Wildcats pull away for season-opening win

Cameron Drummond, Sports Editor

The rushing attack was the star of the show on Friday night as the Wildcats opened the football season with a 35-17 win over the John Tyler Lions.

Plano scored less than three minutes into the first quarter via senior running back Brandon Stephens, who broke loose for a 41-yard touchdown run to make the score 7-0. Keying the success for the play was a monster block by senior wide receiver Garrett Frederick, who cleared out a final John Tyler defender to allow Stephens to reach the end zone with ease.

Plano stretched their lead to 14-0 later in the first quarter as Stephens ran in from seven yards out for his second touchdown. The touchdown run was set up by a methodical drive down the field led by senior quarterback Matt Keys.

John Tyler, ranked number eight in the Class 5A AP state poll, would not go quietly into the night though, something made clear by John Tyler junior quarterback Bryson Smith’s response to going down two scores. It took just 90 seconds for Smith and John Tyler to trim the deficit to seven points, as Smith danced past multiple Plano defenders on a spectacular 60-yard touchdown run.

While the Plano offense petered out towards the end of the first quarter, the defense responded with pressure on Smith and heightened coverage of the John Tyler receiving core, specifically senior wide receiver Damion Miller.

This culminated in an interception by junior linebacker Jacoree Sanders, as Plano ended the first quarter with possession of the ball inside the John Tyler 20-yard line.

The Wildcats were unable to take advantage of their field position though as a 40-yard field goal attempt by junior Blake Mazza was blocked by John Tyler senior Bryston Gipson.

The Lion offense was determined to make this special teams success count on the scoreboard as senior running back Dejuan Beal powered them into the Plano red zone. This allowed Smith to connect with Miller on a 15-yard touchdown pass to cap a 77-yard drive and tie the game at 14 midway through the second quarter.

Another John Tyler turnover gifted Plano a chance to retake the lead before halftime, as junior defensive back Aaron Ragas intercepted Smith and returned the ball to the John Tyler 35-yard line.

Keys eventually ran the ball into the end zone himself from eight yards out to put Plano back on top 21-14 with three minutes left in the first half. The score stayed that way until halftime as John Tyler were unable to convert a fourth down in their final possession of the half.

Wildcat players sing the alma mater following the victory. Photo by the Plano Wildcats Quaterback Club.
Wildcat players sing the alma mater following the victory. Photo by the Plano Wildcats Quarterback Club.

Plano held this lead for the remainder of the game despite an early second half setback that saw senior running back Lopaka Yoro fumble the ball away on offense.

The Wildcats responded to the turnover with a surge in defensive intensity from senior defensive tackle Conley McCabe, who recorded a crucial sack on Smith.

Offensively, Keys found senior wide receiver Tarence Raymond for an explosive 28-yard gain on a screen pass, setting up Stephens for his third and final touchdown of the night. This one accounted for just four of Stephens’ 106 yards rushing in the game, but it gave Plano a 28-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Plano solidified the win with 10 minutes left to play following a major miscue by the John Tyler punting unit. A bad snap inside their own 20-yard line sent the ball far over the head of John Tyler’s punter, with junior wide receiver Nic Melson able to pounce upon the ball for Plano in the end zone for the touchdown.

This ended the scoring for the night at 35-17 in favor of the Wildcats, who despite failing to outgain John Tyler in any major offensive category (passing yards, rushing yards, first downs made, and total yards), dominated the game from start to finish in a comprehensive win.

Next for Plano is a trip to Irving Schools Stadium to play Irving MacArthur on Thursday night.