading 7-0 late in the first quarter, senior quarterback Jerry Cephus fumbled at the end of his 18-yard run but McWilliams alertly grabbed the ball out of midair and raced 61 yards for a touchdown.
McWilliams had plenty of big plays still in store for the second half. Playing cornerback, he stepped in front of a pass for the first of his two interceptions and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown and a 31-0 advantage. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Cephus rolled right and fired a pass that a sliding McWilliams snared in the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown.
And for the proverbial cherry on top, McWilliams made another interception – his third in three games – 8 minutes later and sprinted 82 yards for his fourth TD of the night to punctuate his personal tour de force for Academy (3-0).
“No sir, not on defense. Maybe on offense my sophomore year, but nothing like that on defense,” the 6-foot-2, 175-pound McWilliams said when asked if he had ever scored so many touchdowns in so many different ways.
“Special. The kid's a playmaker and he's a joy to coach and be around. He's just special,” Academy first-year head coach Chris Lancaster said of McWilliams, who increased his season touchdown total to six.
After struggling to a 2-8 record last year including a season-ending five-game losing streak, the Bees already have surpassed that victory total with one non-district game remaining, next Friday at home against Lago Vista (2-0), which won 20-0 at Caldwell on Friday.
“Awesome. What can I say? Number one, I'm tickled to death for this community. These kids have accepted me and have accepted everything we're trying to do and embraced it,” said Lancaster, whose squad rushed for 280 yards and had 372 yards overall.
“We still are not a polished product. Too many mistakes, too many penalties, too many (times) losing our focus. And so if we can clean that up, I think this could be a good ball club. We've got one more game and then we head into a very tough district.”
Academy's defense got strong games from senior linemen Wyatt Gardner and Tanner Rambeau, senior cornerback Kollin Mraz, sophomore linebacker Lane Ward and sophomore safety Scout Brazeal as the Bees collected five turnovers and limited Groesbeck to 259 yards.
Mraz made an interception for the second straight game as Academy picked off three passes and recovered two Groesbeck fumbles. The Bees came up with a final stand deep in their territory to earn their first shutout since a 56-0 win at Manor New Tech on Sept. 28, 2018.
Academy has allowed only 25 points through three games, including its opening 20-15 win at rival Rogers and last week's 17-10 victory at Clifton.
“Coach (R.J.) Bacon is my offensive coordinator, but I get to call the plays. So I have to trust my defensive staff, and (first-year coordinator Eddie) Dewbre and that staff are gelling. I have to trust them, and I do,” Lancaster said.
The Bees prevailed in surprisingly one-sided fashion over Groesbeck (2-1), whose Jerry Bomar-coached Goats also went 2-8 last year but had outscored their first two opponents this season by a combined 92-20.
“We thought it was going to be a back-and-forth game,” McWilliams said, “but we knew if we came out and did what we had to do that we could win the game.”
Academy did have to overcome adversity. The Bees lost junior starting receiver, safety and kicker/punter Blake Bundy to a recurring left foot injury early in the week in practice.
And after running back Darion Franklin caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Cephus with 4 minutes gone for a 7-0 Academy lead, the rugged junior who also starts at inside linebacker was ejected a few minutes later after being assessed a targeting penalty for his powerful hit to the helmet area of Groesbeck dual-threat sophomore quarterback Allen Lewis, who was injured on the play and never returned.
Playing the remainder of the night without two-way starter and vocal leader Franklin had the potential to disrupt Academy's plans, but the Bees weathered that storm by getting performances such as that of sophomore Xavier LeBlanc, the hard-charging running back who rushed 17 times for a game-best 91 yards with a 2-yard touchdown.
“(Losing Franklin) really hurt us, because Darion is such a leader on offense, defense and special teams. I know that (targeting) was not intentional, but it happens in football and (Lewis) was sliding down,” Lancaster said. “But, next man up. You saw Xavier LeBlanc come in and do a great job in the running game, and we finally got our running game going.”
Added McWilliams: “We wanted to play for (Franklin) and show him we can with him and we can win without him. It's a team game, so if one person goes down the next person just steps up and takes the role.”
Academy junior Trenton Flanagan rushed nine times for 61 yards, and Cephus gained 55 yards on eight carries and also was 7-of-12 passing for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Lancaster commended the Bees' blocking work up front, including two freshmen in center Caden Berry and tight end/fullback Tyler Burnett.
In addition, Academy pulled freshman kicker Lucas Sanderson up to the varsity to fill in for Bundy and he went 6-for-6 on extra points and made a 23-yard field goal for a 24-0 lead with 1:28 left in the second quarter. Groesbeck threatened to score right before halftime, but Brazeal forced receiver Tyson Pringle to fumble and the Bees recovered at their 15.
The Bees' defense started the game with a three-and-out series, and a shanked punt set up Academy's offense at the midfield stripe for its opening possession. After Franklin's 6-yard rush on a fourth-and-1 situation, he got behind the secondary on the left side and caught Cephus' long pass in stride for a 35-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
On the Goats' ensuing possession, Lewis ran through the middle near midfield and Franklin rushed forward with a high, hard tackle that resulted in his 15-yard targeting penalty and mandatory disqualification. Lewis remained on the artificial turf briefly before being helped off the field and replaced at quarterback by senior Zach Wilson.
“We kind of felt bad, because we don't want to hurt anybody,” McWilliams said. “But the fact that he went down, it helped us out because they didn't have a quarterback, so they had to move positions.”
Groesbeck advanced to Academy's 15-yard line, but Wilson lofted a fade pass to the right side of the end zone and Mraz made a leaping, one-handed interception for a touchback.
From the Academy 16, Cephus took off for an 18-yard run but had the ball dislodged from him. In a case of Jaylin-on-the-spot, McWilliams nabbed the fumble at the 39 before the ball hit the ground and dashed down the left sideline for a 61-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 2:30 left in the first quarter.
“I always know Jerry's going to do a cutback or find a way to break a tackle, so I just have to be there by him,” McWilliams said. “And I was right there by him and the ball somehow came right into my hands.”
LeBlanc got into the action 2 minutes into the second quarter and used stellar blocking to rush for gains of 11, 3, 9, 15, 9 and 6 yards. Academy drove to the Goats 2 before LeBlanc found no running room up the middle but instead bounced off right tackle for his first varsity touchdown and a 21-0 game.
Two minutes later, junior defensive end John Tomasek recovered an errant option pitch and returned the fumble 39 yards to the Groesbeck 11, then Sanderson kicked a 23-yard field goal to put Academy up 24-0 entering halftime.
The lead expanded to 31-0 5 minutes after the break when McWilliams jumped in front of a receiver on an out route and returned his first interception 27 yards for a touchdown. Cephus threw to junior Jayden Simmons for 16 yards to the 8, then began the fourth quarter by rolling right and tossing a dart to the sliding McWilliams for another TD to make it 38-0.
And just to add one more installment to his highlight package, with 4 minutes left McWilliams stepped in front of another Wilson pass at the Bees 18 and sprinted 82 yards for the fourth and longest touchdown of his career night.
After Academy hosts Lago Vista next Friday in another clash of unbeaten teams, the Bees will begin their six-game District 11-3A Division I schedule Sept. 25 at Lorena (1-1), which dropped from 4A Division II before this season. The Leopards' scheduled game Friday at Gatesville was canceled.
ACADEMY 45, GROESBECK 0
Groesbeck 0 0 0 0 – 0
Academy 14 10 7 14 – 45
Academy – Darion Franklin 35 pass from Jerry Cephus (Lucas Sanderson kick), 8:04.
Academy – Jaylin McWilliams 61 run after fumble recovery (Sanderson kick), 2:30.
Academy – Xavier LeBlanc 2 run (Sanderson kick), 5:08.
Academy – Sanderson 23 field goal, 1:28.
Academy – McWilliams 27 interception return (Sanderson kick), 7:10.
Academy – McWilliams 8 pass from Cephus (Sanderson kick), 11:52.
Academy – McWilliams 82 interception return (Sanderson kick), 4:02.
First downs: Groesbeck 16; Academy 15.
Rushes-yards: Groesbeck 33-146; Academy 39-280.
Passing yards: Groesbeck 113; Academy 92.
Completions-attempts-interceptions: Groesbeck 10-24-3; Academy 7-12-0.
Punts-average: Groesbeck 3-26.7; Academy 1-34.
Fumbles-lost: Groesbeck 2-2; Academy 2-0.
Penalties-yards: Groesbeck 6-65; Academy 6-70.
Rushing – Groesbeck: Zach Wilson 11-58, Ma'Quay Smith 12-52, Arturo Sotelo 2-22, Allen Lewis 3-12, John Reed 4-7, Brendon Morrow 1-(-5); Academy: LeBlanc 17-91, Trenton Flanagan 9-61, McWilliams 0-61, Cephus 8-55, Franklin 2-8, team 3-4.
Passing – Groesbeck: Wilson 8-21-3-83, Lewis 2-3-0-30; Academy: Cephus 7-12-0-92.
Receiving – Groesbeck: Morrow 5-57, Tyson Pringle 3-39, Smith 1-12, Mattux Moody 1-5; Academy: Franklin 1-35, McWilliams 3-26, Jayden Simmons 2-25, Kollin Mraz 1-6.