By Michael Finnegan / Special Contributor
PLANO — In a rematch of a Class 6A Division II area round playoff game from last year, Rockwall again came out on top on Friday, defeating Jesuit 38-27 at Kimbrough Stadium.
It was the third consecutive season the two teams have met in the Region II second round, with the Rangers advancing in 2013 and Rockwall winning last year.
“We played our hearts out, not just tonight but all season,” said Jesuit head coach Brandon Hickman. “I know we’re out of the playoffs, but this loss does not ruin what was a great year for this football program.”
The Yellowjackets (9-3), the District 11-6A champions, threatened early in the first quarter after a hook-and-lateral play on third-and-long set them up at Jesuit’s 38-yard line. But on fourth-and-inches, the Rangers stacked the line and dropped Rockwall’s Caleb Broach for a loss.
Jesuit’s vaunted offense went to work on the ensuing possession. Faced with its own third-and-long at the Jesuit 37-yard-line, Jacob Palisch connected with Connor Lanpher for a 13-yard gain.
Palisch drove the Rangers (10-2) to the Rockwall 12-yard line on two long runs, and then found Lanpher on a bubble screen to put Jesuit in front 7-0 at the 3:09 mark of the first quarter. Lanpher led all receivers with 155 yards and three touchdowns.
Rockwall wasted no time striking back. On the first play of the series, Will Reed hit Sam Crawford in stride on a long 70-yard catch and run for a touchdown to even the score at 7-7.
It took three plays for Jesuit to regain the lead. On first down near the Rockwall 40-yard line, Palisch and Lanpher hooked up again, this time on 38-yard touchdown pass, for a 14-7 advantage.
From there, the game was a seesaw battle with the lead changing hands four times. Rockwall took its first lead at 16-14 just before halftime on another touchdown pass from Reed to Crawford, this one from 21 yards out.
The Yellowjackets increased their lead to 23-14 at the start of the third quarter when Broach, the game’s leading rusher with 184 yards and three touchdowns, scored on a 1-yard dive.
Jesuit answered immediately. Lanpher found the end zone for the third time on a 44-yard touchdown pass from Palisch. John Wengierski’s kick trimmed the deficit to 23-21 with 7:47 remaining in the third quarter.
Jesuit converted a big fourth-down play to keep their opening fourth-quarter drive alive. But after Palisch was stopped at the 3-yard line on a third-and-goal situation, the Rangers had to settle for a field goal.
Wengierski’s 20-yard kick gave the lead back to Jesuit at 24-23 with just under 10 minutes left in the game.
But Rockwall regained the lead, this for good, on its next possession. Broach broke two tackles on his way to a 50-yard touchdown run. The Yellowjackets then passed for a two-point conversion to make the score 31-24.
Another field goal by Wengierski trimmed the lead to 31-27, and after forcing a punt, Jesuit retained possession at its own 1-yard line with two minutes remaining.
But after three plays and no yards, the Rangers had no other choice to punt, and Rockwall sealed the victory on a final touchdown run by Broach.
“The senior leadership was amazing this season. They certainly left a legacy for this football team and those returning next year,” Hickman said. “We finished undefeated in district play, and that’s a first. We’re all heartbroken, but I’m so proud of this team, this program, and these seniors.”