NEVADA – Friday, Nov. 10, was a record-setting night for the District 5-4A (II)-champion Melissa Cardinals as the team topped Nevada Community, 48-35, at Braves Stadium. With the win, the Cards wrapped up their first nine-win regular season in school history and extended their current win streak to nine, the second-best mark in school history.
Besides Kennedy Lewis leading Melissa with four catches for 126 yards and three touchdowns, and quarterback Brendon Lewis’ 339 yards of total offense, defensive end Caleb Kroese tied a single-game school record with three sacks and cornerback Chance Mapps pushed past the school’s single-season record for pass-break-ups, with 11 now.
Additionally, Cards running back Ja’Bray Young churned out 102 yards on nine carries to compliment Brendon Lewis’ 103 rushing yards on eight tries. Melissa built a 48-20 early-fourth-quarter lead then held off Community’s late 15-point rally for the victory.
“You’ve got to give ‘hats-off’ to Community,” Melissa head coach Seth Stinton said. “They played their tails off. But our guys set a goal: They wanted to be undefeated district champs. It’s a good win. It’s good to be able to come over here and give those guys a trophy. I’m pleased with our kids, pleased with their effort. … It’s the first time as a head coach that I’ve ever been a part of a 9-1 regular season.”
“It feels good to be district champs again,” Kennedy Lewis said.
Melissa (9-1, 5-0) will now face Dallas Lincoln (5-5, 2-3) in a bi-district clash at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 17, at Murphy’s Tom Kimbrough Stadium - a rematch of last season’s first-round pairing. The Cards prevailed in that one, 36-14. A win versus Lincoln would be Melissa’s 10th-straight, tying another school record.
The Cards’ triumph over Community (3-7, 1-4) didn’t come easy, though, as Melissa gave up four turnovers and had three big-gainer plays called back due to penalties. The Cards lead at halftime was a precarious 26-20. All told, Braves quarterback Colby Warren rushed for a team-high 110 yards and threw for 195 more.
“We’ve got to go get some stuff corrected and talk about some focus things,” Stinton added. “I think our guys weren’t necessarily ready for this one. We’ve got to change that and they’ve got to be ready to play next week. Every game counts now. If you lose, you don’t get to practice anymore.”
“After the first half, the coaches told us we weren’t focused,” Kroese said. “I was really fired up. I wanted to win. I didn’t want to go 4-1 [in district]. … I felt like I had to pump it up. I felt like I had to stick it to them.”
The Braves’ first two scores, including the game’s inaugural points, were set up by Melissa turnovers. After a muffed punt reception, Community moved 29 yards in 11 eleven plays for a 7-0 lead on Warren’s 1-yard dive.
Melissa stormed back with touchdowns on three-straight possessions to lead, 19-7. The first scoring drive began after a 15-yard Community penalty put the Cards in business at the Braves 41. Four plays later, Young slammed in for a touchdown from three yards out. After a Braves punt, Melissa needed just four plays again to find the end zone, this time on a four-yard Brendon Lewis strike to Tate Whittington over the middle. Community then moved into Cards territory but came up short on a 33-yard field goal try.
Starting at their own 10-yard line after a Melissa penalty, the Cards marched to the Community 44 in seven plays. From there, on fourth-and-7, Brendon Lewis lofted a deep ball to a leaping Kennedy Lewis at the goal line and the Cards led, 19-7.
But the Braves would strike again soon after picking off a Cards’ pass and returning it to the Melissa 33. Community’s score came four plays later on an 11-yard scamper by Savon Mack.
The Cards responded with a 55-yard drive highlighted by 19- and 29-yard dashes by Brendon Lewis and Young, respectively. Breelyn Armstrong topped off the march with a one-yard burst to put the Cards up, 26-14, 7:33 before halftime.
Community answered with a short Warren-to-Brock Price touchdown connection 22 seconds before the break.
Melissa opened strong in the second half, with an eight-play drive capped by Chance Mapps’ five-yard touchdown run and - after Brendon Lewis’ 2-point conversion run - the Cards led, 34-20.
The Braves’ next possession stalled and the Cards quickly moved 81 yards in three plays for another score. This time, Kennedy Lewis took a pass in the left flat, cut it to the middle and found pay dirt 51 yards later.
After Kennedy’s final TD grab – an early fourth-quarter 15-yarder over the middle – the Braves kept things interesting with another short Warren rushing touchdown and a 56-yard scoring toss to Abel Skariah with 3:01 left.
Cole McCraw’s interception and a Cody Garner fumble recovery thwarted second-half Community drives.
As for the coming post-season campaign, Kroese said, “It definitely cranks up my intensity. I can’t speak for everyone else, but it definitely does mine. I hope it does for everyone else.” Said Kennedy Lewis, “Coach Stinton always says, ‘Every game now, crank it up one more notch.’ So we need to bring it up a notch each game.”
Pastor Trey Graham of First Melissa Baptist church and the Cardinals Radio Network contributed to this report.