MELISSA — With apologies to Mark Twain, rumors of Melissa’s demise after a tough game at TC-Cedar Hill last week were greatly exaggerated. On Friday, the Cardinals bounced back to spank No. 5-ranked Paris, 54-46, in the district-opener for both teams – and it wasn’t that close.
Led by quarterback Brendon Lewis, Melissa hung over 650 yards of offense on the highly-regarded Wildcats, including an even 400 on the ground. And the Cards’ point total more than doubled anything Paris had allowed this year. The previous high, 22 points, came courtesy of 2018 state-finalist Pleasant Grove in the Wildcats’ season-opener.
Lewis ran wild on Paris, roaming for a game-high 190 yards and four touchdowns on 15 carries. His 41-yard touchdown run in the second-quarter featured no less than three broken tackles and gave Melissa a 28-20 lead at the break. All told, he accounted for seven touchdowns, with scoring strikes to Tyler Burton, Ezra Monroe and Chase Mapps.
Burton led Melissa receivers with nine catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Time and again he burned the Wildcats with quick possession-receptions in the left and right flat. Cards running back Xylon Posey also got loose, rushing for 144 yards on 19 carries - with a touchdown and a 56-yard run in the third quarter.
Not that Paris didn’t have its moments. A trio of speedy backs – Do’rian Williams, Zy’kius Jackson and KD Washington – combined for 330 yards rushing behind a big offensive line, with Williams posting 177 yards on 13 carries. And though Melissa led, 41-23, late in the third quarter, the specter of last year’s late stumble at Paris surely crossed some fans’ minds as the Wildcats rallied to within 41-38 as the fourth stanza began.
But this night would be different as Melissa (3-2, 1-0) just kept punching back.
The three-hour contest featured 22 penalties - 11 per side by this scribe’s count - and things got chippy at times.
“You have to give kudos to our kids and what they’ve been through,” Melissa head coach Matt Nally said. “We went through a gauntlet these first five games. Every team we played was a state-ranked team or a district champion. We knew we were going to be calloused and we were going to learn a lot about ourselves. … After last week with Trinity Christian, we learned a lot about ourselves in regard to what we need to get better at.”
Nally had praise for the Wildcats (3-2, 0-1) and their head coach Steven Hohenberger. “They’re an exceptional team. They get after it. But our kids were focused – from Monday to this afternoon. … We had an unbelievable week of practice and they had a goal. The goal was, ‘Hey, Paris, Texas, is Paris, Texas. We’re Melissa, Texas, and we’re fixing to prove - not just to our district but to the state of Texas - that we mean business. I’ve never been more proud of a group of kids and I’m kind of speechless right now.”
As for Lewis, Nally said, “When he wants to take a game over, he’ll take a game over. He really carried us offensively today – obviously, throwing it, but running it too. He was so physical.”
Said Lewis, “I know what our team is capable of. I know what we can do. We’ve just got to execute and that’s what we did. We’re happy with the results. … This year [versus Paris] we knew we had to play with a chip on our shoulder - and we got the ‘dub.’”
Regarding his big rushing night, Lewis said, “They didn’t adjust to it. They kept leaving it wide open so, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”
Melissa’s Ja’Bray Young played both ways, rushing for 59 yards on 10 carries and also grinding at linebacker. “He did an unbelievable job of taking on that role, knowing that his carries were going to get taken away on offense,” Nally said. “He’s a great teammate and a great leader for us.”
Said Young, “We’re probably sending a statement, but we’re not satisfied yet. We’re getting ready for the next game. … Those four [non-district] games were scrimmages. We’ve got to focus on the games that matter now.”
The teams traded five first-quarter touchdowns with Melissa striking first. The Cards’ initial possession covered 75 yards in nine plays with Lewis connecting with Burton for 15- and 23-yard gains early on. After Young burst nine yards to the Paris 1, Lewis took it himself, moving to his right then cutting it up for six points.
The Wildcats needed just four plays to answer as Williams capped an 88-yard drive with a 51-yard burst to pay dirt. The point-after try blew up on a bad snap and Melissa’s Damon Youngblood stopped the run attempt to tie.
Chase Mapps returned Paris’ ensuing kickoff to midfield and Posey soon pushed 11 yards on two carries. Young again got to the Wildcats’ 1, this time on back-to-back runs of 11 and 13 yards, and Lewis again did the honors - starting left before stepping into the end zone untouched.
Now down, 14-6, Paris quarterback Luke Hohenberger connected with Jaelyn Lee for 45 yards to the Cards’ 30. Two plays later, Washington crowned the 75-yard march with a 22-yard TD run.
Leading, 14-13, Melissa was stopped on its next possession by a lost fumble at the Wildcats’ 28. One snap later, Paris fumbled it back and David Patrick recovered for the Cards. On the next play, Lewis threw to the back-right corner of the end zone where a diving Burton gathered it in. After Luke Hansen’s point-after kick, Melissa led, 20-13, with three seconds left in the first quarter.
To open the second frame, Paris moved 61 yards in three plays for a touchdown. Jackson got the score, attacking up the middle then breaking left for 39 yards.
On Melissa’s next possession, Lewis converted a fourth-and-1 with a 21-yard quarterback sneak. But the drive stalled near midfield and the Cards punted for the first time. Paris followed with a three-and-out and Melissa took over at its own 18, leading 21-20 with 5:51 remaining before halftime.
Posey’s 22-yard run to the Cards’ 40 got the march going and five plays later Lewis started right then took off for his 41-yard, tackle-shedding TD run. The Wildcats punted to end the half.
Paris came out fired up after the break, stopping the Cards in three plays then booting a 34-yard field goal. But with its lead cut the five, 28-23, Melissa responded on the next play from scrimmage as Posey romped 56 yards to the Wildcats’ 19. Lewis would take it in from four yards out and Paris trailed by double digits for the first time this season, 35-23.
After another Wildcats punt, Lewis’ quickly connected on a 45-yard bomb to Chase Mapps. From the Paris 1, Posey went airborne for the score and the Cards led, 41-23.
Paris was not done, though. The Wildcats caught a spark with Williams’ 37-yard run to Melissa’s 16 and a pass interference call on the Cards soon moved the ball to the 2. Two plays later, Jackson bounced in for a touchdown and Paris’ deficit was 41-30 with two minutes to go in the third.
The Wildcats’ defense quickly shut down the Cards’ next possession and a short punt put Paris in business at the Melissa 22. Washington found the end zone two plays later and, with a 2-point conversion pass, Paris trailed, 41-38, as the third quarter ended.
But then Cardinal lightning struck. On the second snap of the final stanza, Lewis dropped back and delivered a 60-yard dagger-TD to Ezra Monroe deep over the middle - a pass that just cleared a Paris defenders’ outstretched hand and hit Monroe in full stride.
The Wildcats were then stuffed for a three-and-out and Melissa took over near midfield with 10 minutes left to play. On third-and-1 from the Paris 38, Lewis broke free for 26 yards and four plays later he found Chase Mapps open on a slant route for 18 yards and a touchdown.
Down, 54-38, Paris managed a late TD pass but their onside kick attempt was smothered by Youngblood and the Cards ran out the clock.
Melissa Defensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hemsley said it often takes a little while for kids to get used to the pace of a game. “The hardest thing to replicate [in practice] is the speed of how that team runs. … The game plan was solid that we put in.”
The Cards’ defensive line played “lights out,” Hemsley said, pointing to Mason Carney, Liam Stone, Ethan McCullum and Caleb Kroese. “The secondary [Monroe, Youngblood, Chance Mapps and Kenady Markray] played good even though they had to come up a lot in run support. And our middle linebackers - Caden Hayes and Parker Jack - did a great job getting us lined up.” Hemsley added that having Young on defense was huge boost. “He’s the MVP for me of the game – the total game.”
Offensive Coordinator Jason Russell said the O-line had something to prove this night. “The guys up front, they took last week personal. We didn’t run the ball like we needed to, we didn’t play like we needed to. … Our big boys up front stepped up to that challenge and, man, did they play well tonight.” That crew included Bryce Martin, Garrett Bowen, Zach Wilkie, Bryson Zufelt and Hayden Nofziger.
Melissa draws a bye this week and will travel to face Anna on Oct. 11.
Paris 13 7 18 8 - 46
Melissa 21 7 13 13 - 54
M – Brendon Lewis 1 run (Luke Hansen kick), 8:50
P – Do’rian Williams 51 run (run failed), 5:13
M – Brendon Lewis 1 run (Luke Hansen kick), 2:53
P – KD Washington 22 run (Bryan Ramirez kick), 2:13
M – Tyler Burton 29 pass from Brendon Lewis (Luke Hansen kick), 0:03
P – Zy’kius Jackson 39 run (Bryan Ramirez kick), 11:19
M – Brendon Lewis 41 run (Luke Hansen kick), 28-20
P – Bryan Ramirez 34 FG, 8:07
M – Brendon Lewis 4 run (Luke Hansen kick), 6:36
M – Xylon Posey 1 run (kick failed), 3:56
P – Zy’kius Jackson 1 run (Bryan Ramirez kick), 2:01
P – KD Washington 4 run (Jaelyn Lee pass from Jameon Mitchell), 0:17
M – Ezra Monroe 60 pass from Brendon Lewis (Luke Hansen kick), 11:45
M – Chase Mapps 18 pass from Brendon Lewis (kick failed), 7:16
P – Jaelyn Lee 43 pass from Luke Hohenberger (Luke Hansen kick), 2:00
Stats Paris Melissa
First downs 18 24
Rushes-yards 46-372 47-400
Passing yards 98 254
C-A-I 3-11-0 15-22-0
Punts-average 5-37.6 3-24.3
Penalties-yards 11-98 11-103
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-1
Rushing - Paris: Do’rian Williams 13-177, Zy’kius Jackson 16-92, KD Washington 9-61, Luke Hohenberger 8-42. Melissa: Brendon Lewis 15-190, Xylon Posey 19-144, Ja’Bray Young 10-53, Braedan Smith 2-11, Chase Mapps 1-2.
Passing - Paris: Luke Hohenberger 3-11-0-98. Melissa: Brendon Lewis 15-22-0-254
Receiving – Paris: Jaelyn Lee 2-83, KD Washington 1-10. Melissa: Tyler Burton 9-105, Chase Mapps 3-74, Ezra Monroe 1-60, Braedan Smith 2-15.