AUBREY – The Aubrey Chaparrals stormed out to a 21-0 first-quarter lead then cruised past Melissa’s Cardinals, 35-21, in District 5-4A Div. II action on Friday, setting up a district-title showdown next week between the Chaps (7-2, 4-0) and Celina (7-2, 4-0). Meanwhile, Melissa (6-3, 2-2), after a second straight loss, will now play for the district’s third-place playoff seed versus Nevada Community (2-7, 1-3) on Friday, Nov. 4.

Besides Aubrey’s first-quarter offensive blitz, Melissa was hurt by penalties — 11 for 110 yards — dropped passes and a big turnover as the Cards drove for a tying score in the third quarter. Melissa had clawed back to trail 28-21 at halftime but would not score again.

“We’re just not very consistent,” Melissa head coach Seth Stinton said. “You’ve got to give Aubrey a lot of credit. They did a great job. I feel like their kids were prepared to play and we didn’t do a very good job as coaches preparing our kids to play. That’s on me. We have to do a better job. … You give up 21 points in the first quarter — we haven’t done that all year. That was the worst we’ve played in the first quarter. To me, that was when the turning point of the game was. We give up 21 points. If we don’t, we win, 21-14.”

Aubrey head coach Keith Ivy said he expected what he and the Chaps got from the Cards — a hard-fought game.

“Melissa’s got a heck of a ball club,” he said. “… We had a lot riding on this game, you know, seeding going into the playoffs and whatnot. We had to fight through some adversity there. We got up to a quick lead and then saw that dwindle down. But our kids are fighters. They get after it and they never let up.”

Gatlin Grisso led Aubrey’s attack with 171 yards rushing and two touchdowns, including a 62-yard jaunt that pushed the Chaps’ lead to 28-14 in the second quarter. Pablo Vera added 141 yards to Aubrey’s ground total and collected two touchdowns as well. Grisso also scored on a 36-yard pass from quarterback Taylor Swarbrick in the first quarter.

Melissa quarterback junior Tate Whittington threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns, two to sophomore Kennedy Lewis and one to senior Gunnar Murphy. Murphy finished with six catches for a team-high 103 yards, while Melissa’s junior Cole McCraw added six catches for 95. Freshman Kaedric Cobbs led Card rushers with 62 yards on 10 carries.

Down by three touchdowns early, Whittington capped the Cards’ first drive of the second quarter with a 12-yard touchdown toss to Lewis, who out-jumped two defenders for the ball in a corner of the end zone and came down in bounds. After finally forcing Aubrey to punt, Melissa drove for more points, this time a 14-yard scoring strike to Murphy over the middle. After Grisso’s 62-yard answer, the Cards struck once more on a 42-yard Whittington-to-Lewis bomb 18 seconds before halftime. The key play of the drive was Whittington’s 3rd-and-13 pass to a wide open McCraw that went for 41 yards.

With Aubrey protecting a 28-21 third-quarter lead, Will Dow stepped in front of a scrambling Whittington’s pass and returned it 40 yards to the Cardinals’ 25-yard-line, fumbling the ball to teammate Derek Stevenson as he went down. Four plays later, Vera sped 11 yards into the end zone for the Chaparrals’ final margin of victory.

Numerous holding penalties in the second half also choked off Melissa rally attempts.

“Penalties, I think, killed us again,” Stinton said. “We’re probably the most penalized team in the state right now. That’s not a very good feeling.”

He added that the team still has something to look forward to and needs to stay focused.

“We’re basically playing for third place next week,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to look forward to — and making the playoffs. … We’ve got to go prepare to win, try to win going into the playoffs. You don’t want to lose going into the playoffs.”