CELINA — The Melissa Cardinals twice rallied from seven points down on Friday to win a slugfest with Celina, 28-21, on the cool, damp turf of Bobcat Stadium. It was quarterback Brendon Lewis’ 9-yard touchdown run with 5:08 left to play that proved to be the difference for Melissa, a score that capped a clutch 83-yard, 11-play drive. The march began when Kenady Markray fell on a Celina fumble at the Melissa 17-yard-line and was kept alive by Ja’Bray Young’s 16-yard burst up the middle on 4th-and-3 from the Bobcat 30.
Celina’s comeback hopes ended when Hunter Watson’s pass into the end zone on 4th-and-5 from the Cards’ 11 fell incomplete with under a minute left. The Bobcats had moved into the red zone aided by facemask penalty and a sideline infraction call.
This was Melissa’s first-ever win at storied Bobcat Stadium, a venue that will soon give way to Celina’s new sports complex up north. The result improved the Cards’ District 7-4A(I) mark to 2-1 and dropped the Bobcats to 2-2. The teams trail Argyle (3-0) and Paris (3-1) in the standings.
“I’m super-proud of the way our coaches prepared and our players executed,” Melissa head coach Seth Stinton said. “We’ve got great kids. It was a good battle. Celina’s a great football team, great tradition. Coach [Bill] Elliott does a great job with those guys. It’s hard to [win] here.”
While some may claim Celina is not Celina this year, Stinton doesn’t buy it. He said he expected exactly what the Bobcats showed this night: tough, hard-nosed football to the finish. “Oh, 100 percent. They’re a prideful group. They’re tradition-filled. They always play hard. Our kids knew it was going to be a battle.”
Young led the Cards’ rushing attack with 163 yards on 20 carries and he stunned Celina with a 90-yard touchdown on a first-quarter screen pass for the game’s first points. Melissa quarterback Brendon Lewis threw for 265 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for two scores.
Lewis often says of Young, “He ran like a grown man,” and that was the case again this night as Young exploited nice creases opened by Cards offensive linemen Austin Sanders, Hayden Nofzigger, Ryan Humphries, Trevor Duggan and Jack Greer. “It was really fun for those guys,” Stinton said.
For Celina, running back Logan Point churned for three touchdowns and a game-high 233 yards, much of it coming after contact. His electrifying 91-yard touchdown sprint gave the Bobcats a 14-7 late-second quarter lead. Adding more to that play’s impact, the score came one play after the Cards had been stopped on a 4th-and-4 incomplete pass from the Celina 9. Point’s earlier 8-yard TD dash had knotted the contest at 7-7.
“It was the most physical battle I’ve ever played in,” Melissa linebacker Braylon Brown said. “Number 4 [Point] was just running his heart out. … I give number 4 my respect because he was running his heart and not running his mouth.” Added fellow linebacker Collin O’Neal, “We really just wanted this win. “Obviously, we gave up some big plays and they scored but we really bounced back. We had some big plays of our own.” As for Point, O’Neal said, “He’s definitely one of the better running backs I’ve gone against. He runs really hard. I have nothing but respect for him. But we were rallying and stopping him when we needed to.”
Brown led Melissa with 20 tackles, including 13 solo stops, while O’Neal collected eight solos and four assists with two tackles for a loss. Linebacker Connor Newberry tallied eight solo tackles with six assists while defensive back Jaylon Jones and linebacker Javier Collins and were in on 10 and nine stops, respectively.
After Point’s long-distance momentum-flipping touchdown run, Melissa had a minute-and-a-half to work with before the break - and that turned out to be plenty. Young opened the drive with a 19-yard jaunt to the Cards’ 44 and six plays later Brendon Lewis connected with Junior Castleberry for a 33-yard strike to the Bobcats’ 7. Then, with under 10 ticks left on the clock, Lewis scampered in for a touchdown and a 14-14 tie at halftime.
Melissa went three-and-out to open the third stanza and the Bobcats soon capitalized with a 56-yard, all-rushing drive that ended with Point’s 2-yard touchdown run. Down, 21-14, the Cards came back five plays later with Brendon Lewis’ 54-yard scoring toss to Antonio Roberson, who’d gotten behind the defense for a leaping grab over the middle. “He called my route and I just ran it to perfection and it worked out,” Robinson said of the play. “[The ball] was perfect.”
And with that, the teams entered the fourth quarter tied, just as they had each of the previous three frames.
In the first half, Melissa overcame a bobbled punt snap for a big loss, a lost fumble at midfield and a snap over Brendon Lewis’ head on a 4th down. But with those missteps, the Cards never trailed by more than a touchdown. “I think our kids realized that too,” Stinton said. “We had a couple of things happen. That’s what we talked about in the locker room. We miscued a couple of times on certain things. I thought in the second half they came out and did a good job executing.”
Melissa 28, Celina 21
Melissa 7 7 7 7 - 28
Celina 7 7 7 0 - 21
Melissa - Ja’Bray Young 90 pass from Brendon Lewis (Hayden Ferguson kick), 8:35
Celina - Logan Point 8 run (Eli Price kick), 1:38
Celina – Logan Point 90 run (Eli Price kick), 1:50
Melissa – Brendon Lewis 7 run (Hayden Ferguson kick), 0:07
Celina – Logan Point 2 run (Eli Price kick), 6:57
Melissa – Antonio Robinson 54 pass from Brendon Lewis (Hayden Ferguson kick), 4:41
Melissa – Brendon Lewis 9 run (Hayden Ferguson kick), 5:08
Stats Melissa Celina
First Downs 20 18
Rushes-yards 35-202 47-306
Passing yards 265 60
C-A-I 12-20-0 8-15-0
Punts-average 2-36.5 4-44
Penalties-yards 8-75 8-75
Fumbles-lost 4-1 5-2
Rushing - Melissa: Ja’Bray Young 20-163, Brendon Lewis 12-59, Braylon Brown 1-0, Chance Mapps 1-(-3), Ian Keever 1-(-17); Celina: Logan Point 28-232, Hunter Watson 12-82, Trey Gutierez 6-24, Noah Ross 1-(-32).
Passing - Melissa: Brendon Lewis 12-20-0-265; Celina: Hunter Watson 8-15-0-60.
Receiving - Melissa: Kennedy Lewis 5-44, Junior Castleberry 3-45, Ja’Bray Young 1-90, Antonio Robinson 1-54; Chase Mapps 1-22, BJ Lewis 1-10. Celina: Noah Ross 4-24, Will Anderson 3-22, Riley Briscoe 1-14.