EMORY — As if facing Class 5A Whitehouse on a short week — following a late-night, weather-delayed affair at Frisco — weren’t enough, the Melissa Cardinals had to make their longest road trip of their regular season for Thursday’s neutral-site match-up at Emory Rains Stadium. But as its Top 10 Class 4A ranking might have predicted, Melissa rose to the occasion with a second-quarter burst and stuffed the Wildcats, 27-23, for the win.
“We knew coming in that they’re a really good football team,” Cards head coach Seth Stinton said. “I’m just super-proud of the way our kids prepared on a short week. We gave up a couple of plays but we never stopped fighting and that’s the most important thing. To play a big school like this and get another win, that’s awesome.”
Melissa (3-0) had plenty of big plays but two stood out. The first was Brendon Lewis’ 37-yard touchdown toss to Chase Mapps, who gathered in the tipped ball while on his back in the end zone with seconds left in the first half, a play that capped a 90-yard drive for Melissa’s 21-7 lead. A second big play was punter Ian Keever’s fourth-quarter decision to take off and sprint 33 yards untouched for a first down, a move later rewarded by the Cards’ final score to go up 27-15.
Brendon Lewis completed 14-of-21 passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns and he rushed for 44 yards and another score. Ja’Bray Young added 75 yards on 24 carries while Chase Mapps led the receivers with four catches for a game-high 69 yards. Collin O’Neal posted nine tackles — two for a loss — as Bralynn Ramsey, Caleb Kroese and Jacob Blackwell all recorded sacks. Linebacker Javier Collins also tallied nine stops.
The Wildcats (2-1) struck first with Jaden Haskins’ one-yard touchdown run in the opening stanza. But Whitehouse’s fortune changed on the final play of that quarter when a shanked punt went two yards and the Cards took over at the Wildcats’ 7. Three plays later, Brendon Lewis scored from three yards out and the game was tied at seven.
After Melissa’s defense notched a three-and-out, Kennedy Lewis returned the Wildcats’ punt 20 yards to the Whitehouse 34. Then, on fourth-and-goal from the 9, Brendon Lewis rolled to his left under pressure and found Junior Castleberry wide open in the end zone for touchdown.
The Wildcats found some traction on their next drive but had to punt again, this time pinning Melissa at its 10 with two minutes left in the half. In 10 plays, including a 17-yard Brendon Lewis strike to Tyler Burton, the Cards moved to the Whitehouse 37 with 35 seconds left on the clock. That’s when Lewis fired a deep spiral to the end zone where the ball was batted by a defender and fell into supine but alert Chase Mapps’ breadbasket for six points.
“With a great QB like [Lewis], you know I’ve got to go make a play,” Mapps said.
After the break, the Wildcats clawed back with Flint Herrington’s 13-yard TD throw to Haskins. A two-point conversion pulled Whitehouse to within 21-15 with 3:40 left in the third quarter. Early in the fourth, on fourth-and-14 near midfield, is when Keever bolted to his right for a first down after bobbling a slightly low punt snap.
“You know, that’s the difference in the game right there,” Stinton said. “If we don’t get that, we’re struggling a little bit.”
“It definitely wasn’t designed like that,” Keever said. “I didn’t try to make a touchdown but just made sure I got the first down.”
Seven plays later, Lewis found Burton on a quick slant in the end zone and Melissa led, 27-15. Whitehouse struck back once more to trail by four with five minutes left but Young’s crucial four-yard run on fourth-and-two from the Whitehouse 40 allowed Melissa to run out the clock.