- Greg Wille
THOU SHALT NOT SCORE: Hot-starting Academy tops Lago Vista 13-0 for second straight shutout, now 4-0
TWO-WAY STANDOUT: Senior wide receiver and cornerback Kollin Mraz played a key role in Academy's 13-0 win over Lago Vista on Friday night at John Glover Stadium. He threw a 67-yard touchdown to fellow senior Jaylin McWilliams -- who made two interceptions for the second straight game -- on a double-pass play in the first quarter and helped the Bumblebees' defense record its second consecutive shutout. Coach Chris Lancaster's Academy team finished non-district play with a 4-0 record and will begins its six-game District 11-3A Division I schedule next Friday night at 2-1 Lorena. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY – Senior wide receiver and cornerback Kollin Mraz easily could have said his favorite thing about Academy's 13-0 victory over Lago Vista on Friday night was his 67-yard, first-quarter touchdown bomb to Jaylin McWilliams, a gadget play executed to perfection.
However, with the way the unbeaten Bumblebees' stellar turnaround season with first-year head coach Chris Lancaster is progressing, it seemed fitting that the biggest highlight in Mraz's eyes was a team-oriented achievement. For the second straight Friday night at John Glover Stadium, Academy didn't allow an undefeated opponent to put a point on the scoreboard.
“Back-to-back shutouts, without a doubt,” Mraz said when asked whether his long-distance touchdown pass or the Bees' second consecutive shutout – Academy beat Groesbeck 45-0 a week earlier – was the bigger deal. “We've all been there and we've all shined, but to shut out two teams in a row, that's something we haven't done in forever.”
Academy's defense allowed only 190 total yards, collected four turnovers – featuring three second-half interceptions – and never let Lago Vista (2-1) advance past the Bumblebees' 17-yard line. Senior cornerback McWilliams made two interceptions for the second straight week, sophomore safety Scout Brazeal also picked off a pass and senior linebacker Jerry Cephus recovered a Vikings fumble.
Academy senior lineman Wyatt Gardner said the defensive gameplan developed by first-year coordinator Eddie Dewbre is helping the Bees get the most production out of their talent.
“It's fun. Coach Dewbre has a really good system,” said the 260-pound Gardner, one of many Bees defenders – including junior linebackers Darion Franklin and John Tomasek and sophomore linebacker Lane Ward – who consistently pressured Lago Vista quarterback Adrian Hernandez into a 9-for-29 passing performance for 64 yards and three interceptions. “We're in better shape this year. We like the challenge.”
BRING THE PRESSURE: Academy senior defensive lineman Wyatt Gardner and his teammates put consistent pressure on Lago Vista quarterback Adrian Hernandez, who was 9-of-29 passing for 64 yards and three interceptions in the Bumblebees' 13-0 win Friday night at John Glover Stadium. Academy (4-0) has posted two consecutive shutouts and allowed only 25 points in victories over rival Rogers, Clifton, Groesbeck and Lago Vista. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Penalty-prone Academy was shut out in the game's final 40 minutes but got all the offense it needed in the first 8. Cephus threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to running back Franklin, then 4 minutes later Mraz caught a Cephus pass just behind the line of scrimmage and fired a high, long strike to the speedy McWilliams for the 67-yard TD.
Everything added up to another thorough shutout win and a 4-0 start with Lancaster, whose confident Bees now head into their six-game District 11-3A Division I schedule – starting next Friday at Lorena (2-1), which hammered Madisonville 56-25 – playing with an esprit de corps not seen within Academy's football program in recent seasons.
“I think it's just the love we have for each other and the love the coaches give us,” Mraz said of the Bees' fresh outlook since Lancaster arrived after serving as Troy's offensive coordinator the previous six years. “We're all bought into it. The last few years, our hearts weren't in it, just because the environment we were around wasn't the best. But with Coach Lancaster coming in, it's different.
“He's very with us. He wants to know how we are and checks on us all the time. He's a good dude and you can tell he cares about us. Most coaches coming in with us seniors and rebuilding the culture, they wouldn't take the time. But Coach Lancaster makes us feel loved and knowing that we're a big part of the team.”
For his part, Lancaster knows Academy can play better than it did against Lago Vista – on offense, at least. The Bumblebees were shut out in the final three quarters, threw an interception, lost a fumble, again had penalty problems with nine infractions for 102 yards and also missed an extra point and a field goal.
But after Academy skidded to an 2-8 record last year, including a 41-20 district loss to Lago Vista, the Bees' 4-0 run through their non-district schedule certainly is something to be celebrated.
“I'm very proud of our defense. I'm very proud of our whole ball club,” said Lancaster, whose defense has allowed only 25 points – 6.25 per game – in wins over rival Rogers, Clifton, Groesbeck and Lago Vista. “We're in uncharted waters. It's like we're even par with five holes left, and now the pressure sets in (entering district play).
“We've given great effort. Our kids are connecting. Defensively we're playing hard and making it happen. (But) we've got to cut down on our penalties.”
Academy's offense did pretty much whatever it wanted to do during its first two drives, racking up 148 yards and using the touchdown passes by Cephus and Mraz to build a 13-0 advantage with 4:06 remaining in the first quarter. That obviously wasn't the desired start for Lago Vista head coach Craten Phillips, whose Vikings began their season by beating Teague 22-7 and blanking new Academy district opponent Caldwell 20-0, although he commended his defense for holding the Bees scoreless in the final 40 minutes.
“They were just clicking very early. They were having success. They ran a couple gadget plays, and those things breed confidence,” Phillips said of Academy. “They were playing confidently and that's a fun way to play, when you're moving the chains and your playbook's wide-open. Kudos to them for really starting out on fire.
“But I'm super-proud of my defense, because from (4 minutes left in) the first quarter on, we pitched a shutout. So after being shown how explosive (Academy) can be, to bow our neck and not give up any more points after that, I'm super-proud of that side of the ball. Our kids settled into the speed of the game.”
Lago Vista won the coin toss and elected to kick off to Academy, whose offense quickly set the tone. Nine-yard receptions by Mraz and Jayden Simmons, a shifty 15-yard run by Cephus and Franklin's 19-yard rush up the middle helped the Bees reach the 6 before Cephus rolled right and threw back across the middle to hit Franklin for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 4 minutes gone.
The Vikings efficiently drove to Academy's 24 on their opening possession, but the Bees stopped Logan Parsons 4 yards short on fourth-and-11 for a turnover on downs.
On Academy's ensuing possession, burly junior Simmons (four receptions, 74 yards) made a juggling catch before slamming into a defender for a 21-yard gain. From the Bees' 33, Cephus passed to the left side, a couple yards behind the line of scrimmage. Mraz filled in at quarterback last season when Cephus was injured, and the lanky receiver was ready to demonstrate his passing ability.
The initial wide pass caused the defenders in Lago Vista's secondary to come forward, and McWilliams (five receptions, 121 yards) then easily got behind them and hauled in Mraz's well-thrown deep ball in stride at the Vikings' 27 en route to the 63-yard score and McWilliams' fifth touchdown in the last two games.
“We put in that play this week and started looking at it Monday,” explained Mraz, who endured leg cramps for the second straight game but caught four passes and was a key figure in Academy's swarming defensive work. “There were actually three routes to look at, but I knew right when I got the ball. I was like, 'It's going to Jaylin.' It's always going to click.”
The missed extra point by freshman Lucas Sanderson – who went 6-for-6 on extra points and made a short field goal in his debut against Groesbeck while filling in for injured junior receiver/defensive back/kicker/punter Blake Bundy – kept Academy's lead at 13-0 with 4:06 left in the opening quarter.
Defensive strength and offensive mistakes by both teams produced a stalemate from that point on. The Vikings got inside the Bees' 20 late in the first quarter but fumbled the ball on a fourth-and-1 run from the 17 and Cephus recovered it. Academy then drove to the Lago Vista 8 midway through the second quarter but stalled before the Vikings blocked Sanderson's 25-yard field goal attempt.
Brazeal intercepted a Hernandez pass near midfield early in the second half. Franklin lost a fumble at the Lago Vista 12 on Academy's next drive, but Ward made a diving breakup of a third-down pass to halt the Vikings' ensuing possession.
McWilliams made his first interception of the night late in the third quarter, but Cephus then tossed just his second interception of the season against seven touchdowns when he underthrew a touch pass toward the sideline and Bryce Jackson picked it off. Lago Vista marched from its 38 to Academy's 17, but penalties pushed the Vikings backward before Ward and senior end Tanner Rambeau sacked Hernandez for a 4-yard loss and another turnover on downs.
Then with 4 minutes remaining in the fourth, Gardner pummeled Hernandez as he threw and McWilliams grabbed his second interception of the night, fourth in two weeks and fifth on the season.
“I feel like we had a lot of unforced errors,” Phillips said. “Certainly Academy's a great team. They're physical and they're fast. They have team speed. We knew coming in that big plays weren't going to be easy to come by. That was the case tonight.”
Before this season began, Academy wasn't a popular pick to earn one of the four playoff berths in rigorous District 11-3A Division I, which includes Cameron Yoe, Rockdale, Troy and Lorena, a consistent winning program that dropped from Class 4A Division II after last year.
But here Lancaster's new-look Bumblebees are, undefeated, playing outstanding defense and hungry to keep proving that they're an entirely different animal to contend with in 2020.
“Lorena's a great program and I think we're going to come in as underdogs in every (district) game,” Lancaster said. “It's a great challenge for us.”
Added Gardner: “We really need to stay humble. Lorena's going to be a tough opponent. We just have to play Little River Academy football.”
ACADEMY 13, LAGO VISTA 0
Lago Vista 0 0 0 0 – 0
Academy 13 0 0 0 – 13
Academy – Darion Franklin 6 pass from Jerry Cephus (Lucas Sanderson kick), 7:52.
Academy – Jaylin McWilliams 67 pass from Kollin Mraz (kick failed), 4:06.
First downs: Lago Vista 12; Academy 14.
Rushes-yards: Lago Vista 32-126; Academy 30-110.
Passing yards: Lago Vista 64; Academy 207.
Completions-attempts-interceptions: Lago Vista 9-29-3; Academy 17-26-1.
Punts-average: Lago Vista 3-36.7; Academy 3-29.3.
Fumbles-lost: Lago Vista 1-1; Academy 2-1.
Penalties-yards: Lago Vista 10-68; Academy 9-102.
Rushing – Lago Vista: Logan Parsons 11-53, Adrian Hernandez 13-38, Layne Powers 7-32, Braden Smith 1-3; Academy: Cephus 12-56, Trenton Flanagan 11-38, Franklin 4-22, Xavier LeBlanc 1-(-2), team 2-(-4).
Passing – Lago Vista: Hernandez 9-29-3-64; Academy: Cephus 16-25-1-140; Mraz 1-1-0-67.
Receiving – Lago Vista: Parsons 3-23, Marquise Pierce 1-19, Gavin Hester 2-15, Jordan Tait 2-4, Trace Sweet 1-3; Academy: McWilliams 5-121, Jayden Simmons 4-74, Franklin 4-13, Mraz 4-(-1).
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ANOTHER BIG GAME: One week after returning two interceptions for touchdowns and scoring four TDs overall in a 45-0 win over Groesbeck, Academy senior Jaylin McWilliams produced another huge all-around performance in the Bumblebees' 13-0 home win over Lago Vista on Friday night at John Glover Stadium. McWilliams caught a 67-yard touchdown pass from fellow senior receiver Kollin Mraz and grabbed two more interceptions, pushing the cornerback's season total to five picks as Academy improved its record to 4-0. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)