MELISSA — Ja’Bray Young rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns and safety Cole McCraw grabbed two interceptions to boost Melissa (7-1, 3-0) past Celina, 35-14, in a pivotal District 5-4A Div. II battle at Cardinal Stadium on Friday, Oct. 27.
Melissa led early, 14-0, after quarterback Brendon Lewis capped the Cards’ first two possessions with touchdown runs of 35 and 5 yards. He finished with 121 yards rushing and 136 yards through the air, with a 27-yard scoring strike to Kennedy Lewis in the fourth quarter.
Celina was held to 153 yards of offense, all on the ground. Logan Point led Bobcat rushers with 104 yards on 13 carries. Celina (5-3, 2-1) rallied to tie the game, 14-14, in the second quarter on two 1-yard touchdown runs by quarterback Noah Ross, but the Cards pitched a shutout the rest of the way.
Linebacker Tommy Gallardo led Melissa defenders with 10 tackles, while McCraw and Young, at linebacker, posted eight each and linebacker Collin O’Neal added seven.
The win was the Cards’ second all-time versus Celina, with the Bobcats prevailing in five meetings since the series began in 2010 — including the last four. Melissa last topped the Bobcats in 2012 by a count of 18-13.
“I think there were a lot a people waiting for this one,” Cards head coach Seth Stinton said. “These guys set a goal. They want to win a district championship. We can’t do that without beating (Celina). … I know everybody thought this was going to be a big game, and it was. I couldn’t lie — I’ve been waiting to play this one. Celina is a great program, a great team, and anytime you can figure out how to beat those guys it’s a big win.
“I know we struggled a little bit there in the first half, but I can’t say enough about the way our kids played. Defensively, that was probably the best game we’ve ever played — ever, since I’ve been here. I was extremely proud of them and proud of our coaches.”
Young said the win felt “amazing.” “We’ve been waiting for 365 days — a long time, a whole year.”
Melissa took the lead for good on its first possession of the second half with a 61-yard, five-play drive crowned by Young’s 12-yard scamper off the left side. Brendon Lewis sparked the march with a 36-yard run on the drive’s first play.
Celina’s first two possessions of the second half ended on fourth-down stops in Cards’ territory.
With Melissa still up, 21-14, near the end of the third quarter, the game turned dramatically. The Cards faced third-and-5 from their own 7 when Young found running room to his left and looked to have first-down yardage but was stripped of the ball. Celina took over at Melissa’s 14 and two plays later an all-out Cardinal blitz led by linebackers Young and Collin O’Neal sacked Ross for a big loss. Then on fourth-and-15 from the 20, Ross’s throw was picked off at the goal line by McCraw and returned 38 yards. Four plays later, Young stormed up the middle for 48 yards and a touchdown and Melissa led, 28-14, with 9:24 left to play.
“It was a big hole,” Young said. “The linemen, they gave me about four yards and I just did what I had to do.”
As for the pick that set up the score, McCraw said he saw it all the way. “They kept throwing to that side, that post route. There were ‘trips’ (three receivers) on that side and I saw (Ross) look that way and I just took off. I knew he was going to throw it there.”
On the Bobcats’ next play from scrimmage, Ross’s throw to the left was tipped by linebacker Marvin Jordan and sailed toward the sideline where a diving McCraw stabbed his second interception. “I knew it was way too high,” McCraw said, “so I was just waiting for (Marvin) to tip it up somewhere and he tipped it up right to me.”
In business again at Celina’s 44, the Cards needed just five plays produce the score that effectively ended the game. The touchdown came on Brendon Lewis’ 27-yard rainbow toward the right corner of the end zone for Kennedy Lewis, who laid out and nabbed the ball with a defender draped across him. A moot-point pass interference flag flew as Kennedy Lewis stood up with the ball. He logged a team-high four catches for 83 yards on the night.
“Kennedy played like a grown man,” Brendon Lewis said.
Celina’s second-quarter rally was fueled by interceptions from Skyler Bohall and Travis Radtke, and a 59-yard run by Point. Also in the second quarter, Melissa All-District linebacker Payton Wallace was assisted off the field with what appeared to be a leg injury and did not return.
A big upside for Melissa was how two of its sophomore offensive standouts bounced back from adversity. Young’s fumble near his own goal line while the Cards held a precarious 7-point edge was followed by his breakaway score. “Ja’Bray also made a couple of big plays for us, defensively, (after the turnover),” Stinton said. “I think it did fire him up. He wanted a little redemption after he fumbled.”
“I was upset,” Young said. “I’m like, ‘OK, I’ve got defense next so I’m going to take my anger and put it on defense.’ When Coach put me back on offense, I said, ‘I’ve got to do something, because I messed up.’”
Brendon Lewis also rebounded from two first-half picks to direct the victory. “That’s a sign of him growing up,” Stinton said. “You’re going to go through some rough times. How do you respond to those rough times? I think he responded pretty well.”
“I was a little down (after the interceptions),” Brendon Lewis said, “but I’m the QB. Everybody looks up to me so I’ve got to do my job, keep my composure. We went out there and got the ‘dub’. The linemen did great. I love this team.”
Cardinal Stadium hosts another crucial struggle for the district’s top spot on Friday, Nov. 3, when Melissa takes on the Aubrey Chaparrals (7-1, 3-0). The Chaps defeated Caddo Mills, 40-20, on Oct. 27.